Posted by Lara Berman
Happy Anniversary to me – today, the 27th, marks one month in Israel!
You know, I didn’t leave Jerusalem even once this week (oh, I’ll make up for that) due to the ardor of apartment hunting, but Baruch Hashem (Thank G-d!), I finally found a place! Woo hooo! And it’s enormous! And it’s in Rechavia – my favorite! And it’s got a meerpeset (balcony)! And trees all around! And oodles of light! And as-long-as-the-roommates-I-haven’t-met-yet-because-they’re-out-of-the-country-don’t-turn-out-to-be-freaks-or-koo koos, it should be totally waaaaaaallllla (sababa).
So picture me traipsing back and forth, forth and back, all over the city of Jerusalem, map in hand, glistening brow, hopeful and stressed, and there you have the backdrop of this past week. Though I feared the apartment hunt would ruin my mood and week, as it threatened to several times, the magic of Israel still found me.
Like on Tuesday night when I found myself in the presence of true inspiration: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, holocaust survivor, best-selling author, speaker, founder of Hineni International and glamour girl – yeah, you read that right – glamour girl. Here’s a gal after my own heart. She sat on the stage dolled up, totally putting you and me to shame – gorgeous make up, classy ensemble, just the right amount sparkle, stilettos – I hope I’m such a doll when I’m 70+.
Before beginning, she warmly met the gaze of her audience members, generously connecting with many of us. And then she began. “Kinderlach,” her sweet voice began, an Eastern-European mixture of Betty Boop and Shari Lewis. “I want to share with you stories from the bottom of my heart.”**
They say that stories from the heart reach the heart, and so it was that night.
The Rebbetzin began by telling us of a people who could talk to G-d. And with that, she called out, “Shmaaaaaaaa Israel!!!!” Her voice resounded all around, goose bumps prickled on our arms, and unexpected tears suddenly pooled in my eyes. We sat in an amphitheater of sorts, outside, under a navy sky; and at the Rebbetzin’s cry, the residents of the neighboring apartments appeared on their balconies, sat down and called their children to join them. “But my kinderlach,” the Rebbetzin continued slowly, her voice aching, “Year by year, the people forgot they could talk to G-d. They forgot to connect to Him. They forgot to try!”
In the heart of Yerushalayim, you could hear a pin drop…save an occasional sniffle.
And the Rebbetzin noticed. “Do you know why you’re crying, my kinderlach?” she asked. “Because,” she said knowingly, “the name of Hashem is written on your heart. And it’s written on your heart and yours and yours and yours,” she pointed at a few of us. “And on mine. And like a computer, when you type a command, the program comes up. You’re a Jew, your soul knows the program, and it’s coming up!”
I was a puddle in this passionate woman’s hands. And that was just the beginning. She told us of her Abba (father) in the concentration camp, Bergen Belsen, saving the meager piece of bread he was given daily so as to say Hamotzi each week on Shabbat. She shared of the shofar that was smuggled into her camp for Rosh Hashana and the blast that brought all the prisoners from the adjacent barracks to the barbed-wire surrounding them, that they might catch the sound of the blast. And then she told the miracle of meeting a Polish woman who had been in one of those neighboring barracks who had managed to attain and keep that very shofar all these many years. The woman ran home to retrieve the shofar and when she did, there stood two children of Bergen Belsen healthy and safe and alive.“There aren’t many people left who can tell this story, kinderlach,” she added wistfully. “And many of the ones who can are ill. Tell your children, kinderlach. Tell them!”
The rebbetzin was a passionate powerhouse. The clip below is from the portion of the evening where she reminded us that we are living in a time of prophecy - for the Jews returning to their home, Israel, was spoken of for 2000 years but we are the lucky generation to realize the prediction. “You are sitting in Yerushalayim, kinderlach - ir hakodesh! (Jerusalem, the holy city!)” See a bit
Afterwards, I approached her and she gave me such a hug – like I was her long-lost daughter. “You’re beautiful,” she said warmly, looking into my eyes. And without my asking, she held onto me tightly and whispered a blessing in my ear.
Now, I wish I’d asked her if she knew Magda Ehrlich, my grandmother, also of Hungarian descent who was in Bergen Belsen during the war. But I didn’t. The rebbetzin’s reputation preceded her, her books lined my shelves in LA, and the question completely escaped me in the moment. But, imagine! If the rebbetzin remembered my grandmother, we’d be yet another miracle story! But the truth is, we’re both miracles anyway and our meeting another triumph of goodness.
Yossi was another sweet connection that came out of the apartment balagan (mess). See, here in Emek Refaim, I live on a street called David El Royi which is nestled behind another street called Hatzefira. At the intersection of these two lies a school, and Yossi guards the entrance to the school. Now, truth be told, Yossi is an older gentleman – hardly the intimating bouncer type I remember from the nightlife of New York.
The first week I was here, I passed the school each day like a stranger. Yossi didn’t seem too friendly. Quite the opposite - he seemed like he might be a grouch.
After a week of living here, I got a “Boker tov” (good morning) and a small smile from Yossi.
Hmmm? Never one to refuse a boker tov, I replied “Boker or!” (good light!)
Soon, this was our morning routine.
After a few days of this, our simple greetings turned into morning kibitzing (chatting). I told him I was in ulpan and over time, he told me about his 5 kids and their families. Oooh, he glowed talking about them!
In the last 2 weeks, I’ve begun chatting with Yossi both in the morning and in the afternoon – whenever I pass the school. One afternoon this week, I told him about my apartment situation as the frustration of it all was painted on my face.
“Why do you need to move?” he asked.
I told him that the guy I’m leasing from has surprised me with inconsiderate nonsense ever since I arrived, so I have to leave or else get stuck with random strangers and unnecessary headaches all summer long.
“Chaval (it’s a shame),” said Yossi. And he’s right – my street oozes with charm! Children play, flowers blossom, a playground is forever full of kids – sounds and images of family abound!
Yossi immediately began looking for solutions to help me. “ You want to live with my daughter?” he asked. “I will find out if she needs a roommate….Or,” he offered. “Why don’t you just stay here, and if these people give you any problems, you call me at any hour and I will take care of it. You’ll take my cell phone and you’ll use it. I am your Abba (dad) here.” He had a very serious expression on his face when he said this – I could tell he meant it. Funny too, because my real Daddums’ name is Joseph, or Yoseph in Hebrew, or Yossi for short.
“Thanks, Yossi,” I said. A satisfied grin spread across Yossi’s face, dozens of beautiful laugh lines appearing around his smile and eyes. He gave my forearm a small squeeze.
Classic Israeli warmth, right? That gruff exterior is such caa caa.
Sending big love from Israel!
11.9.10 at 1:02 pm | The unpopularity of patriotism and the danger of. . .
10.16.10 at 5:50 am | Does "Enough" exist when it comes to Israel?
9.15.10 at 4:17 am | Yom Kippur and why TIME magazine should repent!
9.3.10 at 2:10 am | Four Israelis Killed by Terrorists as the World. . .
8.30.10 at 11:10 am | Time for a reality check! All Jews aren't lookin'. . .
8.24.10 at 1:27 am | It's important not to stall when asked about. . .
6.15.10 at 8:55 am | Visit Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel, meet your zivug. . . (2)
9.3.10 at 2:10 am | Four Israelis Killed by Terrorists as the World. . . (2)
10.16.10 at 5:50 am | Does "Enough" exist when it comes to Israel? (1)
June 24, 2010 | 10:38 am
Posted by Lara Berman
Matan means gift or giving.
We sing of the Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.
But only when you come to Israel can you meet people like Matan Yechezkely, who live up to their names by exemplifying giving.
Listen, I do have a rosey view of Israel, but one thing that has been nothing but a holy, pain in the a*% has been apartment hunting. Why? Look, I’ll just say it: Yes! The bathrooms in America are nicer than the ones in Israel! They are! And it’s tough for a girl who loves to primp and sass it up to find a suitable abode! Tack on a slight aversion to squeegee showers and a penchant for big windows and I’ve got a real challenge here! So, needless to say, this has been one area devoid of sunshine and butterflies…until today.
I’d been scouring Janglo.net and Craigslist.com and the Flathunting Yahoo! Group day in and day out, and nudging every new friend I’ve made in an effort to find a place. Growing more and more frustrated and disheartened as the month’s end draws near, today felt like a last ditch effort.
I arrived at the prescribed place in Nachalaot (a tad shvitzy as usual thanks to my hike from the German Colony) to meet Matan, a real-estate dude. Upon arriving at the building, what do we find? It’s locked. We knock. We ring. We call out. Shoom davar lo oved (nothing works). Not to be defeated by a door, he lept over the wall like a chatool (cat) and two seconds later was escorting me to the proper apartment.
First thing I see: fig and pomegranate trees. How did he know my weakness? The actual apartment didn’t have enough light for my liking, so Matan took me to another place. Better, it’s true, but still no dice.
All the while, we’re chatting up a storm and Matan exhibited true patience as I rambled and rambled in my improving, but still quite broken Ivrit (Hebrew).
We finished checking out Nachlaot. “Want a ride?” he asked. “I’m heading to Rehavia.” My stomach flip flopped. After all, we mustn’t ride with strangers. But then I remembered, this is Israel! And I love Rehavia! And it will make for a shorter walk home! And we’d bonded by then!…So, off I went. Along the way, Matan remembered more apartments that he could show me in that area, which just happened to be my favorite part of town.
Finally! These apartments were right up my alley. But the moment of truth: could I afford them?
Back in the car (he had now offered to drive me home to Emek Refaim), he told me that he’d speak with the owners and bring the apartment into my price range. “I want you to have a place you like,” he said. “And I’m willing to take a much smaller fee so that you can.”
Ayze Midot?! (What Character?!)
A. I was running late and waits and shows me place after place, literally leaping over tall buildings to do so.
B. He paid attention, totally nailing the kind of apartment I’d be interesting in, all the while figuring out how to make the various places fit my time frame and budget.
C. He schlepped me all over this city in his car, even dropping me off on my block.
D. Noticing my excitement about the places, but observing my fear that they’d be too expensive, he offered to take the hit himself and earn less money so that I would be happy.
All I can say is Wow.
How many people do you know who would do that for anyone, let alone someone they hardly know?
Matan was my gift today.
I still don’t know which apartment will work out, but I’m hopeful again. And thank goodness none of the other places had worked yet, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have met Matan, the baby-faced Yerushalmi with the long eyelashes and knitted kippah who loves Israel and wishes people saw her like he does; who went out of his way in every way for me today, and even thanked me for providing him with a good experience.
This is Israel, these are Israelis.
Col kach matok, v’maleh im lev.
(So sweet and full of heart.)
(Thank you, Matan.)
June 21, 2010 | 9:58 am
Posted by Lara Berman
I am so pleased to be sitting in the air conditioning with a few minutes to write. It’s been a wonderfully busy time since I hopped off the plane already 3 weeks ago! These blasé afternoons are few and far between, but most welcome!
Now for those of you who are unaware (as I was), everything in Israel moves fast. This is a big contrast to LA where you start a project, it takes eons to move along and maybe, with some magical fairy dust, in five years it manifests. (Or is that just the world of entertainment?) Here, you put something out there and boom, boom, there’s progress. For example, I thought I should get a job and/or find some volunteer work. So, last Tuesday, I was walking around Ben Yehuda and by the end of my stroll had a job offer AND a date. How about that? I wasn’t even in a good mood at the time. I’d had a wonky phone conversation that morning that had left me slightly miffed, but nevertheless, these beautiful blessings came swiftly, plopping into my lap. That stuff’ll cheer a girl up! Now, I didn’t end up accepting the job in the end, but Tomer was a cool guy.
This quick pace I’m referring to also goes for apartments. See I have to move on July 1st thanks to an apartment mess here. (Short story: I come home one night to a note from the girlfriend of the apartment owner, essentially kicking me out my own room! Drama ensues. Verdict: I stay. She gets the boot. BUT, as this is one of several surprises this landlord has sprung on me, I want out. Suddenly, I am in the market to find a new place. And it’s a chaval (shame), as my place here is spacious with vieeeeeeeeeews! But, mah laasot (what to do)? Cest la vie. So, it being June 21st already with no apartment lined up, I’m getting a tad antsy. “But, that’s how it is here!” My friends remind me. “You’ll have a place!” they say with the twinkle of experience.
And so it’s gone: word of mouth is the name of the game here and everyone is ready to help. Person after person has connected me to this apartment or that someone who knows of one – even and especially folks I barely know! I’ve noticed this all over Israel. The Israeli at the corner market gives me 3 apartment websites to check, “If none of these work, come back and I’ll call my friends for you.” You ask for directions – the random stranger escorts you to your destination. You’re missing the extra shekel to buy your water, they let it slide. It’s simply sababa (cool)!
Also this week, I had the opportunity to attend the Jerusalem Light Show in the Old City. Some installations were really beautiful and moving, like the history of Israel since biblical times done in a 3-D, light presentation. Other parts, like a video featuring weird, green, bubble faces made me think the artist must be an acid tripper.
This was one of several outings I’ve taken with my ulpan classmates. After learning the word for Chinese food, we went out for Chinese food. Last week we went bowling. And this week, inspired by the beauuuutiful weather (the days are hot but the mornings and evenings are perfection!), we headed outside to the light show. Tonight, we’ll watch the World Cup on Ben Yehuda somewhere. The World Cup has been frequently a topic of conversation here since Israel is very international and those games are a big deal here. The French, South Africans (obviously), Australians…and me (to my great surprise) are way into it! Sorry, football fans, but soccer’s got you beat!
And speaking of Ulpan, I’m still loving it! About twice a week, we’re bombarded with new info and my head feels like a thumb tack that is being squashed into a cork board. But fascinatingly, within 2 days that new stuff becomes old hat and something else is trying to finagle its way into my brain.
I’ve gotta rave about the ulpan for a moment here: I’ve been fortunate to have access to a lifetime of excellent, private education, starting with Country Day in Ft. Worth, then to NYU in Manhattan and finally to USC in LA, with plenty of seminars and classes in between. I’ve learned from the best, but I really believe the teachers here at Ulpan Morasha stand out as truly talented teachers. They make teaching an art-form, a skill. These teachers exemplify how far focus, energy, commitment and patience can go. I wish you could all come in and witness one of these classes as they are unlike anything else, especially if Tamara is with us.
Kodem kol (first of all), don’t mess with Tamara. This spit-fire of a teacher has a brilliant way of organizing information and giving it over in an accessible and memorable way. She drills information into us as though she’s a sergeant and we’re cadets, all the while her bright eyes dancing. She’s 100% committed to each person’s success. She takes care of us but doesn’t baby us a drop. I heard she is a former ballerina and soldier, no surprise! She epitomizes grace and discipline. No one gets let off the hook with a mistake, but she manages to be tough without embarrassing anyone or allowing the space for doubt to seep in. My entire class is in awe of Tamara.
She is one of several teachers who rotate to our class; we have two different teachers per day – one before break and one after. The communication between the teachers at this school is impeccable; when the second teacher of the day comes in, she knows bidiyuk (exactly) what vocabulary and concepts we’ve covered, and resumes the lesson with complete synchronicity. Todah raba, morot (teachers)!
In other news, Friday, I made it to Tel Aviv am now quite sun-kissed. I’ve turned golden brown. Nothing like some color to make you feel fabulous and healthy. I’ve been especially enjoying this after visiting a Bubbe last week who told me that she doesn’t remember ever being young and beautiful. She’s a Holocaust survivor and even though she showed me photos of herself where I thought she looked quite glamorous, she insists she was never beautiful. Well, like most ladies, I can be super critical of myself, but Bubbe’s story made an impression on me. So, I’ve decided not to repeat her experience and have since been walking around everyday feeling quite young and beautiful. And let me tell you something – it’s a wonderful way to walk around.
As I referenced earlier, Israel is also unique in that when you ask a question here, because there’s a direct line to Hashem, one gets nearly instantaneous answers. And so it was this week with Michal, a girlfriend of mine who I’ve known for years, but on that day she began sharing stories with me I’d never heard before which totally illuminated certain situations I was facing. With such divine timing, she was definitely a holy messenger that day.
I’m also really beginning to feel like a Yerushalmit (a Jerusalemite – it’s like being called a New Yorker or an Angeleno) because I’m now bumping into people everywhere I go. Let’s start with last Thursday night. I’m on a date with this nebishy guy. We’re walking down Yaffo Street, and I’m dreaming of how to escape from this date (nice guy, just zippo sparks) when who do I see in Jlem??? The Tel Avivian, Odelia Shabi! I shouted to her and she began hopping around, grabbed my hand and whisked me off with her to the Moroccan restaurant she was headed to with her touring group. Turns out she also wanted to vanish from her company! We danced and goofed in the street and Mr. Nebish laughed at our silly antics. Thank you, Odi! You brightened my night!
More chance meetings: Friday morning, I’m off to Tel Aviv and who do I see entering the Central Bus Station? The famous and totally, wonderful Rabbi David Aaron of Isralight! (If you don’t know him, correct that right away! I recommend his book, “Endless Light.”) I chatted with him briefly and off he went. That night, back from the ocean (which was perfect aside from the occasional medusa (jellyfish)) and the crafts fair in Tel Aviv, I found myself in the Old City at the Kotel for Shabbat and who is also there? Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis who wrote, “The Committed Life” and Sarah Schneider, author of “Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine” which a good friend made famous in Pico Robertson by referencing it constantly. PLUS, I saw Reb Mottle of Isralight dancing with the soldiers at the Kotel too! I guess I’m just in sync with the enlightened these days.
And by the way – it was such a pleasure to be able to be on the beach in Tel Aviv all day and that night be enjoying Shabbat in the Old City of Yerushalyim. Amazing!
Now, one new thing I discovered this week that I can’t wait to share with you was watermelon (which you’ve heard me talk about) with (drumroll pleeeease)….NANA! (Aka: mint) Thank me later, just go and try this! When it’s boiling outside, blend up a limonana (ice, mint and lemon) or toot with nana (strawberries, ice and mint) or avatiach with nana (watermelon, mint and ice). Holy moly, these concoctions will knock your socks off for real. I can’t go a day without one of these refreshing yummies. Hey, it’s nearly 100 degrees here and a watermelon addiction means you have to carry those bowling balls home in the heat! Ze lo pashoot! (It’s not simple!) One deserves a reward after that!
Back from the beautiful blues of the Mediterranean, I had Friday night dinner in a gorgeous home in the Old City that had been redone Moroccan style – it was exquisite with no detail left undone – Lions of Judeah and Magen Davids set in the stone of the sinks, floors and walls. The couple who lives there wasn’t able to have children and so instead began a program called, “Thank the IDF” and another program that helps soldiers transition from army life back to civilian life, helping them land on their feet career wise. Kol HaKavod (all the respect). The soldiers who joined us that night were all going on to become higher-ranking officers. The couple asked them why they chose that path and the answers were so sweet and selfless. Everyone was taken aback. “I was at school at Technion [a very prestigious, technical school], but when I was there I knew it was only for me. My country needed me more here [in the army] right now and so I came.” Can you imagine the motivation of our enemies’ soldiers? These young men exuded such sweetness and love for Israel and selflessness. I was blown away by the heroes at the table.
The rabbi also offered some amazing Torah around this, saying that we are taught to be like G-d. For example, if G-d is kind and non-judgmental, so we should be. And what does G-d do? Hashem guards Israel. As it says in Tehillim (Psalms 121), “Behold, He neither slumbers nor sleeps – the Guardian of Israel.” And so the rabbi taught that the soldiers were being like Hashem in their work – guarding the people of Israel so that we can sleep in peace.
We headed to the Kotel (Western Wall). I held hands with Rina, my best friend here, so we wouldn’t slip on the well-worn, Jerusalem stone. “This was us in another lifetime,” she said to me. “We were sisters.” It was familiar and sweet to be there. For sure we’d been there before. “And I think we were sefardic,” she said with a giggle. Classic Rina.
I wish I could have taken a photo on Shabbat of the site at the Kotel. It was packed with people. The soldiers dancing with the Chassidim. Shabbat songs filling the air, swirling into your ears. Wow. It was emotional to see. So special.
Just imagine: If you had told the scattered Jews of Europe only 100 years ago that within 100 years they’d be living in their home, Israel, able to pray in freedom at their holiest sites whenever they wanted to and even on Shabbat; that millions of Jews would return from the diaspora to create a Jewish country; that religious and secular would dance and sing together; that Israel would, like David and Goliath, win war after war despite all odds; that it would thrive, leading the way in environmental issues and science and technology; that it would be a thriving democracy, a beacon of equality, retaining its high standards of morality despite zero respect, recognition or tolerance; that it would fly its flag, with a magen david on it, over Jerusalem; that we would pray and dance and sing in freedom without fear – you know what they would have done? They would have laughed in your face. They would have said you were crazy.
We’re living in a time of miracles. To stand at the Kotel on Shabbat amid hundreds of Jews of every stream, from all over the world, all home to connect again was to live a dream that my grandparents couldn’t have experienced when they were born; it was to live an experience that was only a pipe dream for over 2000 years. To be alive today is a merit! To live in Jerusalem? What did I do to deserve it? We are so lucky, you and I to be alive right now.
And so, I took a moment, under the blanket of stars to take it in: these sweet people who stand for goodness and who continue despite hatred that comes from all directions and even from supposed “friends.” And I listened to the religious girls sing and hummed along, somehow knowing the same tunes, and I saw the bobbing heads of the men dancing over the mechitza (the partition between the men and the women), and I felt Hashem there, with all of us, kvelling with such nachas (pride) and joy. What a gift it was.
Finally, I want to share with you a special third meal I had over Shabbat that could only have happened in Jerusalem…I don’t even think it would happen in Tel Aviv. The third meal of Shabbat happens before Havdalla. This week, after lunch in Gan Sacher park, we had third meal on the front lawn of my friend Ravit’s apartment building. An impromptu Torah discussion broke out and afterwards, the men in attendance had a minyan (group to pray) and began davening arvit (the evening prayers), right there on the lawn. A gent in a suit with white hair, off the street popped in, “I need to say mourner’s kaddish” he said with a strong accent. Of course, the minyan was happy to oblige. With his strong, Sephardic accent and loud voice he said Kaddish, thanked the minyan and then was gone. He had given meaning to our minyan and clearly, our minyan had meaning for him. Such a zchut (merit)!
The men continued. We all blessed the moon and each other, and it was time for havdallah (for Shabbat to end). A neighbor who’d joined us brought down a havdallah candle, besamim (spices) and wine. Her little 3 year-old son – a gingi (red head) with short, growing peyot (side curls) held the candle high, his gingi, 1 ½ yr old sister looking on. We all formed a semi-circle, arms around one another and sang songs before letting Shabbat go. It was while we were singing that I glanced behind me and saw that all the neighbors had come out onto their balconies to watch and participate. Some sang, others were silent. Some were elderly couples, some were our age and some were kids, all humming and sharing in their own way.
We brought out Shabbat and then the real singing began – everyone danced, swinging each other around and blessing each other with a good blessings like safety and happiness. Where else could this happen? What a gift it was and we all felt it.
So, needless to say, I’m feeling very appreciative these days. I’m drinking in this experience with large gulps. I’m aware that, bli ayin hara, I’m very lucky.
It’s funny, people said that living here would be a wake-up call; that it would kill what they saw as a romantic view of Israel. But, they were wrong. I never said Israel was perfect. But, I have such appreciation for all that she IS. And I’m not focusing on what she isn’t. She IS magic. She IS ours. She IS a gift. It IS a privilege.
If a fig tree is blossoming with delicious fruits and you focus on the few weeds at the tree’s base that grow because that’s the nature of any garden, it’s chaval (a shame), because if you’d just look up, you’d see the sweetness within reach just above your head.
Shavua tov, friends.
B’ahava m’Yerushalyim shel zahav…
(With love from Jerusalem of Gold…)
June 15, 2010 | 8:55 am
Posted by Lara Berman
My second Shabbat in Israel was a total schmooze fest. First, I hopped to a Carlebach style shul in the neighborhood and then joined the Shabbat dinner my temporary flatmate threw. There was some ahem, interesting company, but the highlight was taking a walk afterwards with one of my dinner companions. This is basically how people date here, “let’s walk!” It’s so beautiful and picturesque here that it does make sense.
This dude is an Israeli lawyer, author and advocate who apparently used to work in the Israeli government. He’s traveled the world for enlightenment and work, representing Israel in peace discussions with Palestinians, Israeli Arabs – all the while preaching his brand of ‘let’s all get along.’ The conversation was interesting for two reasons: A) I never expected to be taught English words by a non-native speaker. And B) I found his ideas completely ridiculous for anyone, especially a representative of ours who purports to have our best interests at heart! With friends like that, who needs…Anyway! So I as a non-native, I took the liberty of educating him. Despite my disapproval of nearly every comment his brilliant mind concocted, he grew taken with me and has gone out of his way to look out for me since I’ve been here. You figure it out.
Next day after sleeping in, I hopped to Shabbat lunch and arrived glistening as it was quite hot. The folks there were awesome. Sof Sof! (Finally!) I found myself courted the entire afternoon by many a charming gent and had a blast chatting the day away until 6 in the afternoon. Off I went toward a third meal party and, as has happened often in the old, windy streets of Jlem, promptly got lost. So I wandered, never finding the way to the party but did enjoy the scenic walk home.
The week in ulpan flew! Wow, it’s incredible and hardly anything is review anymore. That means each day my head feels it will explode in the frenzy to conjugate the many verbs thrown at us into their numerous forms. But it’s exhilarating and so satisfying when something that was so overwhelming becomes second nature within about a day-and-a-half because of their genius sheeta (method). Now using my Hebrew on the street, I still get a little meboolbelet (confused), but le-at, le-at (slowly, slowly). Where as I used to just rattle off whatever I knew, now I’m slower and more careful so as not to practice bad habits and mistakes. What’s cool about Hebrew is that so many words are connected, there is logic and intelligence AND things sound like what they are. L’mashal (for example), CHok is a law, get the nice cccchhhhh in there and it sure sounds like one! Or, meh-loochlach, doesn’t that sound pretty dirty to you? Of course it does!
Tuesday was the hillula (death anniversary) of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel (the channel for soulmates) so I headed to the Kotel (Western Wall) to have a heart-to-heart with the Guy upstairs. We talked about all of you! Wow, is He in love with you all. He told me He has our pictures on his refrigerator. So, of course, He said YES! You and I will all merit wonderful matches and soon, And those of you already with your besherts, oh, you’re only going to grow happier and happier together! Amen!
Thursday after class I just barely caught the bus to Tsfat for the weekend. For those of you who don’t know, there are four very holy cities in Israel: Tiveria (Tiberias), Hebron (which I may visit tomorrow!), Tsfat and THE most holy, Jerusalem. Each city is associated with a different energy. If Yerushalayim is fire, Tsfat is air and boy, can you feel it. One of the most mystical places on the planet, the place feels truly magical.
My girlfriends flaked, so I ended up going alone which allowed me to meet tons of folks. Thursday night with my new-found friends from Australia and South Africa, we watched a musical group I highly recommend called, “Simply Tzfat.” Who knew Chassids could rock like this? Apparently everyone there but me!
The next day, still in Tsfat, we hiked to see where Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel is buried because as it was the week of his yahrtzeit, it was the ideal time to tap into his energy. They say that whomever visits Rabbi Uziel and prays at his kever will merit his/her soulmate in this lifetime. He also helps to strengthen existing soulmate relationships. So baroor (obviously), I wanted to chat with him and did I earned my conversation with him, or what? I did that whole freakin’, 1-hour-plus hike in flip flops! I basically was picking burrs and thorns out of my footsies the entire time! But it was so gorgeous and special there, who the flip flop cared?
Once again, while I was visiting Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, Hashem and I chatted about all of you. The married ones, just say amen to all the happy wishes we sent to you. The unmarried ones, get set, I put in such a good word for all of you!
Later, we hiked to another kever, where there were oodles of people praying as it was his hillula, Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month) AND erev Shabbat! Wowsers. In the not-too-far distance we could see the kever of the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the author of the Etz HaChaim! If you’ve studied any Kabbalah, you know he’s one of the main characters in sharing the deepest meanings of life and the Universe. The energy was palpable.
That afternoon I chatted with a soldier for about 2 hours in Hebrew! Well, Heblish, but more on the Hebrew side! A group of IDF soldiers who were being promoted were with us for Shabbat and I befriended one, Ori. We talked about Israel’s stance in the world, G-d and whether He exists, the religious versus the secular, the challenges Israel faces, and a couple of heavier topics like YouTube and the bubbles in Coke.
Later, I wandered around the old, curving streets of Tsfat, speaking Hebrew with the few artists in the Artist’s Colony who hadn’t yet packed up for Shabbat. “At Isha Maksima” (you’re a lovely lady) they told me before I left, very happy about our conversation and my Hebrew efforts. Soon, Shabbat was coming in so I got ready, wearing my long, white skirt that makes me feel like a princess.
I, along with the other women in my program, lit candles with the soldiers and I have to tell you, this was so moving for me. Let me go back: When I see IDF soldiers, I start to kvell. It’s emotional. I just feel maleh, maleh (full, full) of respect and pride. My chest swells, my eyes tear, it’s very profound and special. So when I gathered around the candles with the lady soldiers in uniform to light candles, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude…and nearly snapped a photo like a koo koo tourist. But I didn’t! Ok? I resisted! This experience coupled with the feelings that came up for me walking in the Old City of Tsfat during Shabbat truly solidified to me that I MUST have been an active Zionists and/or a little religious girl in past lives right here in Israel.
See, there’s been an uninterrupted presence of Jewish people in Tsfat for over 2000 years, so when you’re here you know that people have been walking on these very streets, living in these very buildings, celebrating Shabbat right here for ages and ages; you walk around and know everyone you see is family. The world becomes quiet, peaceful and light; one feels transported. I felt in a storybook, walking those streets; as though I was living in a time of kings and queens. I floated down the streets, so appreciative to have the opportunity to live in this magical place for a time. Take the cars away and we’d be back 1000 ago, again.
Shabbat dinner was a blast. The teenagers in the family I joined spoke little English and they teased me like crazy as I insisted we chat non-stop all night, regardless of all my mistakes. I had so much fun! By the end we’d created a business plan to become professional challah braiders. We’d let others make the challah dough and we’d make the real dough (hehe!) by dropping in to mold dough into beautiful and silly shapes. Surely there’s a market for that. We’re planning to franchise.
It was a lovely dinner but Tsfat is on a mountain and so it was yet another hike to get back. It’s all good. By the time I got home, I felt no guilt whatsoever about the awesome ice cream cake we ate for dessert. Needless to say, after 3 serious treks that day and then some, I pooped out and immediately headed to my room to dream and snore.
I awoke at 11:15a, heard a shiur (lesson) and had lunch. Then, Ori and I met again to chat about every corner of life. We chatted in Heblish for another few hours. He, like me, loves Israel with a very sweet love, so we felt kindred spirits since so many are jaded or blinded by the media’s bullshit.
Schwartzie, a local LA rabbi was in town and he was hysterical. He passed along great dating wisdom to me and, havdallah (the end of Shabbat) made for an awesome party where I sang and danced with my new Tsfat friends and the soldiers until the room shook! It was so awesome! “Am Israel Chai! (The people of Israel are alive!) Od Avinu Chai (We are still alive!) Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai! (The land/people of Israel are alive!),” we sang and sang.
I was sorry to tear myself away from the singing and dancing, but had to catch the first bus back to Jlem. And so I did, befriending another Israeli along the way, Mordechai. Again, I got to practice Hebrew and in true Israeli fashion, he ended up using my shoulder as a pillow. Hey, we’re all family here.
Not wanting to miss a moment, I hopped to Tel Aviv to see a visiting friend and also met up with the famous Odi, aka: Madame Pompidoo. We ate awesome Haloumi salad and schnitzel by the ocean while digging our toes into the sand on Banana Beach in Tel Aviv.
I crashed on Odi’s futon that night and headed back from Tel Aviv bright and early for my 8am ulpan class in Jlem. Odi packed me a sack lunch of yummy fruits, Israeli chocolates and even put a note inside! “Motek, Nesiah tova v’lehitraot b’karov. ♥, Giveret Pompidoo” (Sweetie, safe travels and see you soon. ♥, Miss Pompidoo). Odi~Your kids will be so lucky to have you as an Ema (Mom)!
And now, sof sof (finally)! We’re up to date!
Another sparkly week awaits.
B’ahava (with love),
June 4, 2010 | 6:33 am
Posted by Lara Berman
One week in Jerusalem!
My stay thus far has been characterized by one very important question: If eating too many carrots will turn a person orange, will eating too much watermelon (avateeyach) turn me pink and green? Discuss.
Beseder, my first week was maleh meod (very full!) to say the least. I started out living in Rechavia, a very lovely, Anglo area that’s only a 10 minute walk from everything in Jlem-the shuk, the old city, Ben Yehuda, Nachlaot (the artists area), hakol. I loved it and it was a great way to wrap my mind around the layout of the city.
Just two days ago, I moved into my apartment for the month which is in Emek Refaim/Katemon – also very Anglo, beautiful, a tad chi-chi and right in the German Colony. Of course, I get lost a lot more often living here. My street is tucked away down a windy road in a residential neighborhood next to a school and tennis courts (!) which means I have a sound track of little, Israeli kids laughing forever playing in my ears. Ayze mazal! Ha lev sheli sharah! (What luck? My heart sings.) The streets are so beautiful – they curve around, made of well-worn Jerusalem stone, full of brightly, blooming bouganvillas climbing over every wall, blue doors and windows – gorgeous. Thank goodness for all of the mindfulness work I’d taken up before I left LA; it’s allowed me truly be HERE enJOY this beauty!
Now to business – the Ulpan. I lucked into THE best one in the country. True. My ivrit has improved exponentially in just one week! I’m in class Sunday thru Thursday (yeah, I started class just 2 days after arriving!) from 8:00am-1pm. The teachers essentially drill all day long so that your speaking becomes automatic; they don’t want you thinking, translating or conjugating, they want you to respond. And quick. Quicker. Quicker! It’s super intense! Furthermore, I got put into the smart-kids class, and they started a month ago. We move fst…I mean, fast. So, I’ve been playing catch up. But guess what? Now I’m caught up! I studied a lot this week after class and simply refuse to speak English on the streets. Of course everyone here speaks English, but I don’t care. I just tell them, “Lama atem choshvim sh’ani mehArzot HaBrit? Ani lo mevinah anglit.” (Why do you all think I’m from the States? I don’t understand English.) It works a lot of the time and other times it doesn’t, but I do my best. I’ve just resigned myself to knowing that I’m not going to sound like the smartest person or be perfect for a while, but you know what? At the end of every conversation, without exception, the Israelis say, “kol haKavod” (all the respect) and that they’re impressed by the effort.
I find myself attempting to translate whatever I’m thinking into Hebrew all day long. And I love it. It’s so irrational this need to speak Hebrew, but what can I do? I don’t get tired of studying or practicing and it’s SUCH a high when I get it right and they understand, or I get thru an entire conversation, or they don’t ask to speak English, or something I just learned works, or I suddenly understand something that was previously gibberish. So cool.
Now to socializing. I’m living with Rina, a real bestie who has been taking amazing care of me. She’s introduced me to lots of people and we’re living together which means I get to enjoy her amazing Moroccan cooking and yummy salads! I reconnected with Joel from LA and now that I’m getting more settled, I plan to reach out to all the folks referred to me by my LA friends.
I met up with Odelia Shabi, aka: Madame Pompidoo, in Tel Aviv on Wednesday after class. Odi and I met two years ago when I was a madricha (counselor) on a Birthright trip and she was our Israeli tour guide. We became fast friends and have kept in touch since. Together, we hit Shenkin street for sunglasses and shoe shopping. This girl cracks me up! She’s a party and we were a walking giggle factory. I got to drink one of the amazing, fresh fruit juices that I dream about in the States while I was there. That day it was banana and (of course) watermelon juice at Yotvata on the beach. Mechia! Of course, Odi told me, “Your food in the States is plastic. Your fruit is big and beautiful, but it is all wax. Now you are tasting real vegetables.” And she’s so right. If veggies in the US tasted the way they do here, we’d eat them for breakfast too! A croissant or muffin has NOTHING on the oranges and cucumbers here!
Now, Tel Aviv vs. Jlem: When I first got to Tel Aviv, I thought, “I’m an idiot. I should SO be here.” It’s so NYC-ish and alive and bustling. Plus, the ocean does something to me that’s magical, but when I returned, I actually really appreciated Jlem. I love how clean Jerusalem is, and I can’t understate how amazing my ulpan is – to feel growth each and every day is something else. And fortunately for me, Odi and I have an agreement where I can bother her as much I like over the summer and stay with her in her silly, beachy apartment with the dramatic neighbors.
Other than that, the Flotilla mess has been interesting – you know the world is upside down when the global consensus is, “Hey Israel, why don’t you just lie down and let the world terrorize you?” Because any other country would allow terrorists to smuggle weapons onto their border? Of course, both sides of the argument are represented here. But the support has been beautiful to see-people are sailing simply to fly the flag.
Overall, it feels extremely natural and easy to be here. There are adjustments, as to be expected, but I love the kippot everywhere, I love the Hebrew everywhere, I love the shuk and the falafel and the Judaica everywhere, the soldiers everywhere (so handsome) and the best – catching a glimpse of the religious Zionist - the soldier who wraps tefillin at the back of a bookstore, or the dude who sells you your phone card, chilling by a fan with the TV on, browsing the pages of the Tanach.
Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of gold), l’koolam (to everyone)!