Friday, October 13, 2017

Friends Trump Work

You can tune through the channels and pick up different programmes
Ben Yehuda Street, Jerusalem 
It is the end of the Jewish festivals. We go back to school on Sunday and surprisingly, because it was all supposed to have been done by now, I have loads of planning and test writing to do.

I was just about to post a very low key R2BC in which I was struggling to find something interesting to write. Sitting here lesson planning and exam writing does not make me cheerful. Added to that we were embarking on one of those days of, "what are we doing today Mummy? I'm bored."

The ancient  very old with the very modern

Then we got a phone call from a friend from England who's here for the holiday and because her daughter is going into the army. They are in town and would we like to go and meet them for lunch? We did. DD had to get dressed, I had to put myself together, but we were out, on the bus, and in town within 30 minutes.

We did the usual stroll down Ben Yehuda Street. Then we strolled back up again. Then we walked to the Machane Yehuda market. It was packed. We were going to stop for a falafel lunch in the market but the queue was too long. So we walked back to town and ate at a falafel place on King George Street.

Still a low key R2BC but it was lovely to catch up with old friends. It was good to go out and do some walking. I still have my work waiting for me to do, but friends trump work.

I'm linking up with Reasons 2B Cheerful at Becky's Lakes Single Mum.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The First Rain

You can't see the rain but dig the wellies.
The big news this week is that it rained yesterday.

I was still in bed when DD came running in to tell me, "I just realized it's raining!" I jumped up and ran into the living room. And there it was. Real rain. DD said, "I can't believe it. I haven't seen rain for so long." (Think how you would react to waking up to the first magical snow - that's how we felt and reacted.)

DD put on her wellington boots and went out onto the balcony. She stood watching, transfixed, and smiling from ear to ear.

It wasn't only us. There were tens (or even hundreds) of comments on facebook just announcing the rain. We were collectively thrilled. We even have a name for the first rain after the long hot summer. It's called the Yoreh.

It was cold outside too. I wore my fleece and real shoes instead of sandals.

The best thing about the rain is the clear fresh air it leaves afterwards. Looking down, the street looks clean and the cars are all shiny again. A thick layer of dust and dried mud has been washed away. I feel like cleaning my house.

So forget September 1st as the real start to the new year. Or my birthday on September 4th. Or Rosh Hashana. Or Yom Kippur. Or, as usually happens, "after the all the festivals are over we'll get going with real life, goals, work, diet, etc..." (That would be next Sunday). We're up early, refreshed and raring to embrace the new year, today, after the Yoreh.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Why I Hate The Derech Bet Lechem Street Fair

Last night we went to the annual street fair that happens two blocks from our house. They close the road and rent out tables to merchandisers - mostly food and cottage industry crafts. Then everyone comes because there's nothing else to do and it's "free". However the idea of it, from the organiser's point of view, is to get you to spend as much money as possible. The idea of it from my point of view is not to spend any money at all.

As we approached I could see that the road was packed. I told DD that we'd mosey all the way up to the end, then we'd mosey all the way back, and then we'd go home. "What's mosey?"
"It's walking very slowly and seeing everything along the way. Let's see if we can meet more than 10 people we know," I suggested to make it a bit more fun. We met about 20 people we knew before we even got to the entrance barrier.

Two seconds in I got a phone call from a friend from out of town. "I'm at the street fair. Are you here?"
"Yes we're here."
"I'm by the Waffle Bar."
"We'll be there in two secs."

I dragged DD along to the waffle bar. "Hey! This isn't moseying. I wanted to see something over there. Why are we running?"
"Were going to meet my friend."
"Oh no! And then you're probably going to want to stop for a conversation. Correct?"
"We'll talk and mosey at the same time."

It was lovely to see my friend and her husband. We moseyed a bit together and chatted. DD saw a 2 nis key chain with a tin koala and wanted to buy it for 15 nis. I told her we should see everything and if she still wants it we can get it on the way back. She was disappointed and there may have been some whining involved and the tiniest hint of an argument.

Suddenly we saw DD's best friend standing at the side of the road sobbing. We stopped to learn that they'd lost her three year old brother and her father was running around frantically trying to find him. I spotted him and he was indeed frantic. DD's friend was distraught. I apologised to my friends but we had to help look for the boy.

We were just before a dense crowd watching a band playing. It was almost impossible to get past but we pushed our way through and hurried right up to the end of the road and the exit barrier. The music stopped and they made an announcement about the missing child. I gave his photo to a policewoman who shared it on the police whatsapp (or whatever they use). Meanwhile the father had found him holding hands with another policewoman at another barrier.

DD wanted to go back and see that her friend was ok. So we ran back to the concert crowd and DD pushed through, dragging me behind her. A lady tapped me on the shoulder and said, "we're following in your footsteps."
"You'd better hold hands then." I gave her my free hand and we pushed on. I noticed that she had another four people behind her all holding hands. We were a train of seven with DD in the lead. Eventually we made it out the other end and were all able to uncouple.

DD's friend had gone home. I think her father probably needed a stiff drink. I offered DD something to eat. There were 9 mini doughnuts for 20 nis (4 pounds something) - we only wanted one. Or there were thin crepes with a shmeer of Nutella also for 20 nis. I said we'd eat at home. The koala key ring had been sold.

DD lost it and I don't blame her. We'd been out less than an hour. We'd run up and down the road hardly stopping to look at anything. She didn't get anything. Her legs hurt. She was fed up and so was I. I said we could stop at the 24/7 grocery on the way home and she could buy whatever she wanted. "Can I buy Fanta?" I bit my tongue and said, "just this once." And then obviously I had to buy some food for myself that I didn't need to eat.

We spent 60 nis at the 24/7. Grrrr. I should have just bought the doughnuts. Then we came home armed with a load of junk food and I had to spend the rest of the evening playing Rat-a-tat Cat to make up for everything.

(I just want to add that in previous years the fair has been much much better with loads more street entertainment, lots more participatory art, and many more stands with real artists selling real art.)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Eating in the Tabernacle - R2BC

Once again there are Reasons 2B Cheerful. Becky at Lakes Single Mum has taken back the baton for October and I've joined the linky as usual.

I took up the challenge from Jax at Making It Up to blog for all 30 days of September. In the end I only managed 18/30 but that was good enough. My life just isn't that fast to have something of general interest to write every day. Still, the 18 posts were enough to boost my stats and increase my TOTS100 ranking for the second month running. I'm now only 39 tantalizing ranks away from being back in the top 500. So I'm going for another month of lots of blogging to see if I can break the 500 barrier for the first time in almost two years.

Another holiday
We went back to school on September 1st, we had a few days off for Rosh Hashana, nothing for Yom Kippur this year as it fell on a weekend, and now we have a whole 12 days for Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles). Sukkot is only an eight day holiday but the day before and the weekend after made a great block of days off. Of course this is only for teachers. Everyone else with young children has to juggle childcare for a week while they are at work and the kids are off.

Lunch in the sukkah
We had a lovely day with friends today when we were invited to lunch in their sukkah. A sukkah is a temporary dwelling outside (a tabernacle) with a natural covering through which you can see the stars. It symbolizes the dwellings in the desert inhabited by the children of Israel as they journeyed from Egypt for 40 years after the exodus, until they reached the Land of Israel. (Funny how it didn't take Joseph and later Jacob and his other sons, nearly as long to make the original journey from Israel to Egypt.)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Arrogance Of Thanking God

I'm running out of relevant photos. Here is possibly where God lives. 
I have many friends who, whenever things work out for them whether it be a stroke of good luck or good timing, thank God for putting everything in place for a happy outcome. I started to do this myself recently. The older I get the more I'm convinced of a higher power. Whatever the nature of this higher power is up for debate. I do believe though, that if you work for the good and if you are in tune with the universe and humanity within it, then it will will work for you and you will get your reward.

We want to make two trips to London in the coming year to visit family and celebrate various events (the exodus from Egypt being one of them ;~p). My mother had been urging me to book the flights for the first visit at least so that she could plan around it. I was holding off until October when I get paid for my summer courses and get a full salary for being back at school in September.

Ten days ago I got an email from Easyjet saying that bookings were now open through to next summer. I decided to take a look. If I booked for our second trip as well I might get really low prices for being so early. 

Prices for next year were very reasonable. Prices for the end of this year, less than three months away, not so much. So I went to check out Monarch. I found something cheaper but not enormously cheaper. I found the Monarch website confusing as I'm familiar with Easyjet, and I couldn't work out how to change the quoted prices from dollars to pounds. 

I suddenly realized that my credit card only gets paid from my bank account on the 10th of the month (in full so it's actually more like a debit card paid once a month). So I went back to Easyjet, paid the extra, and was confident that I'd not sacrificed the known and trusted to save about $70. And while I was at it I also booked for our second trip next year. 

I was wrong about the credit card. Apparently when you pay for something in foreign currency it gets paid straight away directly from the bank account. I went into big overdraft but put the week's worth of interest on the overdraft down to experience. 

Ten days later Monarch went bust and Easyjet prices have almost doubled. I spent over 1000 pounds on eight flights and, had I booked with Monarch, would have had to spend another almost 2000 pounds had we decided to go anyway - which we might not have done due to the cost. 

My first thought was to thank God. Well something made me 1. book early and 2. decide not to book with Monarch even though they were cheaper. Thank you God. God loves me. I please God and he takes care of me. Trust in God and all will work out for the good. Etc... etc...

However. There's always a 'but' isn't there. A friend of mine, a widow who lives modestly in order to be able to visit her children and grandchildren living abroad, booked a trip with Monarch only a few days before the closure. Her credit card company say they have already paid Monarch so there is nothing they can do (different rules from the UK possibly) and she's lost her money. 

What does that mean in terms of God? He loves me but hates her? Believe me, she's a lot more particular about the religious laws than I am. 

Elliot Jager, in his book The Pater, My Father, My Judaism, My Childlessness, writes that he started to turn away from God when they couldn't have children. How could he love a mean God who would not bless he and his wife with a child when so many others, even less worthy others, are having families of 6, 7, or more children. And I remember thinking the same thing when I was single, childless, and approaching 40.

Jager's friend pointed out to him that he must have known childless couples before he found himself to be in this situation. He must have known people in the past who desperately wanted children but were unable to have. Of course he had. So why was God only a mean God when he didn't deliver for the Jagers but not when he didn't deliver for all the other worthy but sadly childless people? 

So then it's ok to thank God when you accidently leave your purse or your phone in a shop but then remember and run back to find it still sitting there on the bench in the fitting room. And it's good to thank God when you narrowly miss being knocked down by a motorcycle overtaking the car that stopped for you on the zebra crossing. And when you slip over in the street but only bruise your knee and scrape your hand but don't break your leg, thank God. 

But this doesn't make sense if you can't also thank God when you miss being affected by a tragedy that has struck others. If I were in Vegas last week and survived, should I thank God for sparing me? If He's so powerful why didn't he spare everyone? If He spared me, is it arrogant of me to believe myself to be more worthy than any of the other people there?

Of course you don't have to evoke specific events for this line of thought. It could apply to our very lives. Thank God I was born into a middle class, loving family, in the UK, at a time of peace and not into a starving village in Africa. What do you say to God about those children who were born in poor villages in Africa? 

I wish I had an answer but I don't. Every time I want to say, "Thank God," now, I feel guilty. If anyone has any insight on this I'd be very interested to hear it. The nearest philosophy I can come up with for some sort of explanation is from my friend's mother, Mrs Slifkin, who used to tell her children, "different people have different things." You can't argue with that. 


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tuesday Tidbits #48 - Writing The Great Novel

I am thrilled to announce that The Great Novel is being written in my house at long last.

But not by me.

DD decided that she can write just as well as E. Nesbit so why not do it. So far she's completed about 4 pages of handwritten A4 paper.

Last night she asked: "Have you got a typewriter?"
Me: What?
DD: A typewriter. I need one for writing my book.
Me: People don't use typewriters anymore. They write on the computer.
DD: Really?

Her story is a mystery. There's no plot yet as she's making it up as she goes along.
DD: I'm exploring this world myself even though I'm creating it.

It starts with a girl who wakes up one Sunday morning and her mother and father are gone. She has no idea where they are but she knows there's school that day.
Me: There is school or there isn't school?
DD: There IS! I told you it's a Sunday! (Silly me. People with Israeli children will appreciate this.)

She asked me to write down Elizabeth, Lizzy (I also wrote Lizzie because you can choose either), and Lizard.
DD: Lizzy is short for Elizabeth right? And a mean girl who doesn't like her calls her Lizard. Get it?

So she wrote: Hi, my name is Elizabeth but Lizzy for short. You can also spell it Lizzie you know but I spell it Lizzy.

Of course she has been published before
There's a great beginning in which Lizzy knows she has to go to school but she doesn't know which school she's going to or how to get there.
DD: I'm making her 12 because that's when you go to a new school and you're old enough to go by yourself. Shall I tell you how she finds out where her school is?
Me: Mmm yes please.
DD: She finds her school uniform and goes out. Then she sees two girls with the same uniform. The same uuuuniform, get it?
Me: I get it.
DD: Clever eh? So she follows them and gets on the right bus.
Me: Brilliant.
DD: I'm thinking of making it a boarding school. I think that's more fun. This is the first day back after the summer. And then she makes friends with other girls who help her solve the mystery of where her parents are.

DD: I changed it a bit. Before she went out she ate breakfast. I think that's a bit more realistic than just going straight out, don't you?

I find it interesting that the girl obviously has two parents when DD doesn't. And, btw, we don't do breakfast in our house - neither of us.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Reinventing Yom Kippur Without The Middleman

Today was Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. I didn't go to shul (synagogue). For someone who comes from a very traditional (and sometimes orthodox) background, this is no small thing.

I felt guilty because I belong to a very small community that meets only for services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and its continuity relies on people turning up. Otoh, the community has evolved over the years with people moving away and new people joining every year. And they don't do it for me, they do it because it's important for them and they love the intimacy of a small community in someone's home. But I rsvped that we would be there and so I felt bad and I was too much of a coward to tell them that in the end I just didn't want to. 

I love parts of the services that involve uplifting singing of tunes that I've known my whole life. And the feeling of that final 'kaddish' at the very end and the long blast of the shofar when everyone has been without food or drink for 25+ hours and it's all over, is an amazing feeling of togetherness and achievement. 

But actually what did we achieve? For me the answer was that I lasted a whole day without sustenance and I managed to attend all the services throughout the day in full. Surely that's not what it's all about?

This year, after resisting it and distancing myself for a few years, I decided to follow my heart. In previous years I've had the excuse that DD gets bored and a bored DD prevents me from having any sort of meaningful prayer experience. But I had a place to leave her this year and anyway there are other children at the shul for her to go off and play with. Otoh, at almost nine, it's not a matter of finding her somewhere to be with other children to play with. She doesn't want to be out all day playing. For some of the time, yes, but she has things to do at home and she also needs her personal time. 

I have a problem with orthodox prayer in that the women basically go to watch. I didn't always mind about this as it meant I had it easy. I never had to learn the prayers or worry about being called upon to do something I couldn't do or hadn't practised. In recent years, however, I have felt differently. Yes women are supposed to pray but as they are not counted in the minyan (the quorum) and they sit at the back or in a viewing gallery upstairs, they might as well stay at home. I have no problem with the men going to do their thing but I don't need to be there to watch them. In recent years many modern orthodox communities have made carefully considered gestures to give women more participation in the services. I appreciate that in Judaism it's extremely hard to make changes but. (Nothing else, just but.)

Of course there are gender-egalitarian services that I could go to. So let's examine the nature of the services. The prayers are all in a book and everyone has the same book. You start at the beginning and you read, chant, sing, follow silently, stand, sit, bow, face eastwards, and generally choreograph your way through to the end in unison with the whole congregation. It's all prescribed, there is a lot of repetition within each service, and you do the exact same thing every week or year depending on whether it's a weekly Shabbat or a yearly festival service.

At the end of each service I used to feel virtuous because I'd gone to shul and that was the 'good' thing to do. Nowadays I'm left with a feeling of, "I didn't get to say anything I wanted to say." You can try tuning out to do your own introspection but you sort of have to keep one ear tuned in so that you join in with choreography. If you just sit there it's considered rude. Or ignorant. Or, worse, blasphemous. In a large shul you can get away with sitting at the back in a corner and reading your own book. I know some people do this for parts of the service they consider less important. But guess what? I can read at home. 

There are alternative services near me where they allot times in the service for private meditation and thought. This is nice because you get the community togetherness and time for your personal prayers. However, I decided to ditch the prescribed prayers altogether this year and explore my own relationship with God and atonement. 

It's not about being less Jewish. It's about being more meaningfully Jewish. It's about having a direct relationship with God rather than going through the rabbis. I admire the rabbis for their learned knowledge of the Bible and the ancient laws, just as I admire doctors for their learned knowledge of medical science. Much as your doctor will advise you towards better health, the rabbis also teach us that we have freedom of choice. Ironically the orthodox rabbis then proclaim that if you choose to do it their way you will be rewarded for the good, but if you choose a different way, you are wrong. I'm just not on that page anymore. 

This Yom Kippur I cut out the middleman and I spoke to God myself. I repented and atoned and I prayed for Israel and Jews everywhere and humanity in general. I sat on my balcony and thought deeply about a better approach to the year ahead and asked that I may be written in the Book of Life in order to carry through my good intentions. It was good.