December 24, 2007

Bethlehem bound: Is it safe?

Janet, Brian, Caroline, and Vivienne Reed 

Janet, Brian, Caroline, and Vivienne Reed are in Manger Square, in the center of Bethlehem. Here, in the Church of the Nativity, in the Grotto where tradition says Jesus was born, they are celebrating the ancient birth narrative in lessons, carols, theatrical enactments, and liturgical services.

The Reeds rode an armored bus from the Anglican Church in Jerusalem to cross through the large Israel Defense Forces (IDF) checkpoint to Bethlehem, a short though security-conscious journey that they hesitated to make.

Their hesitation? In May 2002, Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted when Islamist terrorists seized the Church of the Nativity, holding hostage dozens of Christian nuns, priests, monks, and pilgrims for weeks, and desecrating their holy site. For this and other reasons, many Western governments warned against nonessential travel to Bethlehem. Yet new peace talks among the fighting parties encouraged my friends to join today's flow of pilgrims, tourists, families, and clusters of friends.

Green light to Christmas Eve in Bethlehem
Aviah, my cousin who recently completed three years' service in the IDF elite Paratroopers Brigade, relayed this message to the Reeds when I called him to inquire on safety conditions:
. . . Tell your friends the Israeli army will protect them.

Lisa Goldman, freelance journalist/writer, resident of Tel Aviv, and uber blogger, replied to my email:
. . . Bethlehem is quiet and safe, and there will be plenty of people around. I'm sure they'll have a good time.

* * *
Closer to home, here in Atlanta, I joined Stephanie's family to watch the children, Bethlehem bound in spirit, retell the Nativity birth story (that Angela directed) in their church.

Seated behind these angels (waiting in their wings for the cue to perform) and basking in their sweetness and light, their wonder moved me to tears. Reflecting on the same wonder I have felt at their age and since, listening to and retelling my family’s millennia-long Jewish history, tradition, and lessons, I knew this:

We — the Reeds, Stephanie's and Angela's families, others', and mine all experience sacred time, and we all retell our sacred stories.

Today, I am sending love to my Christian friends worldwide, among them the Reeds, David and Hope, Faye and Jim, Josh, Madeline, Jonathan, Luther and Helen, Joe, James and Anissa, Danny, Marlene, Olga, Budd and family, Ellen, and virtual pals Nizo and Bronze. And, I am remembering my Christian loved ones, whose memories are a blessing: Stella, Jean, and Kathy.

Related posts

December 14, 2007

Remembering Aunt Ruth and Uncle Leo Friedson (and more)

On the eighth night of Hanukkah: first victory for freedom of worship, my cousins Gila and Chaim lit candles, sang holiday songs, and ate holiday foods in their Jerusalem home.
And then, with Gila's sister, Miriam, they began sorting through the sisters' late parents photo collection —  each image a frame in the human story.

Among the photos is the one Gila is holding in the photo that Chaim captured and sent to me. "Thought you might enjoy this shot," he noted in his email message. Chaim was right! The photo was a Hanukkah gift for the ages. Here is why.

Portrait of two sisters
In the photo, I am about nine or ten years old and my sister, 15 or 16. To prepare for the photo studio session, I got a haircut (probably at Best & Co.) and chose my outfit. When I saw the finished product, I protested the false colors of my dress: Washed-out rose pinks had replaced the original rich reds. And it bothered me that my sister’s dress was more grown-up than mine, its waist bound by a tie.

Until Chaim sent me the image, I had no idea that my parents had sent the photo to my Israeli Aunt Sarah and Uncle Matityahu, parents of my cousins Gila and Miriam who lived in Kiryat Motzkin, on the outskirts of Haifa.

I did know that my parents distributed copies of the photo to my maternal grandparents (who lived  less than a mile away from us, in Manhattan) and to my mother’s only sibling, Ruth, and her husband, Leo (who lived in Norwalk, Connecticut — an hour's train ride away). Aunt Ruth and Uncle Leo were childless, and winning their hearts was the upside of lacking American cousins.

Me: part brat, part trooper
I am not proud that I could practically wrap my pudgy finger around my Uncle Leo. And I am ashamed that I once hijacked my father into buying me a beautiful coach-style doll carriage, taunting, “Uncle Leo will buy it without requiring me to read Hebrew books.” My father caved and bought the carriage, which triggered my guilty feelings for being manipulative and rude. Though I dearly loved pushing those fancy wheels along West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.

Fortunately, I had a softer, sweeter side. When I turned 12, I got a parakeet, which I brought with me on occasional solo weekend visits to Aunt Ruth and Uncle Leo. The bird, traveling in a little carrying cage they had bought for these journeys, rode the train with me from New York’s 125th Street and Lenox Avenue station to South Norwalk. There, my aunt and uncle met us and drove the bird and I home, where their guest room offered a bed for me and a standard-size cage for the bird.

In appreciation
Aunt Ruth and Uncle Leo played central parts in my childhood. They took me to restaurants and the beach, and Sundays and holidays we rode in my uncle's grey DeSoto around their neighborhood — exotic haunts to a kid from Manhattan. In their grocery store (Friedson and Sons), I drank all the chocolate drinks I could swallow and munched on bags of Wise Potato Chips and I played with a steady supply of kittens my uncle kept to do a job I understood (thankfully) only years later.

My aunt, whose stock of Revlon nail polish included every shade of red, let me paint my stubby nails with abandon. Through my childhood years, she bought me red shoes, summer and fall outfits, and, in my early teens, taught me to knit — even supplying wonderful yarns and pattern books and the occasional “kit” to knit slippers and a scarf that cleverly doubled as a hood.

My aunt and uncle spoiled me rotten, which felt like sheer heaven. My happy memories with this childless aunt and uncle offset some of the pain of losing my father when I was 12, the same year my sister went off to college and then got married. And I am grateful, too late for them to know, for their care and affection.

So, when my Jerusalem cousins' discovered their copy of the photo of me and my sister, and then send me a photo of the photo, they triggered for me memories of special times and missing important people from a childhood and youth vanished yet never forgotten.

A Hanukkah gift for the ages.

November 19, 2007


My gorgeous amazing Chilean-born friend and former neighbor in Atlanta is a five-year survivor of ovarian cancer. Today, at age 72, she updates me (from across town) in her signature Spanglish, which I adore —
I have been worry about my healt. My last test show somethink that could be serious, so I will have to get another one (Pet CT) in a few weeks more, until then I am not going to be sure if I have metastasis and probably a new treatment. I am very concern and nervous. I miss you, I love you. HAPPY THANKSGIVEN.

Curiously, my friend's misspelled valediction bears a profound message: THANKSGIVEN. Or, giving thanks for what has already been given.

Just days before this most glorious of American holiday traditions — giving thanks in a national, coordinated way across the ridiculous artificial divides we humans create, I celebrate my friend and her attitude of gratitude. And, I celebrate all life by giving thanks for all that has been given. (Celebrating this all business, admittedly, can be mighty challenging, often requiring a perspective informed by a few dozen millennia...).

So, what are you THANKSGIVEN for?

I am humbly thanksgiven for security guards... who save lives (while often sacrificing their own). Here's why.

On Thanksgiving Day, we fourteen celebrants around Janet's and Brian's table took turns sharing memories of Thanksgivings past. My memory was of last year, in Tel Aviv, where, days before Thanksgiving, our hostess rode the train (choo-choo, not subway) to a farm where she purchased a freshly killed turkey. She then boarded the train back to Tel Aviv, though not before security guards (not only at airports in Israel...) demanded to know, why the bird?

It is not beyond imagination that a twisted mind would seek to detonate a bomb-stuffed turkey, blowing up self, bird, train passengers, and more. A non-cheery thought, especially on Thanksgiving, though we guests found the security check report entertaining. Where death, really annihilation, is a constant threat, you develop a taste for gallows humor and find laughter value in turkeys questioned at the border between a railroad station and just steps before entering it.

November 11, 2007

My grandmother's amber pin. Snow in Vienna and Jerusalem. (Yes, the subjects connect.)

Wearing my grandmother's amber pin
while embracing fabulous cousin Anat
at her family home in Jerusalem's Pisgat Ze'ev neighborhood

In his recent email, Vienna-based world traveler Stefan wrote, "We are on the way to Denmark on Sunday," to which I replied, "I have a magnificent amber pin (photo attached) that my maternal grandfather gave my grandmother when they lived in Copenhagen."

On Nov 11, 2007, at 1:57 PM, Stefan Schaden wrote:
Great amber pin! :)) Go and see Copenhagen (if you did not)! Wonderful city, modern, progressive. I can easily imagine living there! So interesting your cosmopolitan family [SNIP].

First snow in Vienna this morning, by now everything is gone, but you have pics attached.

shavua tov!

Stefan (who guest-blogged an Urgent Message on Austria's "sick people") wrote, "interesting your cosmopolitan family!" Yet I consider him family, too. While bloodline is one way to be family, and marriage confers family status, we also have family of choice: the one we populate with people we claim and who claim us.

On Nov 11, 2007, at 5:39 PM, Tamar Orvell wrote:
After I visit you in Vienna (this year?) and when you move to Copenhagen, I will visit you there, too. Your snow report reminds me of snows we trudged through together in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem snows
Stefan and I trudged through Hulda Hanevi-ah Street
and others in Jerusalem's Musrara neighborhood

Snow formed down quilts
blanketing roofs, balconies, and wrought-iron work

In the central-heat-free stone residence, I wondered,
"What about Stefan's pate? Will it freeze?"

October 15, 2007

Wrestling with texts and observing shoes in havruta, a study partnership

With Felegosh, at the entrance to our havruta campus,
on Lavista and Briarcliff Roads, Atlanta
While a quick glance at the photo might suggest that I am promoting a popular coffeehouse chain, I aim to praise another kind of commerce. A transaction in which no monies are exchanged and whose value is incalculable: a havruta [Aramaic: study partner].

The glowing, incandescent Felegosh is my Torah MiTzion program havruta. Eighteen years ago, this Sherut Leumi (Israel National Service Corps) volunteer alumna rode on her father’s shoulders as he walked Ethiopian lowlands, steppes, and semi-desert for six months with his family and extended community. Their destination? Addis Ababa, the African nation’s capital from where a plane brought them to their ancestral home, Israel.

This year, Felegosh is an emissary in Atlanta, Georgia, where her team of Bnei Akiva volunteers is working with the local Jewish community to strengthen Jewish identity and instill a love for Israel and study of Torah through havrutot [plural of havruta], Shabbat and festival celebrations, community programming, and other kinds of informal education activities.

While Jewish tradition has always valued learning with others, learning with a partner is special.
I have learned much from my teachers, but from my friends more than my teachers.
— From the Talmud (BT Ta'anit 7a)

For our most heterogeneous study partnership, mutual respect and affection help bridge differences in our ages and cultural backgrounds. And though Felegosh and I approach our Jewish tradition from vastly different worldviews and assumptions, and our religious observance and practices are at almost polar-opposite ends of a continuum, we are learning much and well as we tap into the differences.

What have we been studying since Felegosh arrived in August?
  • Selected paragraphs on repentance by Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi Avigdor Neventzal (contemporary Jerusalem rabbis and ideologues of the national camp in Israel) and excerpts from Hilchot tshuva (Laws of Repentance) by Maimonides, the 12th century Spanish-born Talmudist, philosopher, astronomer, and physician.
  • The d'var Torah (words of Torah) that my cousins wrote on the invitation to the presentation of a hand-lettered Torah scroll commissioned as an ilui neshama, an elevation of soul (or spirit) of Noam Yaakov Mayerson, of blessed memory: son, brother, uncle, and friend killed in the Second Lebanon War.
  • Psalm 119
Yet I am learning not just by studying texts but also by noticing the attitudes that drive much of my partner’s input.

Last week, for example, we sat at a table where Felegosh was squinting in the light of the setting sun while speakers broadcast loud music over our heads. Both distractions bothered me, and so I asked, “Do you want to move to a shadier spot, and should I ask the barista to lower the volume?” “Not at all,” her reply. “These are mere incidentals to our business, our learning. Almost nothing merits distracting or interrupting us.”

It has been said that if you want to learn from your rabbis [Hebrew, Aramaic: teacher], study how they ties their shoes. And so I am studying how Felegosh “ties” her turquoise Crocs!

September 28, 2007

Nichols family-by-choice reunion

John Nichols and his "big sister"
    Unless you have heard me gushing about Stella, my decades-long spiritual mother, you wouldn’t understand why John introduced me to his Atlanta friend as “my big sister” when he was in town visiting from his home in Hawaii. Looking at our faces (shown in the photo), you’d wonder, How? What’s up with that?

Simple. In the late 1960s, when I launched my first career as an early childhood educator, in Cambridge, MA, I met John, his ten siblings, and their parents, Joe and Stella Nichols. And I immediately claimed them as mine. Since then, neither time, distance, life, nor death has changed this belonging. So, I rearranged my schedule on short notice to catch up with my brother-visitor on his East Coast tour seeking galleries, institutions, festivals, and marketplaces to show his art.

Karen, John's youngest sibling, was among my first beautiful and brilliant Head Start preschool students. When Karen arrived on the first day of school with her slightly older sisters Esther and Linda, the elder sisters' expressions read: "What kind of place is this? Who is this child-woman who calls herself teacher?" Today, Karen, who has earned a degree in education from Gallaudet College where she met, then married a fellow student from Nigeria (now, a professor at their alma mater) is mom to three beautiful and brilliant kids.

Esther, John's eldest sibling, raised her family in the home where her parents raised their own family, then sold it and retired to Mashpee, on Cape Cod.

Joe and Stella Nichols in their Cape Cod garden
(during my visit, spring 2004)
Today, at age 87, Joe continues a lifetime of gardening, fishing, keeping bees, preparing meals (and sharing his bounty with neighbors and guests), visiting shut-ins and nursing home residents, ministering to his flock, mentoring new church leadership, and welcoming family, friends, and seekers of his light.

The night before Yom Kippur we spoke, among other topics, about Unetaneh Tokef, a signature Hebrew prayer in the High Holy Day liturgy, and then Joe asked me to read it aloud in English translation. We spoke our usual brief time — more than an hour, and only ending the call because of my bedtime!

Stella, the woman whom I called "Inspiration" since our meeting that first Head Start year for Karen and for me, died 21 months ago, at age 83. She remains a tree of life — many roots, many branches, and my beloved surrogate parent, adored sister, treasured friend — a permanent force for good.

Family. Tracing blood lines is one way to define family. Marriage confers a family status, too. And then, there is a family of choice, the one we populate with people whom we claim and who claim us. It is easy to accomplish. Just reach across artificial divides. Remain open. And, only connect.

Related post
Josh Gomes is scoring points for Israel

September 25, 2007

Au revoir, Marcel Marceau

My childhood heroes continue to exit the stage, as do heroes of my adulthood. One by one, they release their tools — pens and papers, uniforms and costumes, needles and threads, batters and mixes. Now, they live in memory. And, in some lucky situations, preserved on paper, canvas, vinyl, and digitized bits of reality in multiple formats.

How I dearly loved them, and how they fascinated, entertained, and enlightened me endlessly with their courageously creative signature expressions.

Marcel Marceau spoke loudly in an inaudible voice.

I was a child in New York City when my parents took me to see the French mime who died this week, at age 84. Watching his speechless performances thrilled me as did listening to stories of his courageous exploits in the face of the monster Hitler and his systematic war to exterminate the Jews. Marceau's father was deported and died in Auschwitz. In his twenties, the mime forged identity cards (much as my grandfather did), proving youths too young to be sent to labor camps, and hid Jewish children from the Gestapo and the French police.

The artist spoke to and about all humanity. From an interview, quoted in The New York Times obituary
Mostly I think of human situations for my work, not local mannerisms. There is no French way of laughing and no American way of crying. My subjects try to reveal the fundamental essences of humanity.

What were the fundamental essences of humanity that my ten- or eleven-year-old girlhood memory stored? Fortunately the wonderful online magazine captured some —

. . . going up and down an invisible escalator . . .; attempting suicide; personifying all seven sins; and acting out the creation of the world, from amoeba to man, in 10 minutes or so. . . . His [was] . . . a world fashioned out of thin air. You see a statue, a pickpocket, a matador, a lion tamer, a soldier, a man passionately embraced by his lover.

How does the child in me remember so much about the mime from so long ago? Salon explains —

It's no accident that children are his best audiences, because his art demands active participation, imagination.

In the photo, which I took at the Arab Jewish Community Center in Jaffa, Israel, a bevy of children express themselves joyfully, silently!

Probably, they never heard of the great mime whose art was for them, too, of course.

I pray that some day these children will see his work and listen to his clear unspoken messages on the fundamental essences of humanity. Equally, I pray that they and all children will develop their talents and perhaps bring to audiences the enchantment, comfort, inspiration, and hope, as Marcel Marceau brought to me when I was a child.

September 18, 2007

Yom Kippur thoughts: Our choices do matter

Blowing the shofar (greeting card image)
Eastern Europe, early 20th century. Courtesy of
the Fund of the New Synagogue Berlin, Centrum Judaicum.

The shofar calls
Awake, you sleepers from your sleep, rouse yourself you slumberers . . . Examine your deeds, return in repentance and remember your Creator. Those of you who forget the truth in the follies of the times and go astray the whole year in vanity and emptiness, which neither profit nor save, look to your souls, improve your ways and works, abandon your evil ways every one of you!
Maimonides, in Hilchot Teshuvah, The Laws of Repentance 3.4

"And when the great shofar is sounded. . ."
. . .  a small quiet voice is heard, and the heavenly beings are thrown into fright, and, seized by a terrible dread, they declare: Behold, the day of judgment has arrived, when even those in heaven's court are judged for none can be exempt from justice's eyes! . . . You do not desire a person to die, but only to change and to live. . . 
Unetaneh Tokef, a Hebrew liturgical poem (English translation in Mahzor Leyamim Nora’im, Prayerbook for the Days of Awe, The Reconstructionist Press)

* * * 
Since the Hebrew month of Elul that precedes Tishrei, when Rosh Hashanah begins, the shofar has been calling, its sounds ringing in my ears. And I am eager to continue this evening, Yom Kippur, the difficult spiritual work during this mandated pause in Jewish time. Guiding the congregation and service leaders will be the High Holy Day machzor, a rich anthology of prayers, hymns, and passages from the Bible, Mishnah, Talmud, and Zohar that tell the story, vision, core values, and history of the Jewish people.

The hard part of spiritual work is reflecting on my specific deeds and thoughts (intentional and not) and critically assessing my mis-takes (split word intended) the preceding year. Without this work, how would I recognize my past choices and discern the possible consequences and results each choice entailed? How else could I identify my responsibilities and make wise choices today?

It is this ability to choose that makes us human. And I want to know, How will I make choices that matter?

Last month, the popular author of the children's classic ''A Wrinkle in Time" died, at age 88. From The New York Times' obituary of this deeply faithful Christian:

Why does anybody tell a story? [Madeleine L'Engle] . . . once asked, even though she knew the answer. . . . It does indeed have something to do with faith, she said, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically [emphasis mine].

My related Yom Kippur posts

September 11, 2007

On the anniversary of 9/11: One hour, three conversations (excerpts)

  • 2:15 PM — Today, after seeing my periodontist and before leaving her office, I conversed casually with her assistant, who suddenly blurted out: I am 44 and my father abused me until I was seven. I have forgiven him and my mother for allowing it because today I know he was a sick person.
  • 3:00 PM — On my way home, waiting at the subway station platform for a train to the bus depot, I chatted with a fellow passenger. When our friendly conversation turned to religion, she announced: Oh, you are Jewish? All Jews are rich.

  • 3:15 PM — Waiting for my connecting bus at the depot, I picked up a longstanding conversation with the station master. On his six children, he began: My eldest is a sniper in Baghdad. When he left for Iraq, 24 months ago, I told him, 'I wish I could go in your place. Just obey orders and concentrate on protecting your buddy to your right and your buddy to your left.'
During each conversation, I wondered, What is this person really telling me? And later, I pondered, How is each person connected to me and to the others?

September 10, 2007

L'Shanah Tovah, Happy New Year: On this day, the world was conceived.

Traditional holiday fruit, a pomegranate pregnant with seeds

Hayom harat olam.
On this day, the world was conceived.

These words conclude the first and most central idea in the Rosh Hashanah Jewish festival prayer service that begins this Wednesday evening of the year 5768 in the Jewish calendar.

. . . throughout this day and the ten days of return and renewal that it introduces, we remind ourselves . . . that the universe is a cause for wonder, for acknowledgment, for worshipful thanks, and for responsibility. . .

. . . Birth always inspires us with awe and wonder. . . But today we are to reflect not on the birth of a single child, not on the mystery of our own existence, not even just on the existence of whole species of life, but rather on the conception and the birth of the entire universe.

— From the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life (COEJL)

A call to profound awareness.
What responses are possible?
The ruminations, thoughts, and introspections — the responses drive the cheshbon nefesh, accounting of the soul work I have already begun this High Holy Day period.

About the pomegranate.
On the second night of Rosh Hashanah, we eat a new seasonal fruit that we have not yet tasted. Why a pomegranate? The pomegranate, one of the Seven Species, or fruits and grains that the Hebrew Bible (Deuteronomy 8:8) lists as special products of the Land of Israel, is considered "pregnant" with 613 seeds. The Bible mentions 613 mitzvot, commandments of good deeds to perform, and so we want our mitzvot in the coming year to be legion.

Related posts

August 30, 2007

atlanta craigslist > housing wanted (part 2)

staying with relative since i got back from iraq but she lives middle of nowhere snellville...

i had more fun in iraq. this place sucks... need a break

Less than three weeks ago, I posted atlanta craigslist > housing wanted to share — no, really more to cry out — my horror and sorrow on reading the ad of a fellow's exquisite pain on being rejected as a candidate for housing on account of the color of his skin. (Craigslist, the mother of all online urban communities, is among many ways and places I advertise to sublet my home . . . and comb ads of housing seekers while I live the next months in Tel Aviv.)

Visitors who read that post and left comments resonated with what the housing seeker spoke to — injustice, unfairness, violence, and cruelty we witness (and, sometimes even perpetrate) in our society.

Yet I don't know what to make of the advertiser who identifies himself as military male, the human being who wrote: i had more fun in iraq.
  • What kind of a military or civilian person, male or female imagines this perversion?
  • What kind of life has he lived that shaped the sentence: i had more fun in iraq?
  • What was he doing in Iraq? Where is he going?
  • What is the USA doing in Iraq? Where are we going?
  • What can I do to help stop this obscene war, expose the vulgarity of the enterprise, push back the dogged ignorance, greed, hell-bent arrogance, and mean spirit of its champions, decision-makers, and cannon fodder — destroying a country, and calling it fun?

August 20, 2007

Zichron Menachem in "Green" Holland refreshes Ohad

You haven't already met my cousin Ohad in person or via these three previous blog entries?
No problem. This update can inspire you to claim as your shining light the bright, sensitive, and loving 13-year-old from the Pisgat Ze’ev neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem, Israel.

With his Zichron Menachem pals, counselors, and a bevy of Zamzamiot (B’not Sherut Leumi [National Service Girls] volunteers), our hero spent a week in Holland this summer!

Zichron Menachem, an internationally recognized prize-winning organization that has been supporting kids with cancer and their families in Israel since 1990, led the odyssey for scores of participants — free to this special population, without discrimination to religion, ethnic origin, or socioeconomic status. (I culled these photos of Ohad from the many hundreds on the trip that the organization posted to its web site.)

Q&A via Skype

"The experience was brimming with attractions, and there were solutions for all [to participate] — crippled and wheelchair-bound kids, among them," Ohad related in our conversation on Skype the other day. "The counselors were so devoted. Nothing was lacking."
  • Me: About Holland — how did you find the country?
    Ohad: It's amazing. Everywhere it's green — trees, plants, bushes, everything is green!
  • Did you get homesick?
    Not at all. It was nice taking a break from everything.
  • How was the Dutch food?
    We brought everything from Israel because many participants keep kosher, and we needed easy access [to food that fulfills requirements of Jewish dietary law].
  • What was the best part?
    The go-carts!
  • Uriel [eldest brother] told me you were recently featured on Jerusalem radio. What was that about?
    Zichron Menachem asked me to talk about the organization.
  • No surprise they picked you!
    [never one to boast] Because I am the oldest in the group now.
  • Your dad told me you played guitar and sang at a recent commencement ceremony.
    That was for a big graduation for the Zamzamiot, and I played the popular Israeli song, Achshav Tov [Now, it's good].

Achshav Tov [Now, it's good]

Oh, is it ever good when this young man chooses to sing this song.

And in just a few weeks, Ohad will resume his school studies with his class after an amazing summer that concluded an amazing twelve months.

During this year, close to when he became a Bar Mitzva, Ohad shared with me some meanings and messages he formulated since he has been fighting leukemia.

Life experiences shape us. When I meet children as young as age four in the hospital, I have great compassion for them because they don't understand why they must get treatments and take medicines they don't like. OK, I am young, too, though I understand, and it helps.

As is his name — in Hebrew, "will sympathize," so is Ohad. In the photo shown below, a sympathetic young man, in the red sweater, shares his feelings openly, understands those of another easily, and expresses compassion freely.

NOTE I dedicate this post to a dear friend, Rabbi Dr. Michael Berger who, on learning of Ohad's health crisis, immediately included Ohad in his personal prayers during the daily prayer services. He also added Ohad ben Ditza to the list for the MiSheberach blessing for healing at the Young Israel, Atlanta. Michael, who has not yet met Ohad, is among the righteous souls who walk this earth.

August 13, 2007

atlanta craigslist > housing wanted

At the top of my late-summer to-do’s list is finding someone(s) to sublet my home while I spend the next months in Tel Aviv. To accomplish this task, I put out the word to friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellows at synagogues, and others. And, in this wired world, I place ads and comb those placed by seekers on Emory University’s off-campus housing site and on the mother of all online urban communities, Craigslist.

It was on Craigslist that I spotted what seemed like a standard ad seeking housing. Yet when I clicked the link and scanned the text, two sentences shouted out, reverberating deep inside me. These sentences are hardly standard in such ads. What surprises me is that more ads don’t include them.

While the person who placed the ad was seeking housing in a different part of town and at a different price point, ignoring the shout was not an option. Within nanoseconds, I equivocated not whether to "do something," but how.

And I sent the person an email. He replied three minutes later. And between my sobs, I recalled Incident, a poem whose title I borrowed for a post I mounted last year. That post includes the photo that belongs right here, too.

Reply to:
Date: 2007-08-12, 3:41PM EDT

My Aug 1st deadline has pass me by and I am still in search of some where to stay. I am a professional BLACK male, some people were shocked to see I was black when I came to view the property, so I decided to let you know before hand. So if you don't want to rent to black people, keep it moving. 27 yrs old, and graduate of Morehouse College. I need a Studio or One bedroom small apartment. I can only afford about 700. I don't have money for a deposit but it can be made in payments. I work at the Home Depot Corporate Office and I tend to work long hours. Drug free and I do not have any pets. Please provide me with pics, and just not pics of the bathroom and the living room.

Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2007 13:38:31 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Tamar Orvell"

Subject: your ad

just to let you know i read what you said about people being shocked by your color. i am so sorry that the bigots still impose their ignorance on others. you have lived with this reality so i am not saying what you don't know. i just want you to know that someone, me, was saddened by the experience you describe. keep telling the truth. some day, people will become better than they are now.

Date: Sun, 12 Aug 2007 16:41:26 -0400
Subject: Re: your ad

Thank u, u really lifted my spirits.
--He's Able

August 03, 2007

Bookmarked: Israeli English-language blogs

So where in the blogosphere do I turn for news on life in Israel?
  • Independent Israeli journalist Lisa Goldman recently made a couple of trips (passport in full view of government airport authorities) to Lebanon, causing no small amount of buzz, horror, gratitude, and awe on both sides of the border and beyond. Lisa lays out her tourist goals and itinerary in recent On the Face posts and in her replies to scores of comments on those posts and in some traditional media. For a random sample of what became a cause celebre, and the attendant conversation, watch Lisa dialog with a Lebanese professor on CNN's "International Correspondents" on his (and some others') criticism about the journalistic ethics of her coverage of life in Beirut, one year after the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. Then browse her blog.

Uploaded by zenith87
  • At Not a Fish (profile: The meaningless chatter of your regular split personality Israeli mother no longer trying to make sense of current insanity) Imshin shouts, pouts, mourns, laughs, opines, doubts, and questions goings-on where she lives (with her husband and daughters Eldest and Youngest). To bring home her points, she shares personal stories and family history along with Israel's stories and history. Her captivating writing and images (verbal, visual, and sound) that cover what's on TV, in the market, on the streets (for example, bicycle helmets . . . she disses them), and in the fields make Imshin an incredible credible voice of a political view more conservative, or closer to the "right," than where my instincts usually lead me. Why does this difference draw me here when so many other different voices repel? Perhaps clues can be found in these labels, among several by which she organizes her posts: pretending to know something and politics - yuck.

    Or in this example post: Monday, May 10, 2004
    Israel is not all about abusing Palestinian rights, you know

    . . . Anti-Zionists don’t seem to realize, or care, that abolishing the State of Israel, would create terrible suffering and misery, and it would probably not even alleviate all the suffering of the Palestinian people (at least part of which is self-inflicted, and will continue to be so, until they learn to take responsibility for their fate, regardless of Israel). . . .

  • Poet, performance artist, Tel Aviv University professor, traveler, restaurant goer, recreational shopper, and tireless advocate for survivors' rights, Karen Alkalay-Gut's Tel Aviv Journal reads in staccato-like scream [yes!]-of-consciousness on exactly how she sees, understands, and responds to teeny and huge issues as they impact Israelis and their neighbors one person, neighborhood, balcony, and bunker at a time.

    Example: August 5, 3007. My friend calls up to invite me to join her in the march in Jerusalem in protest of the lack of government support for Holocaust survivors. They've been waiting for the money that was supposed to be given them years ago, and are dying out. Since they are always with me, the survivors, it seemed natural that I should join. And I've never been a friend of this government. . . . I want to know what happened to that money. I want to know what has taken so long and now that the government has finally made the first offer ever, why it is so low (84 shekel per month). And I continue to believe that the survivors were never compensated properly by this society which rejected the whole image of the victim, even while we based our national identity on the fact of these very victims. We don't like victims.

  • Immediately below the header, Occupied, Yudit writes, The word "home" carries many associations. Mine is located in Jaffa (Yafo), once (meaning before 1948) "The Bride of the Sea," now a slummy southern Tel Aviv suburb. Yudit, a photographer who illustrates her work with text, covers Middle East politics, human rights, community involvement, and things right smack in front of you: street names, explosions, demolitions, nature's course. Yudit's exquisite sensibilities sometimes veer to the "left" of my responses, and I welcome the resulting tension. She makes me think or rethink, especially so-called moral or ethical issues. At the companion blog, Occupied Image, Yudit explains her mission: שלוש מאות ששים וחמשה צילומים בשנה כל יום תמונה חדשה . . . [my translation] 365 photographs in a year, every day a new photograph. What grabbed me on a random first visit to this blog pair? The photograph shown below, titled: Monday, May 2, 2007, In the neighborhood.
So where else in the blogosphere can you turn for English-language news on life in Israel? English-writing Israeli-bloggers lists pages of blogs of every stripe, persuasion, style, message, focus, and look and feel.

And when you find a voice that, as in my four bookmarked blogs, is free from nonsense, self-absorption, stridency, and dogma, let me know. Oh, and I would also be grateful for recommendations of male voices.

July 23, 2007

What is going on?

Step 1. Press the > shape below the image.

Step 2. Enter your guess in the comments section.
A prize to the first person who answers correctly.

July 15, 2007

My little urban patio garden

My patch of Eden is a little urban patio garden hidden from public view by a tall picket fence.

I never planned on having or making a garden. One of the many reasons I bought a condominium and not a house was my habit to shun mowing, planting, weeding, watering, and grounds maintenance of any kind. I lack the required inclination.

And yet the patio garden was a key factor in choosing this condominium and none of the dozens Judy, my agent, showed me as I entered the dreaded second year of The Hunt. In this patch of Eden, almost instantly, I felt a peaceful calm and a refuge from the chaos lurking beyond its enclosing picket fence.

If you are petite like me, when you are inside the garden and look outside, you see nothing but the deep shades of green of old trees — part of Atlanta's lush vegetation, the reason Georgia's capital is called City in the Park.

Within days of moving into my new home, I transformed the bland patio, turning it into my little urban patio garden. Between unpacking boxes and settling in, I replaced the thin patches of thirsty grass with cedar chips (two bags, medium-size chips) and slate tiles (three, randomly placed). Next, I dotted areas lacking them with perennials (lily-like green-and-white hostas, long fleshy-stemmed purple Wandering Jews [the plant kind], as examples).

Over the years, try as I might, when I sit on the bench enjoying cool evening breezes or bask in sunny spring warmth, I cannot read even the best book. Oh, I progress a few lines . . . and then, I eye a pot that requires leveling or a vine that needs a trim.

I snoop around a lot, looking for signs of rot or bug infestation. I might decide to replant one of the six-pack specials I bought, ever seeking the perfect resting place for each unit. And, of course, during droughts (such as the one this summer), despite my pre-garden pledge to shun watering, I hose down my little Eden between midnight and 10 AM, even days only (because my unit number is even: 1332).

Indoors, curiosity draws my cat and me to the windows. We gaze on the garden with quick looks or hunker down for longer stretches. We are waiting for them. And whether they arrive on feet, wings, or belly, garden guests delight and fascinate.

Each day (and some nights), seated on a child's chair beside the front door, Mica (mee-kah) studies the scene indoors, and then turns to peer through the window alongside the door, scanning for possibilities to ponder outside.

Sometimes, when she needs another view — the
better to study her sightings, Mica switches to her
lookout perch on the kitchen windowsill.

What is the payoff for her (and my) patient vigil?

A multicolored bird . . .

A golden butterfly . . .

A brown (sometimes iridescent blue-green) lizard . . .

A chipmunk at attention . . .

And another chipmunk. (Maybe it's the same
one? How would I know?)

No matter the season or time of day or night, seven years after moving here, I harvest continuously from my Eden bountiful relief and abundant comfort.

Like my garden, I grow. Always changing. Never finished.

July 11, 2007

Haaretz: Israeli Web sites to mark year since IDF soldiers abducted

"On the day of the [Hezbollah] kidnapping [of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers], at 09:05 in the morning, Israel's Internet sites will come to a standstill.

"Instead of their homepages, they will display messages calling for
the return of the abductees. This important topic will be brought to the attention of surfers, and they will be able to express their opinions and respond.

"Anyone who enters the Israeli Internet world during those minutes will participate in the tribute to the abductees and will help communicate the most important message: Do not let apathy kill them!"
[emphasis mine]

So reads an email sent to Web site managers by the initiative's organizers. While I oppose government or private sector censorship or control of cyberspace, I support the initiative, and I support the message.

Ehud Goldwasser, left, and Eldad Regev
were snatched by Hezbollah on July 12, 2006.
(Haaretz Archive)

Last update | 15:22 July 11, 2007

By Ayala Tsoref, Haaretz Correspondent

Israel's major Web sites are planning to shut down for five minutes Thursday morning, to mark the exact hour at which two Israel Defense Forces soldiers were kidnapped in 2006.

The homepage of each site will be replaced with a message reading "The soldier can not be found," a play on the standard Internet error message, which reads "The page cannot be found."

According to the organizer of the initiative, Karnit Goldwasser, most of the major Web sites in Israel have agreed to participate in the event.

Goldwasser's husband, Ehud, was snatched in the cross-border raid along with Eldad Regev as the two were patroling the border with Lebanon.

Among the participating Websites are Ynet, Wallah, Tapuz, NRG, Globes, NANA, MSN and Haaretz.

The organizers predict that smaller Web sites will also spontaneously join the initiative.

The only major Web site that has not expressed its willingness to take part in the initiative is Google Israel - Israel's largest Internet site. The site is likely waiting for authorization from its international parent company....

July 05, 2007

July 4: sparking dialogs on bombs, patriotism, wording, survival

With sounds of fireworks reaching me from Atlanta's Lenox Mall, I am sharing here what lit my imagination after exchanging email messages and reading a favorite blog.

With Angela Yarman, my friend and interfaith dialogue partner 

On Jul 3, 2007, at 1:05 PM, Angela Yarman wrote:

Tamar, I just received a tribute to the USA Flag by a military veteran from a friend. I thought of forwarding it to you, then I hesitated. I wondered if it would seem arrogant to you – although it admits arrogance. These used to be lofty, admirable ideals that every American would profess and be proud of. Now, it seems we are to be ashamed of our strength and our freedom. Not me.

Enjoy! Happy 4th of July!

On Jul 3, 2007, at 1:19 PM, Tamar Orvell wrote:

Thanks for sharing. Parts of the writing resonate with me. Other parts do not. Arrogance is one of my least favorite qualities.

I am a grateful citizen of two democracies, and living in Israel helps me to appreciate the gifts and responsibilities of citizenship in both countries. I quarrel about much — policies, laws, and customs, as examples, in both countries. And this quarreling is one way I take responsibility.

Happy, happy Fourth!

On Jul 4, 2007, at 10:50 AM, Angela Yarman wrote:


At Mass this morning, our pastor spoke of how ‘under God’ became part of the Pledge of Allegiance. It was a movement of the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic Church’s fraternity of men. What interested me was President Eisenhower’s comments on the change: “These words will remind Americans that despite our great physical strength we must remain humble.”

Belief in the higher power of GOD gives us both strength and perspective on our weakness – humility – the opposite of arrogance.

I’ve told you before – these things always pop up during our [digital] conversations. See attached [history of the Pledge and changes to its wording] for the full low-down on “under God.”

* * *

Karen Alkalay-Gut, in her Tel Aviv Diary July 4, 2007 entry

I do not like fireworks. Usually I go inside and close the shades with like-fearing friends or family until it is over. After all, I was born in a bombing and have been too near shelling upon occasion throughout my life.

But last night, at [the home of] the U.S. Ambassador [in Israel], when I found myself in the middle of an enormous crowd of people when the fireworks show was announced, I had no choice. And as I watched the sky and listened to the military band, I was filled with a remarkable sense of pride for America. The sycophantic words of [Israel's Prime Minister] Olmert, who spoke previously on the mutual interests of the U.S. and Israel, had rung so false in my ears, that I had thought I had no room left for anything but cynicism, but the rockets' red glare reminded me of that anxiety of Francis Scott Key and the relief that "our flag was still there." The song ran true. The fireworks were not just a sound and light show, but an assertion of the illumination of the victory of survival.

So even though we had been so worn out with our guests an hour before we had considered skipping the Fourth of July bash, I was euphoric all evening, was overwhelmed with a desire to eat the same kind of hotdog i had refused at numerous family picnics, and promised with enormous enthusiasm to go to a baseball game....

June 29, 2007

Jerusalem Pride March 2007: You may not stand over the blood of your fellow man . . . לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל-דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Carolyn Levant granted permission to share her essay and photos of the 2007 Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance March in which she and her husband, Warren Lee, participated as new Israelis. In 2006, the couple moved from the USA and made Aliya (Hebrew, "ascent" or "going up"). Jewish tradition views traveling to the land of Israel as an ascent, geographically and metaphysically. 

Date: Jun 24, 2007
Subject: Pride…

June 22, 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday, despite… warning of danger... we joined the Pride and Tolerance March. There had been threats of violence against the marchers, and it was not until just hours before the scheduled march that the decision was reached by the police, and upheld by the Supreme Court of Israel, that it could go on. The marchers… included lesbians, gay men and many straight friends, parents and supporters. Some carried signs with slogans, rainbow flags and of course, Israeli flags. The marchers, in normal warm weather attire, no costumes, walked the short permitted route in a steady, orderly fashion, stopping… and moving again when given the OK. At one point, there was much singing.

We missed the floats that had always been a part of the other parades in other places [and] we missed the corporate sponsors….

Jerusalem was an armed camp with 7,000 police and soldiers to protect the marchers, keep order and prevent violence. There is an absurdity in these numbers, and with good reason. Several blocks away, kept separate from the marchers… was a counter demonstration…. We were told that these [10,000 ultra-Orthodox] homophobes were only the ones who showed up after many of their rabbis had, only in the last few days, counseled them to stay away and instead, pray. When the parade ended there was no rally…. the fire department was on strike and therefore the permit for the rally was denied. The streets were still teeming with marchers, police and soldiers and the buses had not yet been permitted to resume their routes.

… [We] decided to stop... for a drink… [and] to reflect on the events…. First, the vision of 7,000 armed police and soldiers to protect Jews from other Jews was a devastating reality.

I had carried a sign, which said: "We love our gay children." … [So]-called and self-described "religious" [people] believe that "the gay life" is a transgression against G-d. There is no "gay life." There are just people trying to live in the way that is natural for them. Over the years, we have counted among our friends, people who are single, partnered, straight and gay. Some are raising families and we have had the privilege of sharing family occasions, being guests in their homes and… hosting them in our home. Together, we have seen the growth of a dynamic congregation, Congregation Bet Haverim, in Atlanta, Georgia [USA].

We and many others believe that love is healthier than hate, that love makes a family, that this is an issue of civil rights, that gay marriage in no way impinges upon or negatively affects straight marriages or… the sanctity of marriage. The sanctity of straight marriages has already been torpedoed by a 50% divorce rate. We do not accept the argument, which quotes Leviticus [concerning various sexual activities, which are prohibited "lest the land vomit you out" (17:22, 20:13)] because we believe that the Torah has been interpreted many times and [in] many ways.

By the time… the buses were running… [o]ur skillful bus driver swerved to avoid the fires still burning in the streets of Jerusalem. Fires and overturned garbage dumpsters! This was the work of the "religious." Contrast this to our peaceful, lawful protest against inequity and hate.

With love, Shalom,

Carolyn's essay has been copyrighted and may be reprinted only with the inclusion of this statement.

* * *

Blessings to J. Smith (who blogs as j. brotherlove at thebrotherlove) for answering my call for help on deciding whether publishing Carolyn's essay might risk spreading the hate she describes. So he read it, then replied to me,

I can understand your hesitation…. However, I think the overall 'lesson' from this account is positive in that it shows the tenacity and core belief of those who support gay issues. Thank you for sharing this powerful message! I can't imagine the terror most of the marchers felt as they walked through the streets.

When most think of Pride parades, images of festive and happy people come to mind. But [Carolyn’s] phrase ‘We missed the floats that had always been a part of the other parades in other places, we missed the corporate sponsors,’ reveals how very different in spirit was this event.

Most of the coverage has been from the outside looking in. Your associates provide a valid and valuable picture from inside the march. While it highlights the awful truth of why such a massive armed presence was needed, it also reinforces why people — all people — should turn from violence and advocate love for one another.

June 18, 2007

Vivi soars in Atlanta production of Aristophanes' "The Birds"

Have you ever dreamed of escaping to where you could live in freedom, untroubled by selected fellow humans and some of their doings? Last Friday, I watched my pal Vivienne (Vivi), age nine, flap her Scarecrow wings and snap her Scarecrow beak attempting to do just that.

At Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum, Vivi joined fellow thespians (ages 7-12) in the Museum's 2007 Camp Carlos five-day utopian world gone awry, learning difficult lines and life lessons — that even a perfect world has its problems. Actor and storyteller Julia Prittie directed about 20 campers in a children’s adaptation of Aristophanes' (c. 448-380 B.C.E.) The Birds.

In this lively, bird feather- and toga-filled comedy, the minimalist costumed cast of assorted birds, deities, and three-voice Greek chorus declaimed loudly and enunciated clearly (at times prompting each other when a line or word went AWOL).

One bright child, whose dyslexia made it all but impossible to learn lines on such short notice, turned a challenge into a starring role as the gold-coins-turned-goat, hopping and neighing with handheld "shield" — a feathered goat-puppet!

How can anyone, even young children, perform brilliantly after only three days' preparation?
  • A gutsy seasoned director with an effective stage whisper
  • Cue cards the size of some of the actors
  • Well-rehearsed thespians who went to bed three nights with big lines on little lips
This last secret I learned after the show from Scarecrow/Vivi, a seasoned practitioner of preparation and rehearsal (as she proved when she played her flute marching with fellow "Marching Abominables in-training" in Atlanta's recent Inman Park Festival).

So I say, bring on more Greek classics! Most of the core issues shed light and humor on human follies as the dramatists hold up mirrors to audiences — mirrors more than 2500 years old and reflecting back to us brilliantly today.

May 06, 2007

ג'ף הולך בשביל ישראל למעַן צעד קדימה Jeff walks the Israel Trail for Tsad Kadima

From Jerusalem, my friend Jeff Green writes —

Subject: an appeal
Date: Apr 23, 2007, at 6:44 AM

Dear Friends,

I've volunteered to go on a three-day hike to raise money for Tsad Kadima (the name means "a step forward"), an Israeli organization for the education of children with cerebral palsy [CP]. I'm sure you get more solicitations of this kind than you want to read, and this is the very first time I've been roped into an enterprise like this. Please go to the Tsad Kadima web site here to see what an intelligent, effective organization it is.

Close friends of ours have a daughter with CP who is the same age as our son Asher, 27, and we have been following her development and their care for her all her life. Our friends are the ones who heard about the Conductive Education system in Hungary and brought their daughter to Budapest for long treatment sessions. However, they didn't merely seek help for their own daughter. They helped found this organization in order to train Israeli physical therapists in the Peto method, thus turning their own personal problem into a platform for helping a large number of other families with the same problem.

I'd appreciate it if you made a contribution to Tsad Kadima, toward the $1,000 that I'm pledged to collect. On the web site, if you go to "Hike for Hope" and then click on "Support a Hiker" you'll find me and a form for making a contribution in support of me. Please confirm with me that you have made a contribution or a pledge, including the amount. It's extremely unlike me to make a solicitation like this, but the cause is good enough to make me break out of character.


Next, Jeff reports on the Hike for Hope —

Subject: report on hike for hope
Date: May 6, 2007 4:58:53 AM

Dear Friends,

צעדת התקווה — The Hike for Hope — turned out to be much more demanding than I expected, but I welcomed the challenge and rose to it in the company of wonderful people, some forty, including four girls under twelve. I was the oldest, I'm afraid to say.

We hiked south on the Israel Trail, a hiking trail that extends up and down the whole country, from Eilat to the Lebanese border. We were in a hilly area, which made for beautiful scenery and hard going. The first day we hiked around 20 km. [about 12.5 miles] and the second day it was shorter but much more demanding.

We each paid about $200 to participate in the hike, to cover the expense of providing tents, food, and transportation. We camped at the Dor Beach, a beautiful site on the Mediterranean, and we were treated very well.

The organizers arranged to have a dozen or so young people with CP join us at the beach on the last night and then the next day for a final ceremony at Caesaria. If they hadn't joined us, it would have been easy for us to forget just why we had undertaken this hike and the effort to raise money. They had hired two musicians, a keyboard player and singer, and his wife, who played wind instruments, to entertain us. At first, like all of us, they were put off by the grotesqueness of the people with CP. But soon the young people started singing along and dancing to the music, and when the musicians saw how much they enjoyed the music they got into the spirit, and it was extremely moving.

When you look at these young people, you see what an enormous investment in love and care each one of them represents, and you also see amazing responsiveness to that love and care.

I've attached two pictures to give you an idea of what I mean.

With heartfelt thanks to those who have contributed and a reminder that it's not too late to contribute. You can send checks payable to "Tsad Kadima" to —

Friends of Tsad Kadima
c/o Barbara and Henry Render
1745 Lake Eleanor Drive
Deerfield, IL 60015-2055

Please mention that it's to "sponsor" me.

Jeff Green