Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hand Made

I love to run on Friday afternoons in Efrat. The atmosphere is super charged with the coming of Shabbat. The streets are almost empty, there are amazing aromas wafting through the air, and there are even a few children freshly bathed and ready in their nicest clothing. It is peaceful and serene. This past Friday, as I was finishing up my run, something caught my eye just before I was about to turn up my street. There was a chair with some pieces of pottery on it and a sign that read:

You are invited to take


Shabbat Shalom

The sign was in Hebrew and so I read it several times to make sure that I had understood right. It’s quite unusual for people to give things away here. Our local chat list has people selling everything from used crocs to three legged chairs. It’s just not that material around here. So I was quite taken aback by this gift of beauty and the grace with which it was given. I grabbed a delicate cream pedestal plate and three small brown nesting bowls. I smiled to myself and felt Gd smiling to. Here’s why. Just before my run I was speaking to my father and expressing to him a frustration that he most certainly did not understand. My sister had recently been the beneficiary of some beautiful furniture. The person who gave it to her is not only one of my dearest friends, but also the owner of some of the most gorgeous things I have ever laid my eyes upon. If I had a magic wand my home would look exactly like hers, only here. I was feeling very happy for my sister until I found out that several pieces that she had gotten were covered in toile fabric. Toile. I know this is very hard to understand if you are a man or a woman who has not yet encountered toile, but when I see toile I get weak in the knees. It’s kind of like how my husband gets around steak. For those who don’t yet know what toile is, here is how Wikipedia explains it. “Toile de Jouy, sometimes abbreviated to simply "toile", is a type of decorating pattern (originating in France) consisting of a usually white or off-white background on which a repeated pattern depicting a fairly complex scene, generally of a pastoral theme such as (for example) a couple having a picnic by a lake. Toiles also often consist of an arrangement of flowers.” I can’t explain it, but when I see toile, I just can’t help but think that all is well in the world. I’ll admit it. I was jealous. So when I passed by those elegant but simple pieces of pottery, I felt like I was getting some sort of a consolation prize and that is why I smiled. Thanks, but I still preferred the happy picnic scenes on a French countryside. However, it occurred to me over Shabbat, as we were sharing our meal with our new friends and neighbors (pure Israeli), that there was a deeper message in all of this. Toile is a machine made fabric with a repetitive depiction of a pleasant scene. In contrast, something that is hand-made is imperfect, unpredictable, and unique. No two pieces are the same. It is also created by a human being every step of the way. It simply has more soul. So here is the message: by moving to Israel, I may have left behind toile, but I have been given ‘handmade’ instead. I left behind a pleasant life of relative stability and predictability for one heck of a ride. We are building a life from scratch in uncharted territory. We are creating the unique story that will go down in generations to come as the narrative of our family. We have been given the opportunity to be partners in creating the fabric of Jewish history. Don’t get me wrong. I still love toile, and will gladly accept any and all gifts graced by its beauty. But I understand better now that there is an irrevocable beauty in all that is handmade. There is perfection in imperfection. I have learned to see that the chance to use my own two hands to create my life is nothing less than a Gd given gift.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

This is what it’s all about.

Before I made Aliyah I would hear people who had already moved to Israel describe their new life as ‘holistic.’ They would say things like “I have never had so little and yet felt so rich.” I could not completely grasp what they were saying until we moved here and experienced it first-hand. Two events that occurred in the last month drove the message home more than any other. This past Friday, my kindergarten son had his end of year production. But it was no production. It was real, it was simple, and it was absolutely beautiful. The event was centered around the children receiving their siddurim for the first time, or as their Rebbe put it, they received their ‘friend for life.’ To prepare the children for this momentous occasion, they went on a trip to teach them about prayer. And what better place to teach Jewish children about Jewish prayer than the place that Jews have been praying at and towards for last few millennia; the kotel. The kids prepared little notes to place inside the ancient walls and then delivered them in person. Although my son’s prayers included a request for the whole world to be made out of Bamba, I think he got the idea that there is Someone to pray to and Someone that cares. By going to the kotel he also learned that he was about to become part of something much bigger than himself. I know that he felt a sense of pride when he received his siddur two days later because when they called him up to get his siddur he looked out at the audience, flashed a huge grin, and bowed 3 times! Ahh…this is what they meant by holistic. To learn about prayer and to go to the kotel. To pray in a language that you understand. To live in a country whose most important site represents your most important value. Just a few weeks earlier at my first grader’s commencement the sentiment was much the same. After learning the entire book of Genesis (i.e. 1/5 of the Torah) the children and their parents celebrated at Ma’arat Hamachpela – Tomb of the Patriarchs. After learning the stories of our foremothers and forefathers the children were actually standing at their burial sites! Not to mention that they already live in the area in which many of the stories took place! Before the ceremony, someone leaned over to me and said “you are really going to enjoy this. With all the struggles that moving here brings you can sometimes forget why you came here. After you see this, you will remember why.” The kids proceeded to act out most of the stories in Breshit. Which isn’t so unusual for a first grade production. Except that they were doing it on the actual site that the stories took place. One could not help but feel deeply that the kids were not just re-enacting the past – they were continuing the story in the present. In the same place. With the same values. And Gd willing with an equally positive impact on our future.

This is what it’s all about.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Runaround

Ok everyone, I get the message. I don’t call, I don’t write… Last time I felt this kind of pressure was when I was 9-years-old in sleep-away camp! So here I am, back in the blogosphere to let you know that all is well here in Machane Efrat. Where have I disappeared to for the last 4 months? I’ve been running around. Literally. (And also figuratively.) I now start almost every morning with a 4, 5, or 6 mile run around the Judean Hills. Can your rebbetzin do that? I couldn’t always. When we moved here almost 9 months ago, I could barely walk up my own street without getting out of breath. Then sometime around January I decided to walk around my block, then run, and then run some more. I haven’t stopped running since. I’m not really sure why. I’ve lost some weight, but not enough to make it worth my while due to my weakness for a certain Israeli food. Not falafel, not even schwarma, but its ‘cariot’ that I can’t resist. It’s a chocolate covered cereal filled with chocolate nougat that totally grosses me out as a breakfast cereal, but is just right for a snack that I can pretend is nutritious. It’s junk posing as good stuff. Hey, that kind of reminds me of the flotilla incident…but I digress. Back to running. Something is compelling me to run. Sometimes I think that I am making up for lost time. You get a mitzvah for every step that you take in Eretz Yisrael, so imagine the spiritual mileage I’m getting out of my morning escapades! And then there is the teaching that the air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wiser. Man, do I breath deep going up those killer inclines. I’ll be Einstein by August. Breathing deep also serves to calm and center me before I start my day, so I stress less and can better handle things like the dog emptying the garbage. Again. It also thrills me to no end to think that I am running on the same hills that our ancestors walked (or ran) on. I feel a deep connection with the land. I am now intimately acquainted with just about every brick and brush on my running trail. I guess this is my version of picking oranges on a kibbutz. But in the end, I think the thing that keeps me going is the idea that I am doing something that I never thought possible. I am pushing myself beyond limits I thought unbreakable. I am doing the unthinkable, for me anyway. This belief has served me well as I, and the world for that matter, stand at a crossroads. As we build our lives from nothing into something, I need to believe that the best is possible. I need to believe that challenges are surmountable. That I won’t crumble under the pressure. I have learned, physically and spiritually to smell the magnificent fragrances of our land and to appreciate the breath taking beauty, even as I struggle to put one foot in front of the other. I have learned that success comes one step at a time and that growth comes at the point where we struggle most. I have literally experienced the cliché that ‘what does not break us only makes us stronger.’ Then, as I sail down those hills that I ascended with such great difficulty, I experience the joy of reaching goals once thought unattainable. And then I know in my heart that anything is possible or as Herzl put it “If you will it, it’s no dream.”

So what are you waiting for? Stop giving the runaround and GO somewhere. Maybe here. As we say in athlete-speak “JUST DO IT!”

DISCLAIMER – if in 2 weeks or 2 years I stop running, put on weight, and get breathless going up the stairs of my home, no one is ever allowed to mention this particular post again.