Tag Archives: Daily life

Run-up to Pesach (Passover)

Advertisement for children's activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record
Advertisement for children’s activities a week before Pesach: helping to make the biggest matza on record

In our old apartment, it was easy to tell Pesach (Passover) was imminent. The children in the day care across the street stopped singing about Purim and started singing parts of the Passover Haggadah. Instead of “It’s Adar, increase joy,” they sang the four questions.

But in our current apartment, there are no nearby day care facilities. So the musical cues of coming holidays are few. Although the sound of two dozen three or four year olds singing at full force isn’t exactly music.Two days ago, when I walked to the grocery store, I crossed paths with a man taking his young child home. As they walked, I could hear him helping her learn one of the four questions. As I type this, several children in the parking lot below my window are practicing the questions.

Passover is coming! Seder is Friday night.

Ad by young man looking for work cleaning for Passover
“A capable young man, known in the neighborhood, is interested in cleaning houses and courtyards” Ad posted on street

We’ve been cleaning the apartment for weeks. This year, we got smart. We hired a young man from the yeshiva to help us. He’s not some kid from the neighborhood. Although Til is from Germany, he studies full time in the English program at Machon Meir with Allen. He knows what is required in the way of Pesach cleaning, and is smart enough to follow through on instructions. Although he and Allen together moved the refrigerator and the bookcases in the salon,  he was strong enough to move the stove by himself to clean behind it. Nine hours of cleaning help from someone who knows what he’s doing makes a big difference.

Now we’re just about ready. The year-round dishes have been put in one cabinet, the pots moved to a box on the balcony, and the Passover utensils are sitting on new shelf paper in freshly cleaned cabinets. The stove is so clean, it looks new, and the inside of the refrigerator shines. Of course you can’t see that; the shelves are full of fresh vegetables for the week. The three dozen eggs I need for the holiday take up a good amount of space as well. Three dozen eggs may not sound like much for this egg-intensive holiday, but I’m not making seder. And we don’t eat sweets, so I’m not baking much either.

A month ago, around Purim time, the supermarket rearranged some displays, moving the flour and other baking supplies to where the peanut butter, jams, and condiments had been. The peanut butter and other spreads that were not strictly off limits on Passover were moved to the longer shelves where the baking supplies had been. As usual, this move drove half the customers crazy as they searched for that one last kilo of flour or package of baking powder that they will use up before the holiday. Schools are off for two weeks before the holiday and parents get desperate for activities for their children. Day camps proliferate. Many of them are run by preteen girls for neighborhood children. But Yakov and Moshe, Daniel and Aliza’s sons, are lucky; they attend a sports camp held in local park.

This is also a time when grandparents are very busy. Not only do we prepare our homes for the holiday, but we are on call for child care. This year Yocheved spent two days with us. Monday afternoon we participated in making the largest matza ever made. The activity was held at First Station, so named because it was the first Jerusalem terminus for the railroad from Jaffa. It was one of the few things built during the Ottoman period to bring the province of Southern Syria into the modern age, and opened in 1892. After many years of disuse, the station area was rehabilitated and modernized. It now houses several restaurants, stores, and amusements.

Before the actual matza baking, the children completed holiday-themed crafts projects. Yocheved colored a flat piece poster board that when folded up would be a matza box. She also decorated a bag for hiding the afikomen, the piece of matza saved for dessert at the seder.

Then it was matza baking time. One of the organizers mixed the flour and water and kneaded the dough, which he then parceled out. The children rolled out the dough and then carried it to where the big matza was being assembled. To be kosher for Passover, less than 18 minutes must elapse between pouring the water into the flour and the baking to be complete. This was not going to be a kosher-for-Passover matza. The organizers kept mixing batches of matza dough as someone else carefully pressed the small pieces of dough together.

They attached the big matza to a framework that looked like wire fencing. Another piece of metal was put on top after which they measured it: 344 centimeters, big enough to set a new record.      

Using blowtorches to cook the world's largest matza ,at First Station, Jerusalem, Israel
Using blowtorches to cook the world’s largest matza

But how do you cook a matza that is more than 11 feet across? Surely there was no nearby oven big enough. They used blow torches, of course. Two men cooked one side, and then the other side.

The matza looked all right, but we didn’t stay there to taste it. I knew none of the children had washed their hands before working with the dough and Yocheved mentioned she had seen people step on the dough as it was being assembled. Since it looked like matza, we just assumed that’s what it tasted like.

The public bulletin boards are covered with holiday related notices. Most of them are  advertisements for stores or activities. But one plain black print ad caught my attention. I have translated most of it here because I have never seen a poster like this one.

Forbidden because of fear of hametz!  

Warning against using cigarettes on Passover
Warning! Cigarettes contain hametz and are not suitable for use on Passover

Rabbi Elishav, of blessed memory:

“It is forbidden to use cigarettes without clarifying that they do not contain substances that are made from hametz.”

Rabbi Karlin:

“Using cigarettes violates the prohibition against getting pleasure from hametz during Pesach”

Rabbi Sternbuch:

“Most cigarettes are completely hametz!”

The  Rabbinical Council ofAmerica:

Philip Morris uses hametz.

Don’t smoke cigarettes during Pesach.

 I guess any reason not to smoke is a good one. I just find it a little odd that these rabbis are more worried about people violating the commandment to refrain from using hametz during this one week holiday than they are about people violating the commandment to guard their health during the rest of the year. But that opinion is just a result of my own experience taking care of critically ill people who destroyed their hearts or lungs by smoking. 

The penalty for eating Hametz on Passover is considered more severe than the penalty for not taking care of your health. I have a hard time, however, appreciating that anything can be more severe than struggling for every breath you take. 

I just hope the person in our building who smokes in the hallway sees the poster and decides not to smoke over the holiday. Then we’ll be able to keep that clean scent of freshly cleaned cabinets, floors and furniture hanging around a little longer.

Shopping at the Shuk

Profusion of colorful vegetablles for sale at Mahane Yehuda stand
The profusion of vegetables for sale at a Mahane Yehuda stand makes a colorful display

The Mahane Yehuda market, the shuk, this week is particularly appealing to a produce-lover like me. Huge perfectly white cauliflowers sit atop displays of rough dark green broccoli, shiny dark green cucumbers, dark red beets, black radishes and white ones, creamy white parsnips, orange carrots, pale green cabbages and purple ones, orangey red tomatoes, and eggplants such a shiny dark purple they look almost black. Next to the vegetable booth is a fruit seller who has on display baskets of pink strawberries, bright yellow lemons, pale yellow grapefruit, and orange oranges. Until the recent cold weather caused the skin of the citrus fruits to turn color, they were all Kelly-green.

On my way home from classes twice a week in Talpiyot, I have to change buses. I’ve developed the habit of doing so at the shuk. It’s so much fun to walk through and observe the changes through the seasons. Most produce here is grown within the country and the market is seasonal, the way it was when I was growing up. Strawberries in January? Well, if you were willing to fly to Florida, maybe. Asparagus in November? Don’t be ridiculous.

Pomegranates and melons on display at Mahane Yehuda
The pomegranates are big, the melons small, and they’re both delicious

I’m become accustomed to this seasonal cycle of produce. I no longer plan menus based on what I feel like cooking, but do so based on what is available. Three weeks ago I made an orange and olive salad for the first time in months, two weeks ago I served cauliflower, and last week I served strawberries. I’ll serve them frequently for the next few weeks, because their season is fairly short, although not as short as cherry season.

The Mahane Yehuda market is such an integral part of Jerusalem, it’s hard to remember that it is less than 150 years old. When Jerusalem started expanding beyond its walls in the late 1800s, people did not want to go all the way back to the city to shop. The Arab farmers in nearby villages realized it would be easy to bring their produce closer to these new customers. They came from Sheikh Bader, Deir Yassin, and Lifta to an open area between the Jewish settlements of Mahane Yehuda and Mazkeret Moshe. They spread blankets on the ground and displayed their wares.

That was fine in the dry season, but not in the four to six month season of cold wind and rain. The farmers started to build themselves stalls and shacks, rickety shelters with tin roofs. There was no plan.

This lack of organization disturbed the British when they took over administration of the area during the Mandate. They knew the market was vital to the character and well-being of the city. Charles Robert Ashby, the city planner, developed a design for the market with the help of an architect. Their design included sanitation, streets, running water, and a central square with a fountain, bordered by a row of trees. The British plan never came to fruition, probably because of budgetary issues.

Selling tea at Mahane Yehuda
Several shops sell their own mixtures of herbs and spices for tea

In the 1930s the British took responsibility for sanitation and street cleaning in the market. By this time the Etz Chaim Yeshiva had bought land extending south from Jaffa Road. The founders of the Yeshiva built a row of shops along its wall whose rent helped sustain the school.

The character of the market changed during the 1920s and 1930s, as Jewish merchants began to open shops. Some rented from Arabs and some bought land outright. A group of merchants convinced a local bank to extend six-year loans to those who wanted to establish permanent shops in the area. Today, if you look above the store sign at the corner of Hashaked and Mahane Yehuda Streets, you can see the plaque designating the area of 81 shops as Shuk Halva’ah V’Chisachon—Loan and Savings Market. Another permanent area of the shuk built around the same time was closer to Jaffa Road. Most of the shop owners were Iraqi Jews. Today, it is still known as Shuk HaIraqi, the Iraqi Market.

After Israeli independence, Jerusalem continued to grow, and so did the shuk. Today its two main streets extend from Jaffa Road south to Agrippas street, connected by smaller streets named for fruit and nut trees. Shops extend for two blocks on Jaffa Road as well as several blocks along Agrippas street. To the newcomer, it is a confusing mass of shops and alleys, which is no doubt why so many people offer walking tours. My friend Renee, who has been in Israel for almost twenty years, walked me up Mahane Yehuda street a few months after our aliyah. She told me about things to look for, pointing out valid kashrut certificates and certifications that appropriate tithes had been taken. Allen and I also took a tour that went through almost all the streets, while the guide explained both the history of the shuk and why she preferred certain olive, meat, spice, and produce shops. On one corner an olive merchant would sell as little as 50 grams of olives. A certain spice merchant knew the English names of spices, a skill I am still grateful for.

In the 1970s the city paved the streets and improved sanitation in the area. Additionally, it installed the first permanent roof over Mahane Yehuda street, leading people to start calling that area the “covered shuk,” as opposed to the “open shuk on the parallel Etz HaChaim street. This was later replaced by a translucent curved roof that covered many of the side streets as well. That roof, in its turn, was recently replaced by a better one.

Nuts and seeds for sale at Mahane Yehuda
Did I mention they sell a several varieties of nuts and seeds?

In some ways the shuk is what it always was. The clerks in food shops loudly try to attract customers. “Watermelons for Shabbat!” yells one, while across the narrow street, another screams out “Sweet red watermelons.” The halvah man, wearing a gilded paper crown, stands in the middle of the street in front of “The Halvah Kingdom” offering passersby a taste of coffee bean halvah. The spice shop clerks routinely give  tastes of their unique mixtures for rice and salads to anyone who stops. Shoppers pick up an olive to eat without breaking stride as they walk by. Women push baby buggies overflowing with groceries, the baby now being at school; men wear bulging backpacks with long skinny celery stalks peaking out the top. Soldiers walk through nibbling on a bourekas, a cup of coffee in one hand and a rifle on their back. Yeshiva students, in their black suits and white shirts hurry through, talking about their latest lesson as they go. And the beggars still sit at the entrances, asking for a coin or two to help pay for food for Shabbat, a kidney transplant, or to support a poor widow with eight children.

But nothing in the world remains static. Every week it seems like there is something different. The olive merchant on a corner is gone, replaced by a coffee bar. A fruit and nut stand near the entrance has replaced the spice seller who has moved halfway down the street. What the spice seller replaced is a mystery to me. Several clothing stores have opened in the covered shuk, as have two high end jewelry artisans. A new pottery cooperative sells lovely handmade dishes, cups and trays on one of the tiny short streets near Agrippas street. A couple of nice bars seem to be doing a brisk business. And now several

Fish and Chips at Mahane Yehuda
The Fish and Chips stand offers diners a place to sit outside

sit-down restaurants have opened. I hesitate to give a number, because every time I check my count, I find another one. These are in addition to the falafel stands, juice bars, and fish and chips place (yes, its sign written in Hebrew letters reads “Feesh and Cheeps”).

The shuk has a weekly rhythm. Sunday and Monday it is almost empty of shoppers but by Friday it is so crowded, you can barely squeeze through. Many tours bring visitors on Friday afternoon to get a feel for the “real Israel.” But harried storekeepers moving as fast as they can to weigh bags and make change for three different customers at the same time, no matter how fascinating to watch, are not the whole picture. Nor are the shoppers, pushing, cutting in line, and elbowing their way through to the last ripe avocado or nice melon. Friday’s pre-Shabbat frenzy of last minute shopping is only a small slice of the life of the shuk and of Israeli life. I much prefer the picture of Israel presented on Tuesday or Wednesday: the sheer variety of produce, the bright colors, the beggars who give you a blessing for health, long life, and learned children, and the storekeepers who let you taste their wares and will tell you why theis are the best.

            In the end it doesn’t really matter when you visit—the shuk is always fascinating. And stimulating to the appetite.

Map of Mahane Yehuda

Israel Recycles

Israeli streetside recycling containers for paper (right) and plastic bottles and bags, CDs, and batteries (left)
Streetside recycling containers for paper (right) and plastic bottles and bags, CDs, and batteries (left)

During Chanukah we took the Bernstein granddaughters to the Israel Museum to see a light show and some exhibits. At one point we bought them something to drink. Yael and Adina threw their empty bottles in the trash, but Yocheved handed hers to me to hold. “I can’t find a michzur,” she said, using the Hebrew word for recycling.

It seems like everybody in Israel recycles. Our water recycling is the best in the world; no other country reuses as much of its water. That may be one of the reasons that Israel, according to the UN, is the only country in the world in which desert land is decreasing.

Solid waste is also heavily recycled. Recycling containers of various colors are ubiquitous: gray bins for paper, gradually being replaced by green or blue ones, bright or dark green for plastic bottles and bags, CDs, and batteries.

It was not always so. It has been less than twenty years that Israelis have been tossing their plastic bottles in collection cages. It started as a private initiative by a small group of English-speaking young professionals in Jerusalem. They decided their group needed to have a purpose, other than socializing. Coming primarily from the United States, where recycling bottles had been practiced for years, they decided on a recycling initiative. It would be something new in Jerusalem that no one had done before, and would be a public service as well.

They quickly realized that they needed to locate a company that recycled materials. It took some time to locate one in the north of the country. Incredibly, this company imported plastic bottles from Europe. It turned the bottles into plastic bags and the bottle caps became the raw material for park benches. Members of the group thought that was odd. Why import plastic to recycle and then export the product? Especially when there were so many bottles discarded here every day.

They made a deal with the company. If the group put collection containers in public places, the company would send trucks to empty them regularly.

Now they needed permission from the city to put the containers out. This took much discussion and negotiation, but they finally reached an agreement for a pilot project. If the group raised money to pay for seventy containers, the city would allow them to be distributed in three neighborhoods. The recycling company would send trucks to empty the containers every two weeks.

The containers, basically large wire cages, were installed. The recycling trucks came every two weeks to empty the overflowing cages. The company increased the schedule to every week, then twice a week. A quick survey discovered that not only were locals depositing bottles in the containers, but people from other neighborhoods were bringing their bottles to be recycled as well.

The city, impressed by the amount of bottles being deposited, decided it was successful even before the pilot was completed. They met with the group to make plans to expand recycling. If the group raised money for more collection cages, the city would pay for additional ones.

And then the city took over recycling, putting bins out in every neighborhood.

Yocheved’s empty water bottle spent about an hour in my purse. I even carried it home on the bus. We took a slightly longer route than usual from the bus stop so we could walk past a michzur. She dropped the bottle in the collection container with a happy smile.

 Today the large recycling bins are everywhere. It’s almost impossible to go anywhere in the country without passing them, Israel Museum excepted. (To be fair to the museum, it does have containers designated for bottles in the eating areas). Most of the bins are emptied by trucks from the Aviv Plastics Company, located near Beer Sheva. The old wire bottle collection cages still stand in some places, but they are being replaced by new multipurpose bins.

Israeli recycling bin: wood box with slit for CDs, below that small hole for inserting used batteries
Recycling bin: wood box with slit for CDs, below that small hole for inserting used batteries

The new bins are easily identifiable by their bright green color. The ends of the bins are solid. One end is decorated with a hole in the shape of a vine. The “leaves” of the vine are for stuffing plastic bags in. At the other end a wood box with a slit across it is labeled “CD.” Below that, a hole labeled “sollelot” serves to collect used batteries. There is even a panel on many of the cages for hanging notices to the community, such as classes, death notices, and apartments for rent. The labels on the various holes don’t prevent people from throwing plastic bags in with bottles, or batteries into nearby trash bins, but they do help.

Plastic recycling has spread across the country. According to a 2014 survey, 80% of the people recycle plastic, except for residents of the capital.  Less than half of Jerusalem’s residents do it, despite the evidence from the often full-to-the-top plastic recycling bins in my neighborhood.  

The same type of bin stands in most cities and towns, usually next to the large round containers designed to collect paper. These containers say they are for collecting all kinds of paper, but apparently people deposit inappropriate materials. New posters have started appearing pasted to the bins, listing exactly what should be deposited therein: newspaper, white and colored paper, light weight cardboard containers. In some business areas, like the shuk or the shopping area on Kanfei Nesharim street near us, large fenced-in cages are designated for corrugated cardboard containers.

No one recycles glass on the same scale. In order for a recycling effort to work, you need someone to take the collected materials and do something with it. Stores take back soda, beer, and wine bottles on which there is a deposit of 30 agorot, about 8 cents. But most glass bottles, such as the ones olive oil, vinegar, and juice come in, are not recycled. Someone should start collecting glass bottles to melt down to make new glass. With all the olive oil and wine consumed in this country, I’m sure they would do well.

Walking past the a green collection cage one day, I saw two boys in

Boys fishing plastic bottles from older style recycling bin, Jerusalem
Boys fishing plastic bottles from older style recycling bin, Jerusalem

it, wading through the waist high plastic bottles. I wondered, have we become so enamored of recycling we are even recycling children?

Later in the day, as I walked past the playground, I realized what the boys had been doing. Children were stomping on empty soda bottles until they were flat. Sitting on a flattened soda bottle increases your speed when going down a sliding board, making the tame piece of playground equipment much more fun. The ingenuity of children at play is the best recycling tool of all.

Baking Challah

The room at the Orthodox Union Israel Center was set up for the baking workshop when we arrived
The room at the Orthodox Union Israel Center was set up for the baking workshop when we arrived

Last week I attended a Challah workshop, given by Saidel Baking Institute. Les and Sheryl Saidel did not charge for the three hour class. They said they were doing it in support of Jerusalem, then in the midst of a wave of terrorist attacks. That was a large donation on their part—all the ingredients for thirty women to make two challot each, plus the time they spent measuring everything in advance, and the workshop itself. Strictly speaking, it was not a communal baking event—we did not “take challah” and say the blessing. 

Les Saidel is one of more famous residents of Karnei Shomron, located in the foothills of the Samarian hills northeast of Tel Aviv. He specializes in organic breads, baking 50,000 loaves of bread a week in his home bakery. All bread is baked to order in his brick oven, and is delivered to homes and distribution points in the center of the country. Saidel’s products are not available in stores because that would require adding preservatives. Adding preservatives violates his personal code of healthy baking, and he refuses to use them.

 Baskets containing bite size samples of all the bread the Saidels bake sat on a table near the entrance to the room. During the course of the evening we all tasted several breads. And perhaps we came back for another taste. And maybe as we were about to leave, one last taste of a bread we particularly liked.  There was the standard white challah, New York rye, black Russian bread, and whole wheat challah. There was also spelt multigrain bread, oats with sunflower seeds, and sourdough. And then there was a basket of Rambam bread, a bread he developed himself.

At one time, some of his customers who had come from the US asked Les for Ezekiel bread. This is a bread made from a combination of grains discussed in the Biblical book of Ezekiel, and is claimed to be especially healthy. After doing some research on Ezekiel bread, he stopped. He realized that Ezekiel bread had already been invented. If he was going to bake and sell a specialty bread, he decided he should develop a bread of his own.

During his studies in Yeshiva in his native South Africa, he had always been impressed by the writings of Rambam. Rambam, also known as Maimonides, was a prominent 12th century physician and Torah scholar. Les turned to Rambam’s  treatise On the causes of symptoms. Using the information he found there, he developed the recipe for his Rambam bread. It contains whole wheat flour, whole rye flour, sesame, and several medicinal herbs, including rose hips. And it tastes fabulous.

Les Saidel explains the intricacies of bread baking
Les Saidel explains the intricacies of bread baking

While waiting for our dough to raise, Les explained the origin of challot as special Shabbat bread in 15th century Germany and Poland. He then discussed various grains used. Challah, the portion of bread set aside for the Cohanim when the Temple was standing, can be taken from bread made of one of five grains: wheat, rye, oats, spelt, or barley. Today we don’t set aside bread for the Cohanim because there is no Temple. Instead, when we make enough bread at one time, we take a bit of the dough and burn it. How much dough necessitates taking challah depends on which Rabbi’s opinions you follow. In general, if you make make bread using between 8.5 to 10 cups of flour, you take challah.

If you should forget to take challah and say the blessing when you shape the bread, and instead put it right in the oven, you can do it later. You take a slice of the baked bread and set it aside to burn. 

When the time came to shape the loaves, Les went around the room, helping us, In the written material he had given us, braiding with one to six strands of dough were diagrammed. I had always wanted to learn to do six strand  braiding but had never been able to puzzle out the diagrams in books. As Les wandered around the room helping people, I called him over. With his help, I got the six strands of my

The challot I made in workshop conducted by Les Saidel. On left, white flour, on right whole grain spelt challah
The challot I made in workshop conducted by Les Saidel. On left, white flour, on right whole grain spelt challah

wheat challah braided. Then I was on my own. With a little help from my neighbor, I managed a six strand braid for my spelt challah as well.

We all took our braided challahs home to bake. By the time I arrived home, my challahs had raised and were ready for the oven. They looked beautiful coming out of the oven.

On Shabbat, they tasted as good as they looked. By Tuesday every crumb had been eaten.

Living with Terror

Sign in downtown Jerusalem "And the main thing is not to be afraid at all"
Sign in downtown Jerusalem “And the main thing is not to be afraid at all”

I was sitting near the back of the number 34 bus, returning home from class, when the policeman boarded. That would not have been unusual. Several policeman ride this bus to and from work every day. They usually carry their lunches in their hand. This officer was carrying a rifle. A big rifle. A “You do what I say and do it NOW!” rifle. He walked slowly to the back of the bus looking to his right and left. When he reached the back of the bus, he turned around and slowly walked to the front again checking us over.

The woman next to me turned her head and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders.

The bus did not move. It sat at the stop even though no one boarded or exited.

I shifted in my seat, trying to see what was happening. All I could see through the bus windshield was another policeman standing in the middle of the street. No traffic was moving past him in either direction.

And then another security person boarded the bus. This one was dressed all in black, from his hat to bullet proof vest to his boots. He too carried his rifle in the ready position in front of him, as if he expected one of us Thursday afternoon shoppers to attack him at any moment. He too walked the length of bus, looking at each of us as if our faces would betray what was really in our Herzog College and Bank Hapoalim shopping bags. After inspecting the whole bus, he descended through the back door.

And still we sat there, wondering. What was going on? Had there been another knife attack on a bus? Had an Arab run from the site of an attack carrying his weapon? Had the police received a report of a potential terrorist headed towards Jerusalem? How could we find out? Should I call home to ask if everyone was okay? Should I call home to tell them I am okay?

I wished I had remembered to top off my phone’s battery at breakfast. It didn’t have enough power left for me to check my usual news sources. Without The Muqata and the Jerusalem Post, I was in the dark, even though it was a bright sunny day.

A few minutes later, one of the policeman banged on a window of the bus. The driver closed the bus doors and continued on his way.

It seemed like everyone started breathing again at the same time.

My neighbor looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I shook my head. Who knows what that was about?

Security is out in full force. Police, border police, security guards,

Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem
Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem

soldiers—they are everywhere, usually in pairs or trios. They’re at light rail stations, bus stops, and busy intersections. They carry serious weapons. And they are all wearing bullet-proof vests

We overthink all our actions. Do I want to stand at a distance from the others, so I won’t be part of a targeted crowd? Or do I want to be with a group of people so I won’t look like an easy target and there will people around to help if, G-d forbid, something bad happens? Do I want to sit in the back of the bus, where I can see everyone in front of me? Or near the driver? Do I want to ride the light rail in a forward-facing seat, or on the side looking towards the door and aisle? Do I even want to go out of the apartment?

An ordinary Arab girl who set out that morning had first posted a message that she was going to become a martyr. Her parents saw the message and called the police, who searched all buses travelling from her direction. They found her at the entrance to the city, four blocks from my apartment. I go through that intersection daily. On this day, I traversed it an hour after the police had left.

I go past the Central Bus Station several times a week, often around the time a 70 year old woman was stabbed there. I took my granddaughter dress shopping on Malchei Yisrael street a few days before the terrorist attack there. I have been in the Beer Sheva bus station often enough to explain its layout to a friend when we were talking about Sunday’s terrorist attack there. She told me about her Sunday trip which took her to the Ra’anana bus station not too long before the terrorist attack there. Sara mentioned that the whole city of Givat Zeev was in lockdown Sunday night because a suspicious person had been seen by a security guard. When I asked her what she would tell her children the next morning, she replied, “Nothing. If they ask about the chairs piled against the back door, I’ll say that Ima is silly.”

Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem
Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem

We’re all affected by what is going on yet we seem to be finding ways of dealing with it. We leave earlier in the morning because Jerusalem’s holy traffic jams are worse than ever. People drive their children to school instead of letting them walk or take public transportation. Fewer people ride the buses and light rail. Pedestrian traffic downtown is lighter than usual, and stores are empty of customers. Although the weather is lovely, almost none of the tables outside restaurants are occupied. Last week the beggars and street musicians stayed home. On Monday most of them were back at their regular positions in downtown Jerusalem. I smiled when I heard music that night. The balalaika player had returned. His rectangular plastic box with the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sits on top of his amplifier. I gave him an extra shekel —I had missed his music which made waiting for the light rail less tedious..

Last week many after school programs were canceled—the teachers went on a one day strike because the security guards left at 1:30. Then the city found money in its special budget to pay for the needed guards in border areas. Other schools simply locked their gates and doors.

The stabbings and shootings have gone on long enough that people are starting to react in defiance. “If you stop living normally, the terrorists have won” is the general Israeli attitude. That’s why Sbarro’s Pizza quickly repaired and reopened the restaurant that sustained a deadly suicide bombing attack in 2001. That’s why building continues in Yehuda and Shomron. That’s why people go into the Old City of Jerusalem to pray or just to walk around. No Arab terrorist is going to control where we go or what we do. We just do it a little more alert, a little more watchful.

Solidarity and chizook are the big things. Chizook means strengthening or encouragement, and many are engaging on acts to strengthen others. A woman on the Kiryat Moshe/Givat Shaul electronic bulletin board is soliciting short pieces, a paragraph or two, of chizook and inspiration. She publishes two or three every day.

Groups of teenagers walk along well traveled streets, carrying Israeli flags and singing loudly, songs like “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People Israel Lives).

Someone started a shared public recitation of Psalms for the recovery of terror victims in Israel and as a merit to bring peace. They are trying to get 1000 readings of the whole book. By clicking on a link (http://tinyurl.com/pyrq27h) you get to a site that asks you to say the Psalm which is printed below the instructions. Although the instructions may be accessed in many languages, the Psalms themselves are in Hebrew. When I first went to the site on Monday they had completed 31 readings of the entire book; on Friday morning they were working on the 42nd reading. At that time, more than 2000 people had participated.

Graffiti and posters always reflect the times. Several walls now sport brightly painted slogans, such as Am Yisrael Chai. A large banner hanging on the metal barrier at a downtown construction site uses the second line of the song by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: V’ha’ikar lo l’fakhaid klal (The main thing thing is not to be afraid at all).

Meanwhile the attacks continue. I hate to open the newspaper in the morning, because at least one headline blares news about another person fighting for life after being stabbed, shot, or run down by a car. At this time, we see no end in sight. The terror will continue until Muslim clerics stop preaching that it is a religious duty of all Muslims to kill all Jews. The terror will continue until Arab politicians stop encouraging it.

I have read the statements Mahmoud Abbas has made to the foreign press that he is not in favor of terrorist acts. I also read translations of his Arabic speeches in which he praises terrorists and decries Jewish attempts to protect ourselves. His government continues to reward acts of terror by paying salaries to Arabs who are in Israeli jails for killing and injuring Jews. The more people they killed, the higher their salaries. Until Abbas and other politicians declare in Arabic, in public in their own countries, that acts of terror are wrong, I cannot believe they disapprove of killing Israelis. The day the Palestinian Authority stops paying huge salaries to people who kill Jews, I will start believing they really want to live alongside of us. The day Islamic clerics declare in their weekly sermons that Jews have a right to live in their ancient homeland, I will start believing they really want peace.

In the meantime, I live my life as best I can, watching my surroundings when I go out. I try not to jump to the conclusion that every siren is a terrorist attack, reminding myself that people are still having heart attacks, that traffic accidents and house fires still occur. But I say my daily prayers for peace with special emphasis.

Sandstorm Blows In

The sandstorm obscures the view of the bright orange building cranes two blocks away
The sandstorm obscures the view of the bright orange building cranes two blocks away

I had spent Tuesday morning inside the apartment, and thus was unaware of the weather. But around 1:00 I had to go out, and then it hit me in the face. I felt like I had walked into a preheated oven. Not a convection oven, either. AccuWeather on my phone told me it was 96o F, but the “real feel” was 101 F. The heat felt more oppressive than that.

When I got to Herzl Boulevard, and could see across the valley, it looked like it was very foggy. Except it didn’t feel damp, the way fog does, and it didn’t swirl around like fog. Besides, who ever heard of fog on a hot summer afternoon?

The conclusion was obvious — a sand storm had hit Jerusalem. And not Jerusalem alone. Along with much of the rest of the Middle East, Israel is experiencing its worst sand storm in fifteen years. Although sand storms are not unusual in this part of the world, they generally blow in from North Africa and the Sinai in the Winter and Spring. As the storm peters out, one can expect a good rain to wash the residual sand and pollution out of the air.

But this storm is different. It has come to us from northeastern Syria. And because it arrived in late summer, we can expect it linger for a while. We don’t expect rain for at least another four to six weeks.

The dust and heat are a near lethal mix. Tuesday afternoon, both the Health Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry advised everyone to avoid strenuous activity. Sensitive populations — children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with heart or lung disease —were advised to stay inside. The particulate matter in the air is more than five times the level that is classified as worthy of an alert. The warnings are needed. Magen David Adom, the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross, treated 300 people for dust related problems. No doubt more people simply reported to hospital emergency rooms without using the emergency medical service.

Few  people are out on the streets. Some people who go out take the precaution of wearing a surgical mask to filter the air. I saw a young woman on the bus wrap a scarf over her nose and mouth before descending at her stop.

The eastern part of the country has received the thickest dust. That includes the Golan, Galilee, Jordan River Valley, Jerusalem, and eastern Negev. It was interesting to read news reports on the dust storm from different places. An English language newspaper published in the Emirates reported on the terrible storm that has clouded the air with sand and dust in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. If only! I doubt any storm could be so discriminating as to envelope all our neighbors without affecting us.

The dust doesn’t just hang in the air outside; it filters in through closed windows as well. Everything in our apartment is coated with a layer of fine dust. 

24 hours of dust on the Talmud
My finger traced a line through 24 hours of dust on the Talmud

Allen had put his Gemara book on the table in the living room Monday afternoon; by Tuesday evening it was coated with fine sand. The dust sits on the black top of my computer and the dark red kitchen counters begging to be wiped off. The computer keys and my phone screen feel gritty.

We turned on the air conditioner in the late afternoon, as much as for its air filtering ability as for its cooling power. But first I had to clean the filter on the intake grate. Yuck! I wondered if the previous tenants had ever cleaned it. But when I checked the filter on my CPAP machine, it too was disgustingly full of dust. And that filter had been perfectly white when I inserted it two weeks ago.

Sandstorm turns sun into pale disk hanging in pale sky on a summer day
Sandstorm turns the sun into pale disk hanging in a pale sky at 4 PM on a summer day

Looking out the window is confusing. The dust in the air is so thick, the light looks like dusk most of the day. The sun is just a pale disk in the pale sky. My body knows it’s not yet evening, but my eyes tell me it is. It seems silly to turn on the lights in early afternoon in September, but without them, it’s hard to read or concentrate on small details.  

Rosh HaShanah is in three days and we’re all busy trying to make our homes sparkling clean while the dust settles on every surface faster than we can wipe it off. We’re shopping and cooking for the holiday trying not to exert ourselves, wondering if that is even possible.

And we wait for the storms in Syria to calm down and stop blowing sand in our direction.

Getting an Israeli Driver’s License

Student driver: the ל on the roof stands for "learning"
Student driver: the ל on the roof stands for “learning”

New olim are allowed to convert their foreign driver’s license to an Israeli license for three years. I couldn’t put it off any longer.

Step 1: Get Green Form and have eye exam. I went to one of the two optometrists in Jerusalem who are authorized to provide the Green form. The clerk took my ID card, told me to sit down and look at the camera. Two minutes later, he handed me my Green Form, complete with my photo at the top, and sent me next door for the eye exam.

I  gave my form to the woman behind the counter. She told me to look in a machine. “How many squares do you see?” she asked, in Hebrew.

There were two cubes depicted—I hoped she was asking about the cubes themselves, and not the six sides I could see. Apparently “two” was the correct answer.

The picture changed to two cars on a long road. “On what side is the light blinking?”

I didn’t see a blinking light.  “I only see two cars,” I replied.

“No, the light outside the machine,” she instructed me.

I pulled my head out of the machine, and she directed me to put my head back in.

The blinking light was to the right of the picture. I indicated with my right hand as I said “yemin.”

She switched the visual to lines of numbers. “Read the second line,” she told me.

I read the numbers, hoping she was more interested in the numbers, than if I was consistent with gender. Luckily for me, she wasn’t a grammar fanatic; I passed the test. I paid my 50 NIS and she gave me my Green Form.

Step 2: Declaration of Health. I answered the questions about my health on the Green Form, with the assistance of my dictionary. I now know the words for stroke, diabetes, and mental illness.

Step 3: Get doctor’s signature verifying you are physically capable of driving a car safely. I dropped the form off at the clinic, and picked it up two days later.

Step 4: Take Green Form, Oleh Certificate that documents the date of arrival in Israel, and foreign driver’s license to District License Office. Although there are more than ten License Offices in the country, only five of them handle license conversions. Luckily, one of them is in Jerusalem.

Street sign indicating location of  license office
License office over there

The office was easy to find. As I walked down Tnufa street, I saw a large sign in the shape of an arrow pointing toward a building. “License Office” it said in English, Hebrew, and Arabic, in letters large enough to be read by a driver in a hurry.

After going through security, I was confronted by a sign giving too many choices of where to go. I quickly gave up reading it all and went to the right for “N’higa Kol” (all driving). When my turn came, I pushed my documents through the opening in the glass partition. The clerk asked for my Oleh Certificate. I pointed and said, “It’s there.” Maybe I confused her by giving it to her with the Green Form instead of waiting to be asked for it?

When she got down to the medical information, she asked what the medications were for. “Lakhatz dam,” I said, remembering the words for blood pressure, and then paused. I had no idea what the word for cholesterol was. After a moment I decided to just go with the word I knew. “V’cholesterol.” She stamped my green form in three places. Then she looked at my US license. “Where is this from?” she asked.

“Pennsylvania” is the largest word on the card.

“Pennsylvania,” I said. “The United States.”

She wrote it on the form and handed everything back to me.

I thanked her and left.

Step 5: Take driving lesson(s). In order to take the driving test, you have to first get a driving instructor’s approval. Israel did not always require a driving test to convert a foreign license. However, in the early 1990s they discovered that many new olim from the Soviet Union had bought forged licenses, and did not actually know how to drive. Since passing a law that applied only to immigrants from one country would have been discriminatory, all olim now need to take at least one driving lesson and the driving test.

I got a teacher’s name from a friend. Although Dudu speaks fluent English, we spoke Hebrew most of the time. He is very calm and matter-of-fact. I guess you have to have nerves of steel to ride around all day in a car being driven by people who don’t know how to drive. It’s not a job I could handle; I remember how tense I was riding with Sara when she was just learning to drive.

I drove for about 45 minutes. Up and down hills, through complicated intersections, on residential streets and the Begin Highway. He never touched his controls or grabbed the steering wheel to prevent an accident. And I felt comfortable behind the wheel.

At the end of the lesson, he handed me a small voucher for the test. 

Step 6: Go to the Post Office and pay for the test. Be sure to get the receipt. That was the easiest part of the whole process.

Step 7: Driving test. As I got into Dudu’s car for my second lesson, he said to me, “I’ve made an appointment for you to take the test on Tuesday afternoon. You’ll have a lesson first, and then the test. Be sure to bring your teudat zehut (ID certificate).”

I spent all Tuesday morning trying not to be nervous. I calmed down by reminding myself that if I did not pass the test, I could take it again.

The examiner said a ritualistic “Good luck” and told me to turn right as we exited the parking lot. I turned right almost immediately.

“What are you doing?” He sounded angry. “This is a gas station!”

It had looked like a street next to a gas station to me. I made a U-turn and exited onto the main street. The rest of the test did not go any better. When Dudu told me the next day that I had failed, I was not surprised.

Most people fail the first time they take the test–failing your first driver’s test seems to be a standard Israeli experience.

I had a few more lessons. Dudu told me to move closer to the center of the road– I had driven too close to the right side of the street on my test. I also drove too fast. “This is a small country,” he told me more than once. “You can get everywhere in a few hours. There’s no need to drive fast.”

Driving fast is going 40 kilometers per hour, about 25 mph, on a four-lane street.

He gave me another voucher to pay at the post office, but could not get an appointment for the test soon because of a labor problem.

The government wants to privatize the licensing bureau. The examiners want their jobs guaranteed, which the government will not do. So three times in the last two months, the examiners have gone on one-day strikes. All the tests that were scheduled for those days had to be rescheduled before new tests could be scheduled.

Friday, Dudu called. He had an appointment for a test early Sunday morning. If I could be ready by 6 AM, I could have that slot.

I was ready. Too nervous to eat breakfast, but otherwise ready.

This test went better than the first one. When I stopped at a yield sign, and the examiner said one word, “Why?”

“To be careful too much?” I replied. No, it was not correctly phrased, even according to the rules of Hebrew grammar. But I must have demonstrated a better grasp of the basics of driving than I did of the basics of language, because this time I passed.

Israeli driver's license, until the plastic wallet card arrives in the mail
…and here’s my Israeli driver’s license (until the plastic card arrives in the mail)

I returned to the licensing office to pick up my temporary license. As she handed it to me, the clerk told me to go to the post office to pay the fee, or, if I had I credit card, I could pay using the machine in the lobby. Either way, my plastic card would arrive in the mail in about five weeks.

I had a credit card, so I paid in the lobby. And I’m now one step closer to becoming a competent adult again.

Jerusalem Morning

Early morning in Jerusalem--customers at the makollet in Kiryat Moshe
Early morning customers at the makollet across the street

When I wake up, I hear the chirping of birds through the open windows. I’m no expert on bird song, but it sounds like two, or maybe even three, species are represented. What a lovely peaceful way to start the day. But birdsong does not stand out against the silence for very long; it is soon drowned out by other sounds.

The early morning rumble of garbage trucks provides the background to my daily writing sessions. hey were distracting at first, but now I’ve gotten used to them. And I am hardly aware of the trucks delivering vegetables, milk, and bread to the makollet (neighborhood market) across the street.

First there’s the loud clanking and grinding of gears as the big garbage trucks lift and upend the large green dumpsters by the curb. People call them “frogs” because  they sit there like frogs on their lily pads, but more likely because of their dark green color. No Amazonian bright yellow and red poison frogs for Jerusalemites!

Then come the delivery trucks, in a hurry to unload their cargo and get to the next store. As they backup to get as close as possible to the opening in the railing that guards the sidewalk, they emit piercing beeps. This sound is followed by the loud thumps of cartons of tomatoes and large bags of potatoes hitting the ground, and the heavier sound of large plastic crates of milk. The boxes of unwrapped bread fresh from Angel’s bakery barely make sound as

Watermelons, tomatoes, and avocados waiting to be put on makollet shelves in Jerusalem
Watermelons, tomatoes, and avocados waiting to be put on makollet shelves

they hit the pavement, and eggs stacked so gently, we don’t hear them being delivered at all.

By 6:45 AM when Avi, the proprietor comes from morning prayers to open up, the merchandise is sitting in front of the makollet, waiting patiently to be put in the appropriate bins or on the shelves.

The drivers delivering small children to the gan across the street are not so patient. Around 7:30, dozens of people begin crossing the street at a slow toddler’s pace. Cars clog it as drivers search for a nonexistent parking spot. The traffic jam on the sidewalk can be un-navigable as parents and children stream in several direction toward the gan or the Maimon elementary school next door. Jerusalem sports more baby strollers, and double-wide strollers, than any other city I’ve seen. They all seem to travel up or down Ben Zion street in the early morning.

Morning traffic jam at the gan (right, behind gray gate) and elementary school (behind blue gate on left)
Morning traffic jam at the gan (right, behind gray gate) and elementary school (behind blue gate on left)

Inevitably, several small voices will wail over the indignity of being carried the last few meters to school, instead of being allowed to walk and examine every small pebble on the way. It’s interesting–I hear more cries of “Abba!” than “Ima.” From these sounds, I’d say more fathers than mothers escort children to school. Whenever I’ve look out the window, however, the escorts are evenly divided: one third fathers, one third mothers, and one third older siblings.

Children start carrying things in backpacks at an early age here. The toddlers’ backpacks are just big enough to hold half a sandwich and 2 slices of apple, while the older children tote packs that probably outweigh them. Training for IDF service, no doubt.

Of course, not every day is so predictable. One morning  when men were leaving the synagogues to go home after morning prayers, I heard someone singing. That’s not unusual. What was unusual was that it sounded like a Native American chant. Tradition says Jerusalem is the center of the universe. If it is, then Native American chants are as at home here as the European and Middle Eastern melodies we usually hear.

And then I hear the Shma man wandering through the neighborhood. He periodically stops and loudly chants. It is the central prayer of our people “Shma Yisrael, Hashem Elokenu, Hashem Echod,”–Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord alone! Why he does this, no one seems to know.

It’s just another sunny morning in Jerusalem. I sit down to eat breakfast in blessed silence.

The Blind Swimming Pool

The National Sports Center for the Blind has a lovely swimming pool downstairs from the entrance
The National Sports Center for the Blind is the site of an indoor swimming pool in Jerusalem

When we first moved to the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem, it seemed odd that there were so many blind people here. Almost every time I got on or off the bus near our apartment, a blind person or two did as well. Every day I saw several people with yellow lab guide dogs assisting them. I wondered why I had never noticed that Jerusalem had such a large blind population.

One day as I took the shortcut to the Central Bus Station, I looked at the building on the corner—Jerusalem National Sports and Education Center for the Blind. Kiryat Moshe does not have a particularly large blind population. Blind people from all over the city, and indeed from all over the country, come here to learn and participate in activities.

The center’s complex is large, and its facilities are available to the

Sign outside Sports Center for the Blind
How could I have missed it? Right under the number 2 are the words “swimming pool”

general public as well as its by its target population. The Sports Center Building features a 25 meter long swimming pool and a fully equipped gym. This being Jerusalem, both the pool and the gym have separate hours for men and women.

Recently, my doctor suggested I try swimming to get more exercise that would also benefit my back. The physical therapist said the same thing, adding that actual swimming wasn’t necessary. Just walking around in the pool would be helpful because it would relieve some of the stress of weight bearing from my back and hips.

The next day on my way to the bus station, I stopped in and picked up a swimming pool schedule.

All activities at the center are free for blind people. But, thank G-d, I can see, so when I went on Sunday morning, I bought a 10 session ticket for the pool. Its a round green plastic tag that can go on a key ring. The woman at the desk showed me where to touch it to the turnstile and I was in. I followed another woman down the stairs to the women’s locker room, changed my clothes and found the entrance to the pool area.

This locker room differs from other locker rooms I have used. Because most of the women there are religious, a wig stand or two sits on every window ledge, each one covered by a brown or grayish wig.

Conversations in the locker room are often punctuated by cries of “Mazal tov! Ken yirbu!” as women congratulate each other on the birth of a baby by wishing a happy grandmother, or great-grandmother, that her family will continue to increase.The week before Shavuot, a holiday on which most people eat dairy meals, many women were trading cheesecake recipes as they dressed.

The sports center underwent a year-long renovation recently, so the pool area is bright and open. It’s decorated with the usual signs: Deep Water, Shallow Water, No Jumping, Fast Lane. But it’s the first pool I’ve ever been to with a sign reading “Blind Lane Only!!” (During the morning public swimming hours, that sign is ignored.)

Swimming pool at the Blind Sports Center, Jerusalem. On warm days the doors  to the courtyard are left open.
Swimming pool at the Blind Sports Center. On warm days the doors to the courtyard are left open. Photo from Center for the Blind website.

I swim the first laps slowly. I’m not a particularly fast swimmer, but I keep bumping into the swimmers in front of me. This occurs even in the fast lane–I have to stop at the each end of the pool to allow the old lady in front of me a decent head start.

“Old lady?” I laugh at myself. “Who’s calling whom an old lady?” My gray hair and wrinkles, not to mention my upcoming birthday, put me squarely in that category myself.

I have noticed, however, that around 8 AM the lap lanes start to clear. So now I arrive a little later, and by the time I have warmed up, I am able to swim nonstop. Over the course of four weeks, I have worked up to a half hour of nonstop swimming. Using a variety of strokes, I swim about a third of a mile several times a week.

The swimming has definitely decreased my hip pain and increased my ease of movement. It’s an exercise habit I want to cultivate

This video shows many of the sports activities the center sponsors. Some, like sailing and bicycle riding require the assistance of sighted volunteers.

 

Pesach (Passover) 5775

Chart of order of the Pesach seder, from Arthur Sczyk's Hagadah
Chart of the order of the seder, from Arthur Sczyk’s Hagadah

There are many requirements for observing the Passover holiday, and many of them are fulfilled at the Seder table. The most important ones are eating matza and maror (bitter herbs) and teaching children about the holiday. But in all the seriousness, we should not forget that the seder is a festival meal, a meal time for celebrating. In addition to fulfilling our obligations, we had fun at Seder at Sara and Danny’s house. The children have gotten older and their participation more intricate. This year they acted out several important points of the story told in the Hagadah.

After the matza was broken for the afikomen to be eaten later, the three girls lined up at the end of the table. Sara had been given a small part in this first presentation. She asked, “Who are you?”
The girls answered, somewhat in unison, “We’re B’nai Yisrael.”

Sara then asked, “Where are you coming from?”

“We’re coming from the Land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

“Where are you going?”
“To the land G-d promised us.”

“Is there something you want to ask?”
The girls then sang the traditional Four Questions.

It’s fun to watch the children’s development as their roles change. Yael, almost finished first grade, can read now. So she joined her older sister and the grownups, and got to read several paragraphs aloud.

This year’s biggest innovation was the enactment of the Ten Plagues. It was done as a poetic recitation, in which each verse repeats everything that came before it, complete with hand motions and sound effects.

First plague: Blood–ugly faces and cries of “Iksa! Iksa!” (Disgusting! Disgusting!)

Second plague: Frogs–jumping around yelling “Qvak! Qvak!” which is how Hebrew-speaking frogs croak.

illustration of plagues 6 -10 from Yaakov Kirshen's Pesach Hagadah
Yaakov Kirschen’s illustration of plagues 6 -10 from his hagaddah

Lice and boils involved running around, scratching or swatting at the air, and yelling some variation of a gargling, coughing, croaking sound. For the eighth plague, they made satisfying crunching sounds to imitate the locusts eating everything in sight. For darkness, they ran around bumping into each other.

I wondered how they would show the tenth, most devastating, plague. Yocheved and Adina stood together, and suddenly Yocheved dropped to the ground. Adina yelled, “Akhmed!” She got down on her knees and shook Akhmed, who did not respond. She then put her head down on “his” chest and pretended to cry. Of course, the effect was ruined when a moment later, the dead Akhmed jumped to her feet to run around bumping into her sisters in darkness and then crunch as a locust, scream and shield her head from the falling hail, and so on back to yelling “Qvak! Qvak!” as a frog and “Iksa! Iksa!” at water turning to blood.

We are supposed to spill a drop of wine from our cups at the mention of each plague. Despite the plagues leading to our freedom from slavery, we cannot celebrate other people’s suffering with a full cup of wine. But I was laughing so hard I lost count. So after “Akhmed” and his sisters returned to the table, I said the ten plagues in order and dipped out ten drops of wine.

****

After the first day of Passover, we return to ordinary life. Except, of course, the intermediate six days of Pesach are not completely ordinary. We must still observe the Pesach food restrictions and schools are not in session. With the children off, at least half the non school-age population takes off from work. Bank HaPoalim sponsors free admission to 40 popular sites all over the country. These sites include the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Umm al Fahm Museum, the Haifa Zoo, Jerusalem Botanical Garden, and the Israel Air Force Museum in Hatzerim.

National parks are crowded; it’s hard to find an empty picnic table when you want to sit down to eat. Walking on nature trails, the most nature you see is human. Many places have special activities for children. As we walked through the Tower of David Museum on Tuesday, we saw a Crusader sword fighting with some young children, an ancient Israelite explaining to others what he used the pottery for, and a 20th century doctor waiting for patients. The Old City of Jerusalem was so full of people, the Number 1 bus ran like a shuttle taking people home. As each crowded bus pulled away from the bus stop, another bus pulled up to take on its load. We managed to board the third bus that stopped while we were waiting.

Many public places, such as hospitals and some parks, are hametz-

Sign asking people not to bring chametz into Jewish Quarter during Pesach
Sign above street leading into Jewish Quarter of Old City

free zones for the duration of the holiday. This includes the whole Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. A sign above one of the arches leading from the Zion Gate parking lot into the residential area reminds people not to eat any hametz within its confines during the holiday. However, no one checked bags to make sure visitors weren’t smuggling in hametz.

In Afula, however, things were a little different. Potential visitors were turned away from a municipal park if they had food not Kosher for Pesach with them. And who was checking to protect the park from hametz? The people who are most experienced at rummaging through purses and backpacks of strangers–the security guards. I can imagine the encounter, walking up to the entrance, handing over my purse, and being asked by the armed guard at the gate, “Any weapons? Gun? Knife? Sandwiches?”

The need to check everyone for weapons is just a part of life in Israel, and we take it seriously. Lumping a sandwich together with weapons is absurd. But such is life in Israel–the serious and the absurd together.