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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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.

Forever & A Day

Hello lovely people! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? And I know I gave you all fair warning, I really thought that my first post-new-job post would finally be the one about Nyiradony. Don’t worry, that one is still chugging along.

As the excerpt may have hinted, I recently got back from a short trip to Chicago. The jet lag has worn off and I’ve returned to something resembling normalcy (for me, anyway).

To recap: I started a new job three weeks ago. While I knew that it would take time to adjust to the new schedule, I figured that after a couple weeks I would be able to get back into blogging – not to mention cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
Well…
Two weeks ago, I got a phone call about 30 minutes before it was quitting time. It was my mom, telling me that my grandmother had died.
Now, Nana was 93 and had not been doing that great. But, still. Death always comes as a surprise.
Let’s just reiterate here: it was my second official week on the job; my direct supervisor was on vacation; I had enough work in front of me to keep me busy with limited checking-up-on by other employees; and, I was too new to be myself.

Let’s adjust, shall we?

I told HR that I needed to leave slightly earlier than planned that day and immediately called Dodax and LAK. We had something resembling a conference call, where we were trying to decide if we should fly in and for how long and how insane that would be, especially because we wouldn’t actually make it for the funeral. Dodax and I were in agreement that we should all go or all not go, like a Three Musketeers kind of deal.
It was about this time, that we realized LAK wasn’t really talking that much. It turns out, she was on her way to the airport. Yes, while we were talking about how we wouldn’t actually make it for the funeral and all we could do was get there for part of the shiva, and we should all decide together what we should do, she was heading for her very last-minute, all-of-a-sudden, flight to Chicago.

Yup.

Yup.

With our decision made for us, we planned our own trips and proceeded to drive everyone and anyone in our immediate vicinity crazy inform everyone of said impending trips.

The rest of the week passed in a blur. The news slowly made the rounds at work; everyone was very sympathetic and kind of gave me a wide berth, which was nice but really not necessary. I informed Nooshkin that I would be going away, and she legit didn’t care. And the next thing I knew, it was Thursday night/Friday morning and I was on my way to the airport to spend a few days of shiva with my family.

Brief Pause for Explanations:

The way it works in Judaism is there are three stages of mourning: the first week, called shiva (Hebrew for 7); the first month, called shloshim (Hebrew for 30); and the first year, called nothing because that’s why. The names refer to the number of days that each stage lasts from the date of the funeral; so shiva is for a week, and shloshim is for a month.
Each stage is also different as far as the type of mourning that occurs. During shiva the mourners devote themselves completely to mourning the deceased. During this week they are not allowed to be in public; they sit in a designated location for the entire week and accept visitors (hence the term “sit shiva“). They do not bathe, or exercise, or check email. They are completely immersed in the act of bereavement, and visitors help them through it by telling stories, or simply just being there.
Once shiva ends, the mourners return to their day-to-day lives, but with limited social engagements, for the rest of the shloshim period. Once that period ends, the mourning restrictions lessen even more, and they can interact more with society, until the first year is over.

HOWEVER, as with many aspects of Judaism, there are loopholes with shiva. One of them is that mourners do not sit shiva on Shabbat. So I and all my siblings were together as a family for Shabbat in Chicago for the first time since Other Brother got married.
Except one of the In-Laws was there, so she ruined it. But the other In-Laws spent quality time together in Israel, which caused my mom to dub it the Outlaw Shabbat, thus forcing me to edit the Cast of Characters to reflect her momentary moment of creative inspiration.

Thank you, thank you...

Thank you, thank you…

The weekend itself was a blur, and although I spent the entire time in a state of zombified caffeinated blarg, a few moments do stand out:

  • Because this was so last-minute we did not have a chance to tell our many Chicago friends that we were coming. Which led to several excited reunions, one of which almost resulted in me getting steamrolled by our neighbor as he ran to give Dodax a bear hug.
  • Additionally, because we didn’t tell people we were coming, people who knew us did not actually believe that we were who we said we were. Many hilarious double-takes ensued.
  • I got to have mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. And delicious Chicago deli. But not at the same time, because kosher.
  • I managed to squeeze in a 30-minute trip to Target, whereby I did my best impression of a Whirling Dervish.
  • We found my grandfather’s drivers license, which expired in 1989. And Other Brother’s child proceeded to use it as a teething toy.
  • On the flight to Chicago I was bumped to Business Class, and on the flight back to Israel I had an entire row to myself.
  • I also heard about the last few days Nana was with us, because I spent basically all my time with family.
    Several times during moments of lucidity she would look around and comment “Wow. I’m still here. You just can’t get rid of me.”
    And apparently, at one point she held out her hand to my grandfather, who has been dead for 20 years.

    Left: Taken at their wedding, about 70 years ago. Right: Taken 2 years after the picture on the left.

    Left: Taken at their wedding, about 70 years ago.
    Right: Taken 2 years after the picture on the left.

    There was also a moment involving my 6-year-old cousin, who asked why everyone was so happy. She was confused, because she thought that a shiva house was supposed to be sad. After all, someone had just died – wouldn’t the family be upset?
    And there is some logic to that, because we are sad that she died. But, I think we were more sad about the fact that she couldn’t be there to remember her life with us.

    Mostly because nearly every time someone came in, my aunt or my dad would get really excited and say “Oh, let me get Nana and tell her you’re here.”

    Oops.

    Oops.


    True story.

    She had been around for so long, we hadn’t gotten used to the idea that she just wasn’t there anymore. I half expected her to come out from her room and start yelling at us; “Why didn’t you tell me there were so many people here? I would have made you all pancakes!”

    So many people commented about fun, and funny, and happy, and lively she was. She had numerous friends, and even more admirers. Most people expressed genuine wishes to go like she did – at the end of a very long, fruitful, successful life.

    She was the daughter of a Rabbi, and witnessed the significance of Judaism first-hand. Her family moved to the US from Russia while she was a teenager. She lost her father at the age of 20. She took care of her widowed mother and young son during WWII while her husband served in the Navy. She pioneered Judaism in Chicago before it was a “thing”, by supporting numerous schools, camps, and organizations (that we all ended up attending, because connections).

    She could spend actual hours on the phone talking to people. She was genuinely interested in what you were up to. She never ceased to dispense advice.
    She had four children, 16 grandchildren, and almost 40 great-grandchildren. She loved her family “forever and a day”, and we were the center of her universe.
    She was feisty. She was lively. She was sarcastic. She was a social butterfly. She loved to surround herself with friends and family, she loved being the center of attention, and she loved being in charge.

    There is quite a bit of Nana in me. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.

    A little Buda, a lot of Pest: Days 4-6

    Isn’t it amazing how, as soon as you complain about something not working properly, it fixes itself? *Sigh* Life.
    Anyway, to continue:

    Sunday, Day 4, dawned ungodly bright and early. Saying we were used to it would be true, and unfortunate. But, we were on vacation and getting early starts is kind of necessary.

    After breakfast at Frohlich Bakery (slowly becoming our favorite place to eat), we met up with M&E for a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter.

    We met in front of one of the many drinkable fountains in the city – it turns out that Budapest sits on a naturally pure water source, so all the decorative fountains have drinkable water! And yes, we saw many people filling their water bottles from lions mouths and, ahem, other bodily openings.
    Our guide Zoltan was informative, funny, and native-born Hungarian who lived in the Jewish Quarter despite a lack of religious credentials. The Jewish Quarter, it turns out, is home to many non-Jews because it is so centrally located within the capital. It also happens to be the center of the party scene in Budapest and is home to the famously infamous Ruin Pubs.

    (I maintain what I said in my previous post about how nice everyone is – they could be even nicer if they would just be a little quieter while wandering the streets in their drunken dazes)

    After 2.5 hours, Hubby, Nooshkin, M&E and I backtracked to the Dohanny Street Synagogue for a look inside. We decided against an official tour and just wandered around taking pictures of everything.

    The interior of the Dohanny Street Synagogue

    The interior of the Dohanny Street Synagogue

    A close-up of the Aron Kodesh (where the Torah is kept)

    A close-up of the Aron Kodesh (where the Torah is kept)

    The cemetery in the courtyard

    The cemetery in the courtyard

    There was even a guestbook that you could sign so the synagogue would always remember and cherish your visit…that’s not weird in the slightest.

    During the morning tour, I learned that Franz Liszt was the Shabbat Goy at the Dohanny Street Synagogue and played the organ during services!

    Yup, accurate.

    Yup, accurate.

    How crazy is that?!

    Once that was done, we all headed back to our respective abodes to relax and get ready for the wedding!
    Which was on a boat in the Danube River with Buda Castle in the background.

    The couple was gorgeous, the party went all night, and a good time was had by all. The craziest part was, they hired a second wedding planner who took care of the Kosher food for us and M&E. Actually, that isn’t so crazy once you really think about it.

    Especially because they kept eating our food....

    Especially because they kept eating our food…

    What is crazy is how everyone seemed smitten with Nooshkin…nope, also not so crazy.

    Day 5 was my plan. We were taking a roadtrip through the Hungarian countryside to Nyiradony, which is about 20 minutes Northeast of Debrecen, which is 2 hours from Budapest. It’s the village where my grandfather was from.
    More about that in a different post.

    Day 6 was devoted to shopping til we dropping. Which we were incredibly successful at (we are kind of professional). And, of course, taking more pictures of the sites around us.

    Before we knew it, it was time to pack everything up. While the trip was wonderful, it was also incredibly exhausting – to the point that, fairly frequently on day 6 Hubby and I would look at each other and say “Yeah, I’m ready to go home”

    I guess that is the best sign of a successful trip. That, and the swag we brought back 🙂

    Currently Grooving On: Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody

    A little Buda, a lot of Pest: Days 1-3

    We’re back!

    Our travels safely concluded, and the laundry finally completed, I can finally get down to the business of posting lots of pictures and causing people to experience FOMOism.

    FOMO: acronym, Fear Of Missing Out; commonly characterized by a desperate need to do something, even if that something is staying up until god-awful hours of the night/morning waiting for something to happen, all the while nothing is happening because every normal person is sleeping and is therefore doing nothing. Commonly experienced by high school and early college-age individuals, especially at summer camps.

    As mentioned previously, Hubby Nooshkin and I traveled to Budapest for a week to celebrate the wedding of our friends J&E.
    I very much recommend Budapest. As far as capital cities go it was clean, modern, and filled with friendly people. The architecture was amazing, there was (naturally) so much history around every corner, and the FOOD! There is nothing like traveling to a country that has its own food culture, handed down for literally centuries. Delicious, even if we only stuck to the Kosher stuff.

    BUT – in the summer, the sun sets at 10pm and rises at 5am. Yes, those times are correct. Nooshkin was up super early every day ready to go – Hubby and I needed at least 3 cups of coffee just to get out the door. Also, this wrecked havoc with all our sleep cycles. Needless to say, by the last day we were very much ready to head home.

    So, on to the important part.

    Day 1 was spent arriving, settling in, and exploring. We stayed at the Nova Apartments, located in the Jewish Quarter. Once we divested ourselves of the luggage we wandered around the neighborhood. We did a little shopping for food, but mostly took in the sites of the city. We also met up with our friends M&E who also came in for the same wedding and stayed up the street.

    The Budapest Opera House

    The Budapest Opera House

    Um...I don't remember...

    Um…I don’t remember…

    Some cool detailing

    Some cool detailing

    Day 2 we walked to the National Gallery of Hungarian Art at the Buda Castle. About half of the galleries were closed for renovations, but what we saw was incredibly interesting. The Gallery was only Hungarian artists throughout the centuries, so it was really cool to see non-Italian works from the Renaissance and other eras.

    The Buda Castle on the Danube (cue the waltz)

    The Buda Castle on the Danube (cue the waltz)

    Afterwards we had a nice picnic lunch near the entrance, and took some pictures of the Pest side of the city.

    I was getting really good with Panorama mode

    I was getting really good with Panorama mode

    We then slowly made our way back to the hotel and got ready for Shabbat.
    Friday night services were at one of the three local synagogues. I was kind of keen on going to the famous Dohanny Street synagogue, but the services started super early and there’s a two-hour minimum stay when you enter. (The synagogue is closed to tourists on Shabbat; so if you go in they want to make sure that you really want to go in, which I completely understand). As it is, the Dohanny Street Synagogue has a significantly different prayer style than most European Jewish communities, so we wouldn’t have been able to keep up anyway.
    However, the synagogue we went to was really nice. The interior was a time machine back to the 1700s when it was first built, with super vibrant blues, greens, reds, and golds. Jewish starts and menorahs were everywhere, and each window had stained glass – even the ones on the ceiling.
    There was also a playroom which Nooshkin took over. So that was great, because I was able to actually take in the place without worrying about her.
    After dinner we headed back to the apartment and passed out from exhaustion – it had been a super long day.

    Shabbat morning, after several rounds of breakfast, we took a long walk around Budapest, followed by lunch. Followed immediately by a nearly 3-hour nap.

    This was Hubby's idea

    This was Hubby’s idea

    We then walked to Margaret Island, smack in the middle of the Danube River and spent a few hours wandering around. There were tons of attractions, and although we didn’t get to do everything there was plenty to see: a zoo, lots of playgrounds, a huge fountain with choreographed displays (music included), the famous Rose Gardens (sans roses, due to maintenance issues), and – apparently – the Budapest Summer Festival.

    A good time was had by all, especially Nooshkin, who got to see peacocks for the first time. The zoo also had an eagle, and some ravens. Also storks who were doing this weird clacky thing with their beaks, and nobody could figure out if it was a mating ritual or a defense mechanism.

    We took the long way back to the apartments, at which point it was starting to get dark outside and we were finally able to fall asleep.

    Currently Grooving On: The Blue Danube Waltz (because, duh)

    Crazygonuts Family Fun Times!

    Also known as LAK’s wedding week extravaganza.

    The family has returned to their places of origin, the happily married couple is currently on a trip that may-or-may-not resemble a honeymoon (I mean, they are currently not in the country, but they are in Seattle, so…..), and the mountain of laundry is now merely a molehill.

    In short, we now return you to your regularly scheduled program.

    *insert sound here*

    *insert sound here*

    Excepting, of course, the two presentations I need to present this week. And the requisite term papers that go along with those presentations (even though they aren’t due for a few months). And our international trip next week, which requires only some preparation. And job hunting because, well, consistency.

    But still. *Deep, contented sigh*

    Pa is fond of saying really corny dad things, and his catchphrase is “When’s the last time this whole family was together?” And truth be told, it had been a while. About 2 years, to be exact – since Other Brother’s wedding.

    Although we have multiple email and whatsapp chains, because my family gets together like this we tend to get on each others’ nerves really quickly and really often. It’s almost like we regress in age and space, back to before the in-laws and offspring and BA degrees (of which we all have). It provides us a second chance at the childhood we experienced together, because for us those jokes really don’t ever get old. There is nothing like taking a joke out of storage for the first time in 7 years, and realizing it’s still hysterically punny.

    We also get the chance to make new jokes and memories, without any pretense. Our collective memories revolve around moments like this, which make them more potent. All those Friday night dinners we had together as a family are a huge blur – but the last two weekends will be remembered for a while (and not just because they are freshest).

    But, it also provides us the opportunity to talk with each other about the things that really matter. The technological threads are there for the usual day-to-day mundanities, so when we are all physically in the same place we can get right down to business.

    So although it was crazy, and stressful, and absolutely hellishly nuts – it was nice to have the whole family together again for the first time since the last time.

    *pause* Yeah.

    *pause* Yeah.

    OH, here are a smattering of pictures. Because of course. Enjoy.

    Yup, totally normal.

    Yup, totally normal.

    Nooshkin and DaNiece meet!

    Nooshkin and DaNiece meet!

    Fun times at the beach

    Fun times at the beach

    Three men and a baby!

    Three men and a baby!

    Nooshkin and DaNiece

    Nooshkin and DaNiece

    Hubby and the Other Brother

    Hubby and the Other Brother

    LAK was surprised by her bestest friends.

    LAK was surprised by her bestest friends.

    Getting ready

    Getting ready

    Pretty girls

    Pretty girls

    The Restless Mama family

    The Restless Mama family