Thursday, April 27, 2006

Not without my Matza!!

Part of our pre-Pesach experiences was going to buy hand made shmura matza for the Seder in Mea Shearim. It was quite an adventure as we wandered (basically aimlessly) around Mea Shearim looking for matza bakeries that were open in the middle of the night. We walked miles (literally) getting a very nice tour of the alleys and hidden courtyards of Mea Shearim. Had our yiddish been a little better we may have reach our goal a little faster, but we did persevere and were eventually successful. I was going to write something on the topic myself, but my friend Jordan wrote a nice piece (see below) that pretty much captured the experience so I will let him speak for me, plus it is an easy way to get Amichai into a picture!

Hope all is well!

Crossing the Yarden
© Al HaMakom 2006
by Yarden Frankl

Hey Buddy, Got Any Matzah?

Since this year was our first Pesach in Israel, we decided that we had to do something extra special. Together with my friend who also made aliyah from our neighborhood in the "old country," we decided that we would have a late night tiyul to Mea Sharim. We would find an old guy with a long beard making matzah by hand. He would bless us for our decision and teach us some wisdom while we sat at his feet. So off we went.

Mea Sharim in the middle of the night two days before Pesach is a really neat experience. The streets are full and everyone is in a holiday, festive atmosphere. The Haredi are actually really nice when not rioting, and many responded helpfully to our queries for Matzah.

Everywhere we went we saw an unusual sight. Men and women of all ages were running around with metal hand carts, most of which were full of potatoes. Sacks and sacks of potatoes. Every so often we would see a little child guarding the family pile of potatoes while the other members of the family collected more. We rounded a corner, and there in the street were several vans in which guys were selling potatoes out of the back. People were just crowding round the vans hollering for their taters.

Then we came to a whole street that was blocked off. A sea of black hats crowded round huge trucks filled with one of the four major Pesach food groups: meat, eggs, carrots, and yes – potatoes. Imagine a 40 foot lift that has been used by a family of ten to make Aliyah. Now take out all the big American furniture and appliances and fill the space with eggs – get the picture?

Yet, we were on a mission to buy matzahs – not eggs or potatoes – and we would not be deterred. When my slow Hebrew did not seem to be making an impression on the Haredi crowd ("Slicha, Efo HaMatzot Chabibi?") I instead just nudged some kid with really long braided peyos and said "Hey buddy, I need some good matzahs if you know what I mean."

At first he looked either alarmed or confused, but then he started giving the typical directions that Israelis give when they have no idea what you have asked them "Yashar, yashar, yashar, yamina, az yashar")

Somehow we found a matzah bakery. Dozens of workers were rolling dough and throwing it in and out of the fire. Yet in response to my poignant request for some of the flat stuff the kid who seemed to be running the place just shook his head. Apparently, out of the ten thousand matzahs they were baking, they had none to spare. Of course, I did not make any friends when I took out my camera to grab a shot of the place. Hey, nobody told me that cameras can make graven images. (Message to Haredi guys – put "no pictures either" on the charming signs welcoming women to the neighborhood).

Now, it was getting real late. We had walked for miles and still had no matzahs. (Although we did get to see the world potato market at work). We were about to give up when we somehow actually found a place just as they were closing for the night. There was the really old guy with the long beard that we had been searching for. Although he wanted to go home for the night, we used our natural charm and skills of persuasion (in other words we begged). Surprisingly, he found a half kilo for us.

You would think that finding Matzah in Mea Sharim before Pesach would be like finding ice in Alaska at Chanukah. Yet sometimes things don't work out exactly as you plan. But I guess it's like the whole Aliyah experience, things may not be exactly how you imagined, but if you persevere, you will get what you need.

L'Shana Haba…. Po.

Shabbat Shalom from our blessed nation.

Yarden Frankl is the former Executive Director of the Torah School of Greater Washington. He made Aliyah in July 2005 and lives with his family in Neve Daniel.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yom HaShoa

Today was Yom HaShoa. The first time that I experienced Yom HaShoa was 12 years ago when Josh and I were living here for the year. We had adopted an older couple in Kiryat Shemona who we visited often. On that day, I vividly remember the pale that set over their house. The news was on continuously and they were extremely somber. I had never met people who were so closely impacted and it left an impression on me.

Living in the States, a day like Yom HaShoa doesn't really have an impact. Here, I find that so much of our Judaism is tied up in the air we breathe. You don't even have to actively look for ways to celebrate or commemorate this or that - it's just part of life. Working in a school, I find that these holidays have even more impact, as there is always a program and a collective nature to the event.

So, today the entire school met in the auditorium for an assembly. I really didn't know what to expect. The pricipal had everyone stand at the beginning, and I couldn't understand what we were doing. Then I remembered - in Israel there is a siren that sounds in the entire country at the same moment for Yom HaShoa and Yom HaZikaron. It is one of the most intense and amazing things here. There we were, in this auditorium, standing silently listening to a two minute siren that was blaring across the entire country at the same time. That type of moment is really overpowering.

The assembly was breathtaking. The 7th grade girls did the entire thing with very powerful music, a lot of pantomimed scenes and a few voice overs. Throughtout the performance, I kept thinking - this is it. THIS is why I live here. I'm watching a recreation of an event that happened partly because we didn't have a state of our own to defend ourselves and flee to. I'm watching a recreation of an event that gave rise to the country in which I live. This is why I'm here. I remember going to Aushwitz years ago and breaking down in violent sobs. When? Not over the camp or the horrific images I saw there, but at the moment when I saw a huge group of Israeli teenagers draped in Israeli flags walking through the camp singing. They were telling the Nazis what they could do with their plan for the Jews - they were living, breathing examples of the potential for Jewish life and power. At the end of the ceremony today, the girls draped a huge Israeli flag over the traintracks that were on stage and then everyone stood to sing Hatikva. This is what it's about. This is why we are here.

Finally, I came home to find Matan and Yehuda having a very serious conversation this afternoon. Yehuda said to me that he had learned at school today about the very bad people that tried to hurt the Jews. Yehuda talked about what he understood, and Matan corrected him many times. I barely spoke. My 4 and 5 year old were discussing Hitler, the Nazis, the Jews who weren't able to escape and the destruction of Jewish life in Europe. Matan said, "Huda, this happened because there wasn't an Israeli army." Bless his heart. He's being taught that he lives in a country that protects its people and a country that fights for Jewish life and Jewish freedom. Amazing.

Our Pesach Break

Well, Pesach has come and gone and we enjoyed a great vacation together as a family. I was off for three weeks surrounding the Passover holiday and Josh worked off and on, but was able to spend a lot of time with us. It was really wonderful. Before Pesach, we heard from friends about a really cheap place to stay in Eilat. While Eilat wouldn’t have been our first choice, it sounded too good to pass up. And it really was! The hotel was right by all of the activity in Eilat and was an apartment hotel. So for about $50 a night, we had a kitchen, family room for the kids to sleep in and bedroom for us. It was perfect (except for Amichai waking up at 4:30 both mornings, but that’s another story!). We went to the aquarium, walked on the beach, went on a speedboat to see dolphins, and went to an interesting amusement park. The kids even got to go on trampolines where they were attached to rope and could swing in the air with glee – they were very excited! We arrived in a sand storm – something we had never experienced, even though we had heard about it while living on Kibbutz years ago. On the way down we stopped at kibbutz Revivim, where we met, to show it to the kids, and then we went hiking in a great national park on the way back and had a nice lunch at Yotvata Kibbutz.

After cleaning for Pesach and getting the house in order, we had a beautiful seder with the Frankls (reuniting with our Potomac tradition). Everyone came dressed as a part of the seder – Matan was Moshe Rabeinu; Jordan was Paroah; Miriam was Miriam; Yehuda, Rivka and Yedidya were all animals from the plagues, and I was darkness. It was very fun and an enjoyable and meaningful time. Next year with the Levins as well! (and anyone else who wants to join us : ) )! Saying “Next Year in Jerusalem” is so interesting when you live in Jerusalem and obviously has a different meaning for us now.

During Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days) Pesach we had four days to enjoy ourselves. We got the chance to see Deborah and Josh Wilbur and kids at a great monkey park near here. The monkeys were actually climbing right above our heads at one point, and the highlight of Yehuda’s day was getting peed on. What can I say? We briefly saw my brother and family while they were here for a bat-mitzvah and it was great to spend time with the little cousins. Another day we went to a deer park right by our house, another day we went to the beach with friends, and a final day we went shopping for furniture for our new house. Yes! We are actually moving in the next few months – yeah!

Now everyone has returned to school and life resumes. The next few months will be filled with crazy activity between Matan and my birthdays, Yom HaAtzmaut, Shavuot and other holidays, the end of the school year and the beginning of our packing and moving. We should be in by the beginning of July. We are starting to get quotes for some changes that we are doing to the house, and shopping for furniture. Many will be sad to know that our beloved green leather couch won’t fit in our family room, and so we are searching for a substitute. Is it really possible to have a Sussman house without that couch?!