The bitter, and the sweet

*Tonight marks the start of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial/Veterans’ Day. Tomorrow night will be Israel’s Independence Day, Yom HaAtzmaut. Here’s what’s going through my head right now.

It’s already somber outside. You can feel it oppressively smothering everyone.

And there’s still 20 minutes to the preliminary siren, bringing the next 24 hours to the fore.

Tomorrow the “real” siren will sound, calling everyone to a halt, to stand at attention, to remember, to commemorate, to never forget.

As if we need a bone-chilling, two-minute long reminder.

As if walking down these streets every day isn’t enough.

As if knowing, in the deepest recesses of my heart, that every single person i know in this country – has lost someone. Parent. Sibling. Child. Friend.

Tomorrow, for two minutes, the country will stop.

Two minutes is too long, but also not enough.

There is no siren that ends the next 24 hours. Just fireworks and the smell of grilled meat. Oh, the irony.

And instead of standing still, we move – we tour the country, we hike, we meet with family and friends. We drink, and eat, and drink some more, and maybe get sunburned too.

We dance and sing, and wave our flags.

We relish our culture, our country, our heritage, our home.

But this dichotomy happens every day. All the time.

For the next 48 hours we separate them, divide them, distinguish the two.

It’s hard.
But i wouldn’t have it any other way.

#HappyBirthdayIsrael

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Veterans of a Different Sort

It was Veterans’ Day yesterday in the States. Which meant absolutely nothing was different and you can go about your lives, citizens.

Which is kind of sad.

In Israel, Veterans’ Day is a national holiday. People are excused from work and many companies consider the day lost, because half of their employees need to leave early because schools and day cares end early that day. Continue reading

The Fast Track to Adulthood

A few years ago a friend of mine asked me why we fast on Yom Kippur. Which is a serious question in normal standards, but he happened to ask me this at 3:30 in the morning while we were driving home after working a night shift.

In my sleep-deprived and exhaustion-laden state, I was mentally preparing myself to give him something resembling a half-ass answer, when I was rudely interrupted by errant sprinklers hitting the windshield and scaring the bejeezus out of me. So instead I burst into hysterical giggles, which made him start laughing, because we were in a matzav kapit.

A brief pause for translation:
matzav – Hebrew; literally “situation”
kapkit – Hebrew; literally “spoon”

A slang term that means you are so whatever, that even mentioning the word “spoon” will set you off in uncontrollable fits of hysterical, and sometimes maniacal, laughter.

Of course, I’m writing about this which means some part of my subconscious still wants to provide him an answer, despite the fact that we don’t work together anymore.
Also it’s a question that many people ask each year, regardless of age and level of religious observance.

So, disregarding the fact that he may not even read this – why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because the Torah says so.
This is kind of such a cop-out answer; there are lots of things written in the Old and New Testaments which lots of people don’t do all the time. Let’s be honest – it’s the kind of answer that parents give to their toddlers after a 35-minute Q&A session.

Just shut up and eat your french fries.

Just shut up and eat your french fries.


It’s also the kind of answer that he wouldn’t approve of, and would result in an eye-roll and “no, really”. And I would have to either delve deeper into that answer or provide another one.

So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.
True; that is the literal translation. It’s a day to atone for our sins and purify ourselves. But do we really need to devote an entire day to apologizing for past wrongdoings?
I remember a situation many years ago when I was at a friends’ wedding. It turns out one of my former high school classmates was also there; we hadn’t seen each other in about 7 years. After genuine surprise at seeing each other, and the obligatory “hey what have you been up to?” had been exchanged, he looked me straight in the eye and said “I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you in high school.”
It took me completely by surprise, but I readily accepted because he was really sincere. (Also because he wasn’t one of the worse ones, but we’ll let that pass)

People are capable of apologizing for things they did or said throughout the year, and many times those apologies are done on full stomachs. Sometimes those stomachs are full of alcohol, but the point remains – we don’t have to fast to apologize. And we don’t need a special day to apologize either.

So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because Yom Kippur is a day for our soul
Yom Kippur is the day where our souls are weighed and judged, and everything we did during the past year is held against us (for good or bad). As such, souls are purely spiritual and don’t need food or water to sustain themselves.

Just, you know, a really heavy feather for the afterlife.

Just, you know, a really heavy feather for the afterlife.


Because this day is primarily for our souls, we put our physical needs aside for one day. We don’t eat or drink, or wear comfortable shoes, or shower (you get the idea) to show how serious we are about this whole thing. And the more religious ones spend the entire day praying for our souls even though by the end we are so deliriously hungry we can’t concentrate on the prayers we’re saying, much less stand up straight at all. The prayers lose none of their importance or significance, but the hunger and caffeine withdrawl make it really hard to focus.

So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because fasting makes us weak
Physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically – across all boards we are not strong. Blood sugar plummets, mouths go dry, spots appear in our vision, extremities get light and shaky – we become very uncomfortable and start to behave rather stupidly.

Yeah, pretty much.

Yeah, pretty much.


Without complex carbohydrates and dihydrogen monoxide, our synapses don’t fire the way they usually do – and that’s when it isn’t 90 freaking degrees outside and the AC doesn’t work.
Studies have shown (and dystopian YA novels have confirmed) that weakness is a bad thing. It is not good to be perceived as weak, because then you are seen as young and stupid. You are not trusted with certain pieces of information, because if you are weak there is no way you can deal with [fill-in-the-blank here].
Just like in most coming-of-age novels, the person in question must go on a journey of some kind whereby they undergo a transformation of sorts in order to prove to the naysayers and haters that they really are capable of understanding what is going on around them.
Most of the time, said journey involves admitting the said weakness. And that makes them strong.

So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because fasting makes us strong

When you admit that you are weak, it shows understanding of yourself, and that in turn shows strength. It shows that you have turned a corner (or whatever phrase you want to use here that means the same thing). You’ve matured; you’ve grown up; you’re a real boy/girl/alien life form.
Admitting weakness allows you the opportunity to grow and get to listen in on all the juicy secrets that the grown-ups didn’t think you could handle. Admitting your weaknesses brings you one step closer to adulthood.
It’s also one of the most difficult things that everyone faces in their life. And it does not get easier over time. One only hopes that, as time goes on, we don’t have to do it as much because we learn from past mistakes, which means we have less to feel sorry for. But even so, we still have to apologize for the things we did do.

So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because we are adults and understand that we are accountable for our actions
There’s a reason that fasting the full day only starts once you celebrate your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It’s because you are now responsible and accountable for your actions and therefore must admit when you did something wrong. (Up until that point your parents fasted for you in addition for themselves, so chalk that up to parental love and devotion.)
Now I had no idea what I was atoning for when I was 12, even with my stellar Jewish-Day-School education. And despite the inter-linear translation now available to me I still don’t get it. But that doesn’t remove me from the ritual or revoke my responsibility.

But there is something that I never liked about apologizing in public and as a group, even though it makes us strong like a mighty faggot.

I will admit that I may have taken this too far...

I will admit that I may have taken this too far…

It’s because apologies are only as powerful as they are individual. When you apologize en masse the apology becomes diluted. Especially when the list of transgressions is decades-old Hebrew that most people don’t understand, much less actually transgress, leading many rabbis to translate and put them into a modern context.

So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because it’s embarrassing

Atoning in public where everyone can see and hear does seem a bit forced, and there is no small amount of embarrassment involved. I know it’s how Nooshkin feels when I make her apologize for being not nice to her friends, especially in front of said friend’s parent/s and whoever else happens to be there. But we live in a day and age where if there are no witnesses then it did not happen, and this idea is not novel.

Observing Yom Kippur in public, and not in private, shows our strengths and weaknesses to everyone in our community, and it allows us to acknowledge theirs as well. We fast and pray (and wander the empty streets of a pseudo post-apocalyptic Israel) together.

As adults we carry that responsibility with us, regardless of how uncomfortable we may feel. And, especially in a group setting, there is a lot of power that comes with that kind of responsibility.

So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because we are Spiderman

Doing whatever a spider can.

Doing whatever a spider can.

We fast on Yom Kippur because we are just trying to do whatever we can to get by, even if it means swinging around in our underwear from time to time.

And I can live with that.

Health, Happiness, & Prosperity

Just like every other Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew; lit. “head of the year”) is fraught with extra-special everything. Actions, prayers, traditions, food, and of course, symbolism.

so much symbolism...

so much symbolism…

Except, it’s different from every other Jewish holiday. Mostly because it’s the start of another year. So – take all the excitement of the secular New Year, add a heaping pile of religion, and make sure there are 2 additional equally important and significant holidays that occur around the same time….
Et Viola – the Jewish New Year.

News feeds and inboxes are filled with updated family pictures, personal reflections and introspection on the past year, and general good will towards friends and family for the coming year. Many individuals also discuss their menus, and include pictures of said food. This was happening way before Pintrest and Instagram made it a thing. Because we are trend-setters. Or something.
Some traditional foods included in some way, shape, or form during this holiday are:

Honey: for a sweet year
Apples: because Fall and harvest (and probably a more spiritual reason which I’m blanking on)
Pomegranates: legend says that this fruit contains 613 seeds, which is equal to the number of positive and negative commandments in the Torah. I don’t think this has been proven because I don’t know anyone who has actually counted them.
Carrots: because the word for carrot in Yiddish sounds like something that sounds like money. Also in Yiddish.
Lettuce, half a raisin, celery: because Dad Jokes and Puns

*groan*

*groan*

This two-day holiday (which sometimes transforms into a 3-day extravaganza, but more about that headache another time) is also different because unlike other Jewish holidays, there is no story involved with the celebration. It’s just a date on the calendar.
To summarize: this is a major holiday that starts our lives anew, doesn’t revolve around a story, and contains a lot more prayer and ritual. Also, due to the proximity of Yom Kippur, there is quite a bit of early-bird-style repentance involving charity and resolutions.

Because that's the kind of people we are this week.

Because that’s the kind of people we are this week.

I kid – there is actually a lot of sincerity going around. And although that is really not a bad thing, it is quite scary when you really think about it. But I don’t want to get into that, because I have to get another batch of cookies from the oven. Also, because it will detract from the main point I’m trying to make (maybe next time I shouldn’t type in 10-minute bursts…)

It is true what has been said, that although holidays and seasons repeat themselves, we are not the same people each time; and, therefore, there are inherently different feelings surrounding each holiday. Especially for me, because so many important events in my life seem to revolve around this holiday…

12 years ago: It was the first holiday I celebrated in Israel. Like every holiday in every religion, Rosh Hashanah is family-oriented. Immediate, extended, and pseudo-families get together and eat way too much food during this two-day holiday. Being the representation of new beginnings, it was very appropriate that this was the first holiday I celebrated in my new home, with family that I had not seen in at least a decade.

8 years ago: It was the last holiday I celebrated with my family in Chicago before getting married. Which is a pretty big deal every possible way you slice it.

5 years ago: I first found out about Nooshkin. She was the size of my thumbnail. I couldn’t eat any of the symbolic food (curse you first-trimester nausea). I had never been happier.

And, this year: It is the first holiday without Nana.

Every year, a week before the holiday actually started, Nana would go to the butcher and buy fresh fish heads – haddock, carp, whatever they had – take them back to her apartment and begin a three-day exercise in love and family. Yes – she made enough fresh gefilte fish for her entire family. All [insert ever-increasing number here] of us. Every year one of us would be the designated delivery person, and our car stank of fish afterwards. That tradition was one of the best parts of the holiday.

But no – I did not make her gefilte fish this year. I probably won’t make it ever because I can’t stand fish heads. Slimy, scaly – guh. *shudder*
But – I still remember the texture and taste of them. And I probably always will.

There’s more that I wanted to write, but it’s almost time for the holiday to begin. So instead I will leave you with this:

May the memories of past years, both positive and not-so-positive, influence your choices for the coming year.
If you decide to set goals* and resolutions for yourself, may they be easily attainable.
Breathe Deep, and Seek Peace.

See you next year.

Honey Cookies

Ingredients:
1 1/3 cups oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup honey
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour

1) Mix together oil, sugar, eggs, honey, baking soda, salt and vanilla.
2) Add the flour, and mix until it is just incorporated.
3) Shape the cookies into balls, between 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter.
–Because the dough is super sticky, I recommend keeping it cool to make forming the balls easier. You will also probably need to rinse your hands between batches.–
4) Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
5) Bake in oven on 375 F (180 C) for 8-12 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven. The cookies should be crackly in the center and nicely browned around the edges.

Currently Grooving On: The Fountainheads “Dip Your Apple” (because as far as parodies go, this is the best)

*I have a decent list of goals and resolutions for myself for the coming year. I will share them because I am following the advice of a good friend (which is “if you tell people about it, then you have to actually follow through”).

Be More Selfish
In the past year I quit my job, started school, and created this blog – for myself. I had not really done that before, and it felt really good. Empowering. Amazing. I want to do more of that. In line with this goal is to take better care of myself mentally and physically.

Utilize and Maximize My Networks
I decided earlier this year to be more vocal in all my networks, and I got my current job because of that. Each one can be beneficial if used properly, so let’s keep up the momentum, shall we?

Make Good Art
On the good days, and the bad days. When there is nothing to say, and (especially) when there is too much. Be creative. Get messy. Make mistakes. And in line with that…

Get Something Published
I’ve got some things in the works. Several things, actually. Okay fine – four things. There, I said it – I have four creative writing things floating around my head, with bits and pieces down on paper (or Google Docs, because technology). And I’m sure there is more where that came from, and I want to get something done.

Passover Days 4-7

April Showers much?

Normally in Israel, Passover symbolizes the end of Winter and the start of Spring. Apparently, the weather gods have their wires crossed because it’s been raining fairly non-stop for the last three days, complete with lightening and thunder.

Taken 2 days ago, or 2 months ago?

Taken 2 days ago, or 2 months ago?

This only somewhat hampered our plans for the last days of Passover, in that it was really freaking cold in Jerusalem and we did not bring appropriate clothing. And then we got wet. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

When we last met, Nooshkin and I were planning to have a very uneventful day at home. Which is exactly what we did.
Except for that one part when I got Nooshkin a balloon and she let go of it while we were outside and because it was full of helium it floated away and she watched it and it resulted in the most horrendously awful tear-induced meltdown that there ever was.

The only reason there are no pictures is because A) I’m not horrible, B) I was busy comforting Nooshkin, C) I was busy telling her “I told you so” and “This is why you should listen to me, D) I was fascinated by how quickly the balloon flew away, E) All of the above, F) Everything except “A”.

In all seriousness, it was pretty bad. Complete with “But I want it!” while tears streamed down her cheeks. *sigh*

On Tuesday, Stinky Face joined us for a trip to Akko to meet up with some family. As Hubby had the car we took the scenic route on the train.

Drawing pictures for the cousins

Drawing pictures for the cousins

And enjoying the view

And enjoying the view

We spent the day walking around the Port and Old City of Akko, and by “day” I mean about three hours because the trip up to Akko took 2.5, and that long again on the way back. But still, fun was had and we got to see the water (Nooshkin was particularly happy about that), and it was hot enough to require sunscreen.

Cousin T, Nooshkin, and Stinky Face

Cousin T, Nooshkin, and Stinky Face

"Look, water!"

“Look, water!”

Hubby met up with us for dinner at a fancy-schmancy meat restaurant that we did not know existed except that it’s been around for a few years. It was very delicious and Nooshkin acted semi-appropriately.

Wednesday was spent at home recuperating, except that Nooshkin insisted on going to the park even though it was 100 degrees outside. Actually, yes – 100 degrees. Needless to say the AC was on when Hubby came home.

She insisted on dressing herself

She insisted on dressing herself

Thursday was spent traveling to and hanging out in Jerusalem with Stinky Face. Due to the previously-mentioned weather we hung out indoors and tried to not get blown away. Nooshkin was kind of amused and bemused by the crazy weather, and reacted fairly appropriately by running around to keep warm.
We then made our way to Efrat, where we spent the remainder of Passover and Shabbat with our fake-family. This involved even more food and additional thunderstorms, and a pretty amusing game of Trivial Pursuit.

Now that the holiday is over, the kitchen has been returned to normal. Nooshkin is back in school and I am back doing the endless piles of laundry that have accumulated. At least there aren’t any dishes.

Happy Passover! Days 1-3

Happy Spring Holidays to all! Don’t you love it when the gods’ schedules are synched? At least Greek Orthodox Easter is next Sunday.

Living in Israel when major holidays overlap is always crazy. That’s why we’re avoiding Jerusalem until the very end when everyone else has already gone and it will be somewhat calmer.

Friday was spent cooking so much food. But we had plenty of guests over for the Seder and so most of the food was eaten. But then I had to go shopping to replenish the food that was eaten, and now I can’t find the shelves in my fridge.

Most of the food was standard fare, but I made special-for-Passover brownies originally posted on Lulu and Lattes that our guests called “Sorcery” – mostly because they didn’t taste like Passover. When you have a holiday where even scrambled eggs taste different, making something that tastes like a regular food item is key.
These brownies are completely gluten-free and took about 2 minutes to put together, so I will probably add them to my regular rotation too. (recipe is below!)

Yesterday I, Hubby, Nooshkin, and Stinky Face went to the Game of Thrones Exhibit in Tel Aviv. It was pretty cool and there were many opportunities for my inner nerd to be very happy.

Stinky Face and the Restless Mama

Stinky Face and the Restless Mama

The Exhibit is here for the rest of the week, but there were a limited number of tickets available. Naturally, this didn’t stop people from trying to get in anyway – so there was a separate entrance for people who didn’t have tickets. But we were smart and ordered the tickets as soon as we found out this was happening, which was three weeks ago – go planning ahead!

Some of the costumes on display

Some of the costumes on display

Dragon Eggs!

Dragon Eggs!

There were some costumes, props, and interactive stations where you pretend to get burned by a dragon or turned into a White Walker. The lines were kind of long, so we didn’t do them.

The only line worth waiting in was for the Throne.

Future Queen of Westeros

Future Queen of Westeros

This line (surprisingly) went pretty fast, but that’s because there was an actual bouncer whose sole job was to kick people off the Throne so everyone else could have their turn.

We also walked around the Tel Aviv Port a little, but it was getting dark and cold (and we got caught in some spray) so we didn’t stay too long.

Nooshkin and I are hanging out today and we will probably wreck havoc around the neighborhood after wrecking havoc around the apartment.

Miracle Bar – courtesy of Amy Selling from Lulu and Lattes

INGREDIENTS
2 cups ground almonds
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup chocolate chips

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375; Grease a 9×13 pan. Mix ingredients together and spread in pan with spatula. Batter will be thick but do not add water. Just mix it well. Bake for 23 minutes. — OR — Shape into cookies and bake 12–15 minutes. Do not undercook.

How I Spend Every Spring Break

Well, it’s that time of year again…

*sigh*

*sigh*

Exactly one month after Purim, hamentaschen, and baked goods, the house needs to be scrubbed spotless for Passover. Because Judaism is full of hilarity.

In keeping with the theme of Jewish holidays, Passover celebrates the liberation of the Biblical Hebrews from generations of slavery in Ancient Egypt. The Hebrews were in Egypt primarily because of a pretty serious drought during the time of Joseph, and he was the Royal Vizier to the Pharaoh at the time (which meant he had connections) so he convinced his entire family to move to save themselves.
And things were pretty good, until along came another Pharaoh who “didn’t remember Joseph” (Biblical quote, too). He also seemed pretty unsettled by the sheer number of Hebrews that were currently taking up residence in his hometown, and decided to make them work for a living. And then work for no living.

Fast forward a couple of generations, and we meet Moses. Moses is alive because his mother put him in a basket down by the (Nile) river, and Pharaoh’s daughter happened to be playing in the reeds; she finds him and decides to adopt him, knowing exactly what he is. For the next few decades Moses is raised by the very people who make his peoples’ lives miserable, and he kind of loses it.

Moses runs away and finds himself; he also finds god in a burning bush that was not consumed. He comes back to Egypt a miracle worker and broken record. Essentially, this happens:

Moses: “Let my people go”
Pharaoh: “Nope”
God smites Egypt with a plague
Pharaoh: “Okay!”
God takes the plague away
Pharaoh: “Just kidding!”

Repeat 8x

On the tenth time:

God smites Egypt with the worst plague ever – Death of the Firstborn
Pharaoh: “GTFO and don’t come back!”
Moses and Hebrews: “We’re going, we’re going!”
God: Wow, I smoted them good.

About three days later Pharaoh comes to his senses (what?!) and gives chase to the Hebrews. Moses, having now gotten over his fear of public speaking, intervenes and asks for god’s help. The Red Sea splits and the Hebrews are saved; the Egyptians can’t do the backstroke very well and drown.

I don’t remember what specific event this date commemorates (thanks, Bestamama and Pa, for that super expensive Jewish education!). But I think it’s the date the Hebrews left Egypt.

In their haste to leave Egypt, the Hebrews didn’t have enough time to let their bread rise (which I find hard to believe. They weren’t working at all, and there were 10 plagues of increasing creepiness that they were immune to. Really, they had no idea what was coming?). So that’s why we eat matza.
Generations of rabbis added stringency upon stringency, to the point where Jews today cannot have anything from any kind of grain product – no bread, crackers, cheerios, pasta, cookies, whiskey, bourbon; anything fun, really.
But – not only can we not eat any of these items, we can’t own any of them either.

Hence, the cleaning. I’m completely sure that this is how the concept of Spring Cleaning originated.

Passover starts on Friday night, so this week is being devoted to cleaning, shopping, and cooking. Nooshkin is naturally very excited for all the things, especially the cleaning and shopping.

Putting nooshkin to work.

Putting nooshkin to work.

Stinky Face is coming for the entire holiday and will be sleeping on the couch, which everyone is super excited about (no, really). We have lots of fun stuff planned, most of which does not involve cleaning out the fridge and oven.

Which I really should get back to…