Living through another lockdown

I’m failing to keep up with what’s going on in the rest of the world, but Israel is going through another lockdown, and I feel like I’m nearing the end of my rope. I’m not alone, either.

Things are mostly closed, except for food and pharma. Places are shut up and businesses are going bust. COVID statistics are frightening. Hospitals are nearing maximum capacity and we’re all going to suffer from further overload.

There’s something profoundly unsettling about having to keep away from people – to meet a friend and then be restricted to talking awkwardly from a distance through a mask, without being able to give a hug.

No library. No swimming pool. But thankfully, the heat is letting up enough for us to plan some hiking and spending time in the open air during this week of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

I have some friends who have taken this whole crappy period as an incentive to do lots of house remakes and upgrades. Me? I feel like I have weights on my arms and legs. I just slug through work, food prep, basic cleaning, and some reading and crochet to keep sane.

I keep counting my blessings. We’re all in good health. I

live in a large house with a yard, trees, chickens, etc. We have a large supply of books and craft supplies. There are plenty of educational and entertaining stuff on the Web. I work from home and have a flexible schedule.

How many people have it way, WAY harder?!

Still, I find it hard to shake off this heavy, heavy oppressive feeling. And I’m sending this post out there as a big virtual hug for all the people who feel the same.

Stay safe, guys. And stay sane. Hug your kids. Do that puzzle. Bake those cookies. Put on some music. Do whatever makes you feel good that isn’t totally unreasonable. Be kind to yourself. You’ve got this.

Happy Rosh HaShana

This has sure been a crazy year. I know most folks choose to save their end of year recaps for December but, being Jewish, I take advantage of the opportunity.

So here are my hopes for the upcoming Jewish new year:

  1. I hope that the nutty virus that has been shaking our world upside down just decides to pack its suitcases and move along. Or, you know, that the science community finds a reliable and SAFE remedy.
  2. I send my best wishes to all the people who have suffered from Covid physically, emotionally, and financially. While not easy, this year has been prosperous for me professionally, with profitable opportunities and interesting projects. I am grateful and acknowledge my privilege. I hope we can all find a way to survive and thrive.
  3. I wish for more time to sleep and relax. And return friends’ calls. And just hang out with my sweet kids. And clean (I just wrote that last one to make myself seem more industrious 😁 I actually think I spend enough time on the house).

So I’m giving the world a big virtual hug on the cusp of this brand new year. Stay safe and well. Stay mentally healthy. And stay hopeful and creative.

Last post before Pesach

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By this time, I have cleaned both my refrigerators and things are rising to the feverish pitch that will culminate in the Seder night on Wednesday, but we’ve still had some time to spend in the garden lately and I even sneaked in a couple of short walks with the children (strictly keeping to empty, lonely places). Last week we saw this flock of cranes right next to our house.

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These birds sure aren’t doing social distancing!

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One of our little house geckos. The kids love to play with them.

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Shira tried to make a smiley egg face here, but this didn’t quite work out. 🙂 I am so extremely grateful for our plentiful and healthy eggs these days. The stores are just empty of eggs at the moment, and I’ve read they are forced to import to meet demand – no knowing what the price or quality will be.

Overall, though we are holding up pretty well, there’s just no denying the situation in the world is kind of crazy right now. I’m so looking forward to the time when it’s possible to lift the quarantine at least a bit – I miss day trips, going to the library, and getting together with friends. There are so many people around the country, from Rehovot to Maalot and from the Shomron to Ramat Beit Shemesh, who are often in my thoughts, and though social media and email thankfully make it easy to keep in touch, nothing can replace a good ol’ cup of coffee together. So this is my post-quarantine resolution: make more time to visit with friends in person.

I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and enjoying spring despite the necessary limitations. No better time to start a garden if you haven’t yet!

I’m off to take all the stove knobs apart and give it a good polish.

On the Purim-Pesach highway

Purim is in two days, which officially marks the beginning of my least favorite time of the year: the weeks between Purim and Pesach.

I always say that all the Pesach prep is probably meant to really help us get into the shoes of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt. It’s more than just spring cleaning, which many people around the world do. It’s practically overhauling one’s whole house. It’s getting obsessively neurotic over every crumb and every trace of leavened bread. It’s packing and unpacking dishes, cookware, and practically all the kitchenware – twice in the span of a week.

By the end of that time, I’m just left with my tongue hanging out, desperate to have my life back.

But there is a silver lining. This period is also the absolute best time of the year to acquire various roadside finds, as people are going through their houses and closets and throw away things, often in excellent condition. You know what they say – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A big part of our furniture consists of such timely finds that have been serving us for long years now.

While I’m generally a big fan of saving space and getting rid of stuff, sometimes you just happen to be in need of something, and then you’re actually driving by and it stares you right in the face – like for example this good-as-new bed frame we had hauled home last week. After a thorough treatment with furniture polish, I can already envision how it will shine in its intended spot. Naturally, I don’t buy furniture polish – I’m currently experimenting with a few homemade, eco-friendly versions.

Happy cleaning, everyone. Remember not to work too hard and just enjoy this beautiful time of year when the earth seems to be stirring awake.

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Hanukkah and hiking

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First Hanukkah candles 

We lit the first Hanukkah candle yesterday, and of course, couldn’t resist the temptation to make something fried (I always declare that I won’t, and the kids always talk me into it).

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Then today we went for a little hike in the area where we live. The weather was beautiful, and the cyclamens and crocuses are beginning to poke out!

Wishing a happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends, and an enjoyable holiday season to the rest of ya’ll!

A decade in the West Bank: a recap

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When I was a bride on the point of my wedding, my future husband and I were looking for a quiet rural place where we could raise our children close to nature and away from busy roads and packed streets. There are such places in Israel, but they are either remote or hugely expensive. In an act of thinking outside the box, we explored the possibility of hopping over the ’67 border, or “the green line”, into the Judea and Samaria area, also known as “The West Bank”.

It was not a political statement (at least not initially). We did believe, and still do, that Jews have the right to live in every part of the Promised Land as it appears in the Bible. Otherwise, all Israelis are nothing more than greedy colonists and might as well pack up and leave. But it was not what led us to move to the settlement of Kedumim and later, when that, either, did not answer our rural dream, to the surrounding outposts.

We soon found out that our motives in living remotely were vastly different from almost every other person we came in contact with. While we essentially wanted a homestead and complete privacy, our neighbors emphasized community and “doing things together” (which did not sit well at all with me as an individualist, and which in my opinion led to lots of gossiping and people sticking their noses into each other’s tushy).

Israeli farmers and settlers have historically been forced to band together for safety reasons. Independent farms are few and far between. We have not been able to attain this dream; perhaps we never will, now. Living among the rolling hills and picturesque views was lovely while it lasted, but it came with a cost.

One was safety. I don’t have statistics, but tragedies happen all the time. People die in car accidents. Hospitals are always full. But this can’t compare to the palpable feeling of pure evil walking all around you, of knowing that there are monsters in human skin who are out there to kill you and your children just for who they are.

During our time in the Shomron, we came in contact with two incidents of such evil: the attack on the 11-year-old Ayala Shapiro, whose family were our neighbors, which left her with severe burns that had maimed her forever; and the murder of Rabbi Raziel Shevach, who was likewise our neighbor in the last place we had lived before leaving the area.

I don’t run a political blog, but no, civil casualties during armed conflict are NOT the same as a terrorist who deliberately sets out to kill innocents, and the more helpless and weak they are, the better. During the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar, the scum of the earth monster who had already murdered the parents and two of the children was about to walk out of the house when the 4-month-old baby, whom he hadn’t noticed before, started crying in her crib. He went back and stabbed her to death.

During our last four years in the settlements we lived in what you’d call the “hardest core” outpost. People there were no fuzzy sunshiny “let’s all get along” types. We were publicly shamed for doing business in the neighboring Arab village. But you can bet your life none of those isolated “fanatics” would have walked into a random Arab home to kill babies.

One thing I have realized most strongly was that the Shomron is an integral, indispensable part of Israel. I used to be able to watch the sunset glimmer on the surface of the Mediterranean Sea from my living room window. That’s how tiny our country is. Look at the map and see what is left once Judea and Samaria area is subtracted – a narrow strip of land along the shore, vulnerable and impossible to defend.

Many people, in Israel as well as around the world, labor under the delusion that if we just retreat to the ’48 borders as defined by the UN, all will be peachy and the Hamas and Hezbollah will drop their guns and rockets and we’ll all sing Kumbaya together around a campfire. Sorry, folks, not gonna happen. Those who hate us and want to kill us in Maale Adumim hate us and want to kill us in Tel Aviv. By the way, don’t you find it funny how Jerusalem, where Jews have lived thousands of years ago and which had never been without a Jewish presence, is so strongly disputed, while Tel Aviv, which is a historically recent creation, is not?

Quoting the Bible as the document that gives us the right to this land might not be accepted by all, but without it, what are we actually doing here?

But I digress.

Many settlements are like small towns with no clear political affiliation. People there mostly just go about their business and live like in any other part of the country. Where we lived it was different. The place had all sorts of legal obstacles to its development. There were often problems with electricity and running water. There were no shops, post office, bank, doctors, etc, within walking distance.

This lack of accessibility, even more than the clannish segregated social structure, was what I found most frustrating about my life on that area. Without a car or reliable transportation means, I was utterly dependent on DH for every little thing. If we had run out of milk and he didn’t feel like driving to the grocery store, too bad, we’d just have to do without milk. Every trivial errand turned into a huge logistic challenge.

The decision to leave did not come about in one day. Besides being attached to the area, we couldn’t afford to move anywhere else (forget that we could barely afford to maintain our own house, as it was).

I suppose the overwhelming feeling I had experienced in those days was simply exhaustion. I was tired of never feeling quite safe, of not being able to count on having simple necessities like running water, of everything being such a logistical nightmare, from checking emails to running to the grocery store, of being utterly dependent on my husband for every trivial little thing.

I feel extremely lucky that my mom had a home to offer us. Things are so much easier for me today that I sometimes feel like I cheated. I was certainly a lot more fortunate than others in my situation. Not everyone has generous family ready to help them out of lousy circumstances.

My heart is still with the courageous souls braving a thousand risks and inconveniences each day of living where I used to. I will always feel a strong emotional bond to that part of the country. However, there’s no denying I’m a lot happier and mentally healthier here.

The Magic Bagel

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This story happened a long time ago, but every once in a while, I recall it and feel the need to share, because it was so uplifting to me and, though seemingly a trivial incident, had a huge impact on the shaping of me as a young person.

Before I went to university, I worked at a number of odd jobs, the last of which was a cashier in a supermarket. It wasn’t easy, especially in the first few days. Hours were long, breaks were short, customers were rude – and on top of all that, at the end of my third day at work, I have found out that there’s a considerable sum of money missing.

I would have to return the missing money from my own salary. Side note: back then, it was legitimate practice. I fervently hope it has changed. A poor cashier that works for a minimum wage and made an innocent mistake isn’t supposed to pay. I felt so humiliated! This might sound out of proportion to you, I know, but back then I was very young and insecure. I felt like a total failure. I started walking slowly towards the bus station, my eyes clouded with tears.

There were few moments in my life when I felt more helpless than at that moment, when I sat motionlessly on a bench. Buses came and went, but I just couldn’t bring myself to get up.

And then the woman appeared. She had short dark hair and warm brown eyes, and looked like someone who is probably very cheerful and has a very large family. She was carrying a shopping bag and was obviously in a hurry; but when she saw me, she stopped walking.

“Excuse me, are you alright?” She asked.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I said, hoping my voice wasn’t trembling too much.

“Are you sure?” She insisted. “Do you need money for a bus ticket?”

Only then I realized I must have looked like a homeless drunk. My hair was a mess and my eyes were probably red and puffy.

“No, no, really, I’m fine,” I said quickly. “I have a ticket; I can go home anytime… I just… had some problems at work.”

She looked at me very kindly and said:
“You look like such a wonderful person. Don’t let anyone put you down.”

Then she insisted I must have one of the fresh bagels she just bought. I refused at first, but she just wouldn’t take no for an answer. She said I look exhausted and need to eat something. She gave me one of her bagels, said goodbye and walked away. I ate the bagel, and it wasn’t simply delicious; I felt as though it was a magic bagel – with every bite, the pain and humiliation were slowly disappearing, until I felt almost normal again; I got on a bus and went home.

Often, when I’m feeling down, I remember the woman who gave me that bagel, and the simple beauty of what she did never ceases to fill me with gratitude. She was in a hurry, but she didn’t just pass by. And she wouldn’t leave me alone the moment I said I don’t need anything. She refused to walk away without giving me at least some comfort. Whenever I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes. I hope that someday, as I work on making myself a better person, I can develop even a bit of that woman’s kindness and generosity.

In those few short minutes while we talked, I felt as though someone bestowed the precious gift of friendship upon me – something to keep me going at the darkest moments. It’s amazing how such little things can have such a tremendous impact on our soul. The words she said have resounded in my ears during many times of fear, despair and humiliation:

“You look like such a wonderful person. Don’t let anyone put you down.”

I know her words were a message from God, because He ever and always wishes to strengthen, encourage and uplift us. I’m not saying the messages we get are always meant to make us feel good. But they always carry a positive, not a negative force. They are always made of hope, possibility, insistence, improvement. They might painfully shake us, but they remind us He never gives up on us.

Thus, it’s easy enough to recognize the messages that are not from Him, usually spoken by people around us. If anyone in your life, anyone at all, deliberately makes you feel, and/or explicitly tells you that you are worthless; wicked; stupid; hopeless; crazy – that you are a terrible person, that you will never be able to make a difference, that you will never get up, shake off the dust and walk on – know that their message is not from God, and therefore not true, because He never wants us to drown in despair. He wants us to know there is always hope.