Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real

Day 869: Small Shabbat

When I was a child, Shabbat dinner was synonymous with having guests. In university, Shabbat dinners were loud, crowded affairs run by the Jewish Students’ Association. And when I was newly married, I prided myself on being able to fit fifteen people around the table in our small(ish) apartment.

How times have changed.

We’ve barely had any guests since COVID. And now that two kids are away at camp and one is visiting his grandparents, there are just three of us in the house. Three for Shabbat dinner; piece of cake.

Shabbat dinner is often a three- or four-course meal. Tonight I served one (being generous, you could maybe count whatever dessert we have before bed as a second course, I guess.) I made challah this morning, heated up some pre-cooked, packaged roast beef with gravy, put out salad that I made yesterday, and warmed up some leftover baby potatoes. That’s all.

We sat outside—it’s hot and humid, but we did it anyway—around the small table on our back porch. Did the blessings (weird blessing the children when there’s only one there to bless,) ate the food, and then we sat back and sang. Our usual crowd (that is to say, all four kids together) doesn’t stick around for the singing when we do it, but tonight it was just E, and she was happy to sing and cuddle.

The dishwasher was empty, thanks to E (she did it earlier,) and there were so few dishes that it took maybe ten minutes to clear the table and clean up the kitchen, leaving plenty of time for the three of us to play a board game. When we have Shabbat guests, there are generally enough dishes to fill the dishwasher twice; and while I do take that time to reflect on a job well done (or a meal well-presented,) I don’t need as much time for reflection as I do for cleaning up.

Big Shabbat dinners have their advantages—more friends, more voices singing, the party atmosphere—but tonight is proof that a small Shabbat can be easy, enjoyable, and very entertaining.

Shabbat Shalom.

bird's eye view of a table set for three people, with two challahs, grape juice, wine, candles, and a simple
Camping it up · crafty · Jewy goodness · Keepin' it real · Kids

Day 836: This and That

The great thing about being several years behind on my photo books is that I get to relive some of the things I’ve forgotten since the pictures were taken. Tonight I’m working on K’s bat mitzvah book, only a year and a half after the fact.

I also had a visit from someone I haven’t seen in years, and who I’ve never really had the chance to sit down and chat with before. The weather was perfect; we sat on the porch and talked about anything and everything for three hours. I should put out random “who wants to come hang out with me” posts more often.

E is going off to a different day camp tomorrow—half-day bicycle camp—and then I’ve got my fracture clinic appointment in the afternoon. I hope they can actually tell me what I’ve done to my knee; right now it’s aching a bit and I still can’t put much weight on it, though I can touch the floor with it when I’m hobbling along on crutches.

E reminded me helpfully that I said I’d email N and R at camp today. I’d better go do that. Tune in tomorrow for the next installment of “What Have I Done to my Knee?”

family fun · Jewy goodness · Travelogue

Day 798: Fourteen-hour Day

We got an early start yesterday morning. By eight a.m. we were already walking through the shuk on our way to the light rail stop. We bought some bananas and fresh pita (straight from the oven) on the way, plus some treats to share with our cousins in Tel Aviv.

The train station in Jerusalem is new, beautiful, and very, very deep. We took an escalator down to the light-filled tickets concourse. Then we all scanned our tickets and went down another—very long—escalator. And another. And then another. I lost count at some point but I think there were only three. Suffice it to say, we were extremely far down.

(Fun fact: there are blast-proof doors at the top of one set of escalators. Apparently the station was also built to act as a bomb shelter for up to five thousand people in case of emergency.)

The train ride itself was fast, smooth, and pretty comfortable. The kids got to see (for the first time) men gathering at one end of the train car, wrapped in tallit and tefillin, to daven shacharit (the morning prayers.) We emerged from the station at Tel Aviv University and hopped on the number seven bus to the Museum of the Jewish People. Luckily for our fellow passengers, it wasn’t until we got off the bus that the kids started up their chorus of “We hate museums.”

Along the way, we passed the natural history museum and stopped to enjoy an outdoor exhibit of animal caricatures. I have a feeling we might have missed some of the jokes (like the one that played on the fact that the Hebrew word for “lazy” also means “sloth” (as in the animal.) We enjoyed them nonetheless. At least, some of us enjoyed them while others sat on a bench and listened to music.

At the Museum of the Jewish People we went straight for the important stuff—coffee and croissants at the Aroma in the lobby. Then we went through all three levels of the museum, learning about Jewish identity, history, arts and culture. Sadly (for all of us, I think,) R ran out of patience and we had to skip the last—and probably best—exhibit: Jewish humour. At least we got to enjoy a video of excerpts of some of the best comedic moments in Jewish TV shows and movies before we left.

We crossed the university campus—R and E took a break to climb on the sculptures—and took a bus down to the “Namal” (port) of Tel Aviv, which has been revitalized and turned into a destination for shopping and dining. We found an enormous playground where K immediately hit the swings and everyone else had fun on the play structure shaped like a pirate ship (including a wobbly plank for walking.)

Our cousins from Ra’anana drove down to meet us and we walked over to the beach. About an hour or so later, we were joined by another cousin who I haven’t seen since his family came to visit us in Toronto 30 years ago. His mom just happened to be visiting him yesterday, so she came along too. E played in the sand with his kids while I got all caught up with the grownups.

It was getting late; our Ra’anana cousins left in the hope of avoiding the worst rush-hour traffic. Our Tel-Aviv cousin invited us back to his place for dinner.

“Is it a long walk from here?” R wanted to know.

“I’m guessing—from the facts that his three-year-old twins can do it and that they’re barefoot—that it’s only a few blocks at the most.” I told her.

I was right. We hung out, ate pizza and salad and homemade tehina, and indulged in the baked goodies we’d brought from Jerusalem. And then it was 8:00 p.m., and it was time to go.

On the bus heading to the train station we saw a young girl with a Rubik’s Cube. “See?” I nudged K. “You guys aren’t the only ones who take your cubes everywhere.” Soon K, R, and this girl were comparing cubes and chatting about strategy.

I noticed two things on the train ride back to Jerusalem: First, that an absurd number of single travellers take up an entire set of four seats, making it hard for a family to sit together; and second, that the bathrooms on the Rakevet Yisrael trains are clean, well-stocked with paper and soap, and bigger than airplane bathrooms.

We finally got home just after 10 p.m.—a fourteen-hour day. The kids went straight to bed; I hung out the wet bathing suits and towels, updated the blog, and fell into bed, sea-salty skin and all.

Jewy goodness · Kids · Travelogue

Day 793: Different

“Can we go to the park tomorrow morning?” K asked.

“Nope,” Mr. December said. “Tomorrow’s a school day.”

“But it’s Sunday!” K protested.

“And this is Israel,” I said. “Sunday is a weekday. The first weekday, actually. That’s why it’s called Yom Rishon*.”

Yom Rishon – The Hebrew word for Sunday (literally, “first day.”)

Some things in Israel are very different from what the kids are used to (I’ve spent enough time here over the years to be used to it already.) The earlier and shorter weekend is one of those things. Synagogue is another.

Most synagogues here are Orthodox, meaning (among other things) that men and women are seated separately. Sometimes the mechitza (divider) is done in a way that allows everyone an equally good view of what’s going on; other times, not so much.

We took the kids to shul last night. I had researched which shuls were near us, and found one just down our alleyway that has a Carlebach minyan. My memories of Carlebach services past (also Orthodox, with separate seating) are of lots of singing, some dancing, and an almost transcendent experience. I assured the kids that it would be great.

It wasn’t great. For Mr. December and N, it was okay. For R and K it was alienating. The mechitza made it nearly impossible to see anything or anyone (I know that’s the point, but still, it’s disconcerting to be sitting facing a veritable wall.) Far worse was the fact that none of the women were singing. None. I was tempted to lift my voice and sing, but reminded myself that it’s not my house, so to speak, and I’d better respect the congregation’s custom.

As R pointed out, watching other people have fun isn’t much fun at all.

(To be fair, “fun” isn’t one of the stated goals of the prayer service. But maybe it is—aren’t we supposed to greet Shabbat joyfully?)

Ultimately, my girls’ first experience of religion in Israel was that of being second-class citizens; They felt uninvolved and unwelcome. That’s not what I wanted for them. Next week—if we can drag them out of the house—we’ll either hit a partnership minyan (Orthodox, but men’s and women’s sections are equally positioned, and both men and women lead the service) or the Reform synagogue in town.

And if that fails, I guess we’ll have to daven at Mr. December’s favourite synagogue, Shaarei Sheinah*

*Shaarei Sheinah means “The Gates of Sleep.”
(It’s a joke about sleeping in, for those who didn’t get that.)

Jewy goodness · Travelogue · what's cookin'

Day 792: Are we ready for Shabbat?

Let’s see…

We did the laundry.

We went to the shuk. So did everyone else in Jerusalem. Pretty much everything is closed now and will stay that way through tomorrow, so we stocked up today… and so did everyone else in Jerusalem. R and E helped me schlep it all home. I never get tired of having every single shopkeeper wish us Shabbat shalom.

R and E standing on a sidewalk, each holding several heavy plastic shopping bags. The shuk is in the background.

Food is almost ready—except for reheating. I bought chicken, potatoes, and kugel in the shuk. I’ve made an Israeli salad, and there are slices of eggplant waiting to be fried. For dessert we brought home some goodies from Marzipan, which makes the best rogelach anywhere—hands down.

We bought flowers. The girls chose hot pink roses. Not exactly my favourite, but it was their task and their choice.

We (finally) found the Shabbat stuff in this house. I went into the living room cupboards and found Shabbat and havdalah candles, kippot, and a white Shabbat tablecloth.

UPDATE: Finding all the Shabbat stuff didn’t help. Want to know why?

First, let’s talk candles. I had the Shabbat candles that go in the little glass cups; this was fine, because I could see two sets of candle holders (with said glass cups) on a shelf in a glass-door cabinet. There was only one problem: the cabinet was locked.

“Okay, time for plan B,” I said. “We’ll use tealights instead.” I got some tealights out of a different cupboard and set them on a little dish. Then I went and got the lighter I’d seen in the cabinet.

“Time to light candles!” I sang out. The children gathered round. I pushed the button on the lighter, and… nothing. The lighter was out of fluid.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered. Adding insult to injury, there was not a single match in the entire house.

Mr. December went out to see if he could borrow some matches from a neighbour. He came back with a lighter, borrowed from a few hippie-ish smokers who were hanging out in the square next to our house (we returned the lighter, and now I’m wondering how we’re planning to light the Havdalah candle.) I had foolishly assumed that a kosher house in Jerusalem that has such things as a warming plate and hot water urn for Shabbat would also have matches or a working lighter for Shabbat candles. I was wrong. How many times do I have to be stuck without a light before I just start traveling with matches everywhere we go?

Anyhow, we had a lovely Shabbat dinner, and a fabulously decadent dessert. In between the two we went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at a synagogue that’s housed in a former public bomb shelter—but that’s a story that deserves its own post.

Shabbat shalom!

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Homeschool · Jewy goodness · Kids · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 791: Museum Guy

“We’re going to the museum this afternoon,” I announced yesterday at breakfast.

The reaction was immediate:
“Museums are boring!”
“I hate museums!”
And then: “I’m not going.”

“We’re all going.” I said firmly. “This is a homeschool field trip, thus it’s not optional.”

I was ready for resistance, and I arranged to have a secret weapon this time: The Museum Guy. He’s an educator with a passion for getting people excited about museums, history, and archaeology. I found him through a website called Fun in Jerusalem (they were advertising one of his group tours, which was only for teens and adults) and contacted him about a private tour for our family.

I was nervous about the tour: what if his skill as a guide and teacher and storyteller was grossly exaggerated? What if the kids were still bored?

But the moment he arrived, Nachliel won over the kids by pulling a rubber ducky (a Roman centurion rubber ducky, to be precise) from his bag (when he heard about K’s ducky obsession he pulled out two more.) Then he endeared himself to me and Mr. December by opening with a line from Monty Python: “Apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

Nachliel spent over two hours engaging with the kids, explaining Lag B’omer (which was today) and Shavuot (which is in two weeks or so) and dozens of other things, some of which I didn’t know. He covered the Bar Kochba revolt, setting the kids up nicely for when they go to see Masada (not sure when, but we’re planning on it.) By the end the kids were flagging a little, from the sheer amount of information and all the standing (I think) but they had a fantastic time.

N, whose highest praise up until now has been, “It was almost fun,” told me that “The museum trip was GREAT!” (said with a big smile and wide eyes.)

All of the kids loved Nachliel. And when I asked them if we should book him again for a different museum, the response was a unanimous, “YES!”

“But,” E told me, “ask him to bring more duckies next time.”

I think that’s a ducking good idea. Don’t you?

Jewy goodness · Travelogue

Day 785: Shabbat, the first

Yesterday I started a mental list of the things we’d need for Shabbat. Everything closes on Friday afternoon here and doesn’t open again until an hour after it gets dark on Saturday night. I learned long ago, when I was fifteen and visiting Israel for the first time, that you really have to get all your groceries ahead of time.

I usually travel with a pair of battery-operated tealights to use as Shabbat candles, just in case our accommodation doesn’t allow lit candles in the rooms. I left them at home this time because if you can’t find–and light–Shabbat candles in Israel, where can you?

Even though I expected it, it was surprisingly gratifying to open a drawer in the kitchen here and see a few sets of tealights in pretty holders, ready to be taken out and lit (and yes, there were matches as well.) Beside the candles was an embroidered challah cover, and we found a beautiful glass challah board in another drawer.

When we went to the grocery store on the corner to pick up provisions for tonight and tomorrow. There was a shipment of fresh challah for Shabbat taking up most of the bread section. Next to the wines we found tirosh, a very sweet grape juice used for kiddush. And in the freezer, schnitzels—good ones, as it turns out. In under fifteen minutes I had everything we needed for Shabbat, without having to make weird substitutions (like grape kool-aid to stand in for grape juice) or bring my own stuff from home. Making Shabbat is just so easy here.

Israel was the first place where I began to understand the term “privilege” as it’s used today in social justice circles. Privilege is being able to find last-minute supplies for your holidays in every store, regardless of the neighbourhood. Privilege is hearing expressions that have their origins in your own religious texts, uttered by even the most non-religious individuals. Privilege is not having to even think about hiding your identity. It’s going to restaurants and not having to ask what exactly is in every dish, because you already know the food conforms to your cultural and religious norms.

Privilege is not having to pack my Shabbat candles, because everything I could possibly need to live as a Jew is already here and waiting for me. And that’s a very special—and very unfamiliar—feeling; one that I hope my kids will come to appreciate.

Jewy goodness · Travelogue · Worldschooling

Day 781: Packed and Ready

Well, this is it. Our stuff is all ready to go: A medium suitcase, two rolling duffel bags, a rolling carry-on, a guitar, a viola, and 5 small backpacks await us at the door. It’s the most we’ve ever packed for a family trip.

Remember when I packed for Costa Rica? I was so careful to pack light—and rightly so, since we moved around every few days. This time, however, we’re moving just once and then setting up a home base for almost a month. I’ve been throwing things in as I think of them. Music stand? Sure, why not? Travel hammock? Yup. Extra shoes? No problem! Really love that dress! Of course!

Oooh, wait. I might not have packed my favourite dress with the giant pocket! I’ll be right back.

Well, that was a lucky save.

We’re taking this amazing expanding bag that my parents lent us, as well as that folding duffel bag that saved us back in Guanajuato. Also a small collapsing backpack so nobody has to empty their *personal* backpack for our day tripping needs.

It’s been so long since I’ve travelled to Israel that I’ve forgotten a few things. Today we had an emergency stop at the dentist, and before we left he came running out with a slip of paper. “Are you going to Jerusalem?” He asked. “Will you be visiting the Kotel?”

When I nodded, he pressed a note and two five-dollar bills into my hand. “Please put the note in the Kotel for me. And here’s some shaliach money—half for the way there, half for the way back.”

On the way back home, R looked at me quizzically. “What was that about?” she asked.

“You know that some people write out their prayers and put them into the cracks in the Kotel, right?”

She nodded.

“So since we’ll be there, and he’s not, our dentist asked us to take his note and put it in.” I said. “And the money… it’s a superstition that if you’re on your way to do a mitzvah, no harm will befall you. So he gave us money to use for tzedakah when we get there—protecting us on the way there, you see—and money to give to tzedakah when we get back—so we’ll get back safely.”

See how educational travel is? We haven’t even left home yet, and R has already learned something new.

Tomorrow’s post may be delayed or absent, given all the travel and time difference. See you on the flip side!

family fun · Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · Kids

Day 758: Brings Back Memories

Our seders were wonderful. With both my brothers there for the first time in years, we fell back onto some familiar roles and recreated some childhood memories. I’ve learned a few things from the last two nights:

  1. Our kids didn’t seem to fully understand that the search for the afikoman can begin as soon as it’s been broken and wrapped; one of them also made the mistake, having found the afikoman, of just putting it on the table next to her plate and then being shocked that it wasn’t there anymore (because I stole it back.) Why do they know so little of afikoman subterfuge?
  2. Next time we want a picture of my parents and all their descendants, we should take it before we start the seder so that everybody is wearing their holiday clothes and nobody is wearing pyjamas, teary-eyed, or so tired that they can only be silly.
  3. Years of living in three different cities can fall away in mere minutes when my brothers and I are singing “Echad Mi Yodea” together.
  4. It’s way more fun to sing Hallel when there’s harmony involved.
  5. No matter how prepared we think everyone is with Yontif clothes, someone will have a fashion crisis that will cause us to be late to the seder… even though people will only see you from the chest up for the entire four hours.

But what really brings back memories is the way I slept in until noon today. I haven’t done that since before children. Those were the days…

Holidays Jewish and holidays not. · Jewy goodness · well *I* think it's funny...

Day 755: Kosher

(Sung to the tune of “I’m Ready” by Bryan Adams)

I’ve got a burning in my lower back
My freezer’s so empty it’s obscene
There’s sticky plastic film on my countertops
I’ve set the oven to “self clean”

‘Cuz we’re cleaning… for Pesach…
Been working
since wake-up
Kitchen’s kosher… for Pesach…
The chametz
Is taped up
It’s kosher as it’s gonna be…

I scratched the rice pot with a pair of tongs
When I was dipping it today
We’re not sure where every dish belongs
But I can really, truly say…

That we’re ready… for Pesach…
This is not just
Spring cleanup
Kitchen’s kosher… for Pesach…
We switched over
Every plate and cup
And it’s kosher as it’s gonna be…

Chag pesach kasher v’sameach—A happy and kosher Passover!

Picture of my kitchen after passover cleaning. Countertops are shiny because of the clear shelf paper they're covered with.