Friday, October 21, 2016

My body and me

I often torture myself by wondering about a single hypothetical – would I rather lose my sight or my hearing. It is a thought exercise which helps me appreciate each, get in touch with what I value, and fall asleep.

I thrive on my sight (not specifically my vision, which is only so-so). I am a visual learner and love reading and watching television. To not be able to see my family member’s faces or appreciate the stars at night would be horrible. As a teacher, being able to see my class (and drive to work) is vital. So there you have it – I don’t want to lose my sight.

But wait. I love music! I am a student of sound – acoustics and the sound of voices. I catch subtleties others miss by paying careful attention to what I hear, direction, distance. I am enamored of sound. As a teacher, being able to hear y students and their comments is essential. So that solves it…I don’t want to be unable to hear.

And it goes back and forth.

But as I age, I have come to realize that there is a new player, one more likely to come to pass. It isn’t my surgically fixed ankle with its tarsal tunnel or plantar fasciitis, and it isn’t my constantly-in-pain back which, even after the discectomy still aches and sometimes hurts so much that I can’t move. It isn’t even my knees which creak and click so often that I think they might be haunted by a whale. It is my fingers.

Thank God, I have fingers and I try to put them to good use. But I have found recently that the “default” position for my hands (when I am not consciously using them) is slightly curled. I have to force them to straighten out. Now, they don’t hurt as such but they are starting to force themselves into a semi-circular shape unless I work at flattening them. True, I don’t know if I would rather fingers that don’t bend or don’t straighten, and I don’t intend to play that scenario out, but having my hands seize up in either way would be really bad.

As of now (late 40’s) I have 2 messed up thumbs (one as a result of a football accident and the other as a result of overcompensating after a football accident) and an achy middle finger (I carried a laundry basket, resting on that finger and think I pulled/tore something. Let that be a lesson to you. No laundry baskets). So that’s 3 down, 7 to go. And the others curl up when I’m not paying attention. I fear not being able to type or grab a pen. I worry about not having fine motor skills which would allow me to open a drink, or eat with a fork and knife. I worry that I am making it worse either when I ignore it or when I force my hands flat. I like my hands as much as I like my eyes and ears.

Aging is not just about the particulars of what is not working as well as it used to, but about the awareness as each bit and piece slowly goes on the fritz, and the concomitant worry. So I feel like a teenager in certain ways, but I am feeling like an older man in others.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Thoughts on Ne'ilah

A few words at the close of Yom Kippur.

There is a traditional sense about the final prayer of the Day of Atonement, “Ne’ilah” and I’d like to speak about it right now. I hope I don’t ruffle any feathers when I say this, especially right now, so close to the conclusion of the Holiday.

The traditional approach to this prayer stresses the closing of the gates of repentance. That final prayer marks our last chance to beg God for a year of life and such. The name, Ne’ilah, refers to a closing – a prayer offered at the last possible opportunity, one last push to get us sealed on the good side of things. We pray fervently and inspire tears, and use every last second before the Sefer Hachaim (the book of life, or of the living) is closed.

Bosh and piffle. Well, at least bosh.

Yom Kippur is a day of intense pressure. We feel this need to be done by a certain time. We feel the increasing pressure of improving ourselves and changing our lives. We start the day off as lumps of coal, blackened in our sin and we hope that through the affliction and beating of our chests that this pressure refines us into diamonds, so when Ne’ilah comes, we want to see ourselves clear and bright, a radiant Jew-el, no longer that raw carbon, but now, recognized by God as sparkling and precious. But what if we miss that goal? What happens if I am just not moved and the gates close? What do I have to look forward to? Omigosh, I exclaim, here I am, not a polished gem, but still an incomplete work and Ne’ilah is announcing that I am losing my status as an angel, able to supplicate n God’s very presence. I will be back to being some average shlub and God will see my failure!

But that’s just not so. That isn’t the point of Ne’ilah (I contend). Thus the claim of bosh.

A diamond, after intense pressure, is taken out of the dirt and raised up. But it isn’t beautiful. It doesn’t sparkle. It isn’t done. And we by the end of Yom Kippur, shouldn't view ourselves as done either. The stone taken from the ground is uneven, misshapen and dull. It then takes careful cutting and polishing for the true stone underneath to be revealed.

Yes, there are those people who emerge from the crucible that is Yom Kippur complete and radiant – with a perfect cut and with symmetrical facets. I am jealous of them. I am little more than the coal I began as. If I saw the gates as closed I would give up and the year would be lost.

Many elements of Yom Kippur hold a dual value and have self-contradictory meanings. The name of the day, itself is explained to be a day of atonement (with all the gravity and pressure that goes with that) AND a day “like Purim” with the joy of a festive holiday. Some men where a kittel, a long white robe reminiscent both of the grave clothing put on a corpse and the white clothing of an angel in God’s retinue. . We fast (and deprive ourselves in other ways) to create affliction and suffering and awareness of our humanity, but also ascend to angelic heights and transcend the physical.

Ne’ilah, also, has that dual nature.

Yes, this final communal prayer signals the end of the day and the closing of gates, at least in some sense. But don’t we also learn that the gates aren’t actually closed until Hoshana Rabba or Sh’mini Atzeret? And don’t we have dates called Yom Kippur Katan sprinkled through the year? And isn’t a central aspect of each new month’s prayers atonement? In fact, don’t I ask for forgiveness in each weekday Amidah prayer? Don’t some people recite confession every weekday morning? We take Yom Kippur with us throughout the year! How can the gates be closed?

I think that the secret lies in the name of the service, Ne’ilah. Yes, it means close, but it also refers to shoes (na'alayim). One of the five afflictions of the day is the law prohibiting the wearing of leather shoes (ne’ilat sandal) and I think that each of the five prayer services of the day is to remind us that when we are allowed to re-engage in that forbidden activity, we do it in a different way, befitting our cleansed status. So when we are allowed to put our comfy shoes back on, at the end of Ne’ilah, it isn’t so we can resume the same path that brought us to the threshold of Yom Kippur as a sullied lump of coal.

We speak of our ability to run in other contexts. At the outset of the day, many recite "Tefillah Zakah", by Rabbi Avraham Danzig, which points out how we have used our body for evil over the past year. He points out that God gave us legs, and we use them to run towards evil. When someone completes a sizable portion of learning and holds a siyyum, a celebration to commemorate that learning, he recites the Hadran which has in it the line “we run and they run – we run to life in the next world and they run towards destruction.” We ask for atonement for the sin of “our legs running towards evil.”

We can no longer be like that, like “them” – we have to run to something positive. In fact, we start the evening prayer immediately after Ne’ilah; we want to go right into the performance of a mitzvah to show our new direction. Many people go home and put up their Sukkah to continue the string of Mitzvah-keeping that this new person can pursue. But these acts are not the behavior of the completed diamond. They are acts of polishing. That uncut, unfinished gem must continue on that path and keep improving to cut away the unnecessary parts and reveal, through the trials of the rest of the year, the finished diamond.

We must put on our traveling shoes during Ne’ilah. They are the last item of clothing we don before we walk out the door, not the completion of our getting dressed, but the beginning of our journey. Sure, when we are in heaven, we can be like angels. But what will we be like when we are dressed like humans and have to walk through life? Will we follow the path of Yom Kippur for the next 353 days, or will our shoes have us running to destruction? Life is a slalom -- we dodge the obstacles and have to go through many gates.

So let’s put those shoes on at Ne’ilah and walk away from evil. Let’s use every opportunity to confess, repent and ask forgiveness and atonement that we are given over the next 12 months and actualize the potential, finding the polished and perfect diamond that is within us. We aren’t finished – we have just started. Those gates are closed, but we are ready for a marathon.

Wishing everyone a year of life, health and happiness as we run this race together.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

For Give a Jolly Good Fellow

As the Jewish New Year rolls around, an old man's fancy turns to atonement and repentance. So I have started thinking about life and my connection to other people. I have been lucky. I AM lucky. I am surrounded by people who generally pretty OK and I have lived a life interacting with a class of people which humbles me.

With a couple of exceptions.

And that's the thing. If I can recognize that in my many (many) years, there are a couple of people who still make me seethe (and not a calf in its mother's milk), and I cannot forgive them, then how can I enter the next year with a blank slate?

Rosh Hashana, the new year, is about starting over. It is about cleansing ourselves of the stuff from past years that drags us down. We ask forgiveness and we give it. We move on. But I can't. In these very isolated cases, I cannot find it in my heart to forgive. Maybe that's petty of me, but some hurts are so profound and so formative that I cannot move past them. [At this point, I was considering making occluded comments which described the three or so people on my list -- not enough that anyone would know who, but enough that I would think that maybe someone knew. I have decided not to give any details.] How do I look at myself and my life as recharged and refreshed if I can't let go of past damage?

And to make it worse, Shakespeare gangs up against me and has Portia try to manipulate Shylock, asking "How shalt thou hope for mercy, rendering none?" If I am not willing to extend that branch of peace, then how can I expect God, in his mercy, to have any mercy on me and forgive me for all I have done wrong?

Maybe my out is that they never asked me for forgiveness so I am not bound to forgive, unsolicited. But that doesn't sit well with me. In Hebrew, we ask for (and give) "mechila" and we have prayers in which we say that we give mechila to all those who have sinned against us. So haven't I already given mechila and shouldn't I just move on? Does this mean that my prayers are insincere? This keeps getting worse and worse.

I think that, for me, the answer lies in not equating forgiveness and mechila. The word mechila seems to have to do with erasing something -- blotting it out, and maybe, that much I can do. If I write on a paper with a pencil and make a mistake (it wouldn't happen, but just s'pose) and then erase it, the paper might be clear of that mistake but it is never pristine again. I can erase the action of hurt but not the phantom pain and residual effect of the event. I can give mechila and still not forgive what was done to me and the effect it had on me. Maybe I should be asking to be able to forget and that will obviate any need to forgive -- I won't remember so I won't resent. I will think that who I am is just who I am, not as the result of anything in (painfully)) particular. Maybe I can't forgive because that demands that I view myself as whole again and that's not how I ever expect to see myself.

So as is appropriate for this time of year, I whole-heartedly grant mechila to all those who have done things which have hurt me (take that, Portia), whether or not they ask, and forgiveness to all those whose behaviors I can rise above and feel complete even in the face of such hurt. I sincerely ask for mechila from all and forgiveness from those who feel able to grant it to (and forgetfulness from those who can't).

Maybe after another year of work, I will be more able to make peace with myself and therefore forgive those few who are still on my naughty list. I will do my best.

L'shana tova -- have a happy New Year.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Thank the Creator

I want to take a moment to say a sincere thank you to all the creators out there. No joke. I take too much for granted and it isn't right.

I was lying in bed last night, listening to music and a particular song came on. This song happens to really touch me. I don't know if it is the particular sequence of notes, the words in the lyrics or some magical combination of bits and pieces, but this song makes me feel something profound every time I listen to it. I don't just like it. It compels me. I have written about this before but the feelings are still very vivid. The same thing happens, though, when I see certain pieces of art. Some paintings really TALK to me. I don't mean that in a literal and psychopathic way -- I mean that something in the artwork speaks to my being in a way hard to describe. I stare at the painting and do more than appreciate the brush strokes. I fall into the picture. It could be some kinetic art or some hyper realistic one or something else but, man, does that art do a job on me. And poems, movies, TV and even (though rarely) dance -- sometimes, I watch something and I am transfixed.

And I don't know how it happens. Really. I can't figure out what muse has descended to create such perfection. I can't understand the process that a creator goes through when crafting something; does he or she know that this piece of expression is going to reach into my soul and pluck a lost chord? Does the artist understand that while much of his work is "nice" something happened and turned some pieces into the sublime?

So to all the creators, from the sculptor who controls my eyes as I watch the car drive by to the author who gets me to cry over people who never existed to the ultimate Creator who made me and allowed me to be affected by my world, just know: someone says "Thank you" and appreciates your hard work, and is in awe.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Come on and Take my Free Ride

First, the rule is you take on 1 piece of carry-on luggage that you can fit in the overhead bin and 1 piece of personal carryable something, that can be stuck under the seat. This means that you shouldn't have 3 bags, your shopping bag, your hat and ukulele. On the flip side, if you sell someone a seat, you, as an airline, should provide space for one piece of carry on luggage in an overhead bin. If my piece conforms to FAA (or whatever) regulations, I should be able to put it above my seat and not worry about it. The wheeling and dealing on the flight was ridiculous, mostly because people brought 2 or 3 pieces of luggage plus other bags. Bins were opened and closed, feelings were hurt, fingers were crushed and I sat there, comfortable in the knowledge that my bag was stowed and safe. Of course, when we landed I had to look around for it because during the game of musical bins, someone moved mine without telling me.

We took off close to on time and I had a chance to watch both X-Men: Apocalypse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and I'm better for the experience. This 777-200ER was an older model with no video on demand and a generally junkier in-flight entertainment system. But before I complain too much I have to recall the olden days when an 11 and a half hour flight required that you talk to other people because there was almost no entertainment. So at least this was something.

For breakfast, the choices were "omelet" and "Blinches." Sure, they looked good, but they are not blinches. There. I just needed to call them on that.

I did get some sleep (the flight left at 12:30 AM so I was ready to nod off anyway, but the beer helped). I put the headphones in and tuned to whatever channel seemed inoffensive for the moment, slipped on the eye shades and sat up real straight and napped. I woke often to the sound of screeching children but I just cranked up the music, found another channel and fell back asleep. I anticipated something for this flight -- I knew Maddie wasn't coming back so I expected that I would wallow in my sadness with an empty seat next to me. I bought the ticket and checked her in online, and when I presented myself at the counter to explain, the woman seemed to understand. I sat down and dumped some stuff on what I expected to be an empty seat. Imagine my surprise when a man came over and sat down. Now, I didn't ask to see his ticket and I'm too non-confrontational to say anything, but inside, I was livid. How dare he sit there. My righteous indignation knew now bounds and at least 2 dimensions. One, this was a seat for my kid. It should be treated with reverence. Second, I paid for the seat -- I wanted the meal that came with it, the space in the overhead bin and some room to stretch out! But it seems, El Al resold that seat once I told them that Maddie wasn't coming. Now it would make sense if they, after having resold it, refunded me some money, even if just a percentage. Maybe they could kick a hundred bucks as a compensation for making an empty seat for them to resell at substantially more than that. Maybe they could move me up to first class and give me a pedicure. Maybe. Maybe not.

But did they have to sell the seat to a guy who spreads out onto both armrests? Jerk.

At 1.5 hours before landing, I filled out the Customs Declaration. I thought as a religious powerhouse, writing about my customs would be easy but that was not what the form was about. In truth, I have no idea what the form was about. I'm 47 years old and have no idea what I signed. I wrote my name and address on it and said that I didn't have $10,000 worth of bearer bonds, fruit flies or tractors and tried to read the back. After failing at that, I looked at the spot that asked me to list what I bought and I wrote "doggie poop bags" because I did. I hope they appreciate that honesty. Then I looked around because no one said what I was supposed to do with the paper after that. I needed an adult. Why, along with an air marshal, isn't there an air accountant or air tax advisor? Everyone else seemed totally comfortable filling out the paper work with no help and they were all chatting and laughing at me. If I had gone to high school on an air plane, this would have reminded me of that. There should be a class in school about Customs Declarations.

I skipped breakfast (blinches?) and thought to myself "I could really go for a candy bar right now." Let me explain.

There are many things I love about Israel and I especially love all the food options, but I am allergic to many nuts and this means that I can't eat anything after the main course in Israel. When I go to Israel, I break my no-carb diet so sweets SHOULD play an important role in that. However, everything is made with nuts, especially my arch nemesis, hazelnut (AKA filbert). Regular chocolate there has hazelnuts in it and the cross contamination is rampant. In America, the phrase "may contain nuts" is a legal requirement and usually can be ignored. (I did say usually, not always). In Israel, when they say "may contain nuts" they mean "yeah, you know this has nuts in it." So as much as I love main courses, I crave dessert and as much as I crave dessert, I cannot have any of it. For the longest time, people in America begged Israeli friends to come visit and bring large amounts of candy that is only supervised as kosher in Israel. If I spend time in Israel, I will have to beg American friends to bring in American candy so I can survive. Weird.

Anyway, I got off the plane quickly and ran up the stairs to get to customs. Some guy asked me who I was, stamped some paper and sent me into another line where more silly questions were asked and papers were collected. I was hoping that, much like the hallways on my entrance to the airport, the space between the customs hall and baggage claim would include a candy store or the like. But there was NOTHING to eat so I stood next to the baggage carousel (worst. carousel. ever.) and watched the same 3 pieces of luggage go around for 25 minutes. There was no motivation to get there quickly if the stuff isn't loaded onto the conveyor belt for 30 minutes after arrival. My bag arrived in the midst of the pack and I tried not to knock over too many small children who were crowding next to the machine, but what happens in Newark stays in Newark, so let's leave it at that.

My elder is in an apartment, learning how to turn on a stove, how to keep herself busy and how to do whatever it is is her dream to do. More power to her. Thank you for bearing with me as I vented my way to and from the Holy Land.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Just a Note before I go

Writing from the airport now and man, this wasn't easy. By "this" I don't mean the security lines. Sure, there were some blips, but on the whole, things have moved rather well. I spent the day hanging out with Maddie. We went to the hardware store and bought a large chain and lock after figuring out how we would secure the chain to her apartment wall to ensure that no one steals her washing machine (which is outside her apartment) - if you see some guy running down the street carrying a washing machine, you will know that we have failed. We also emailed the medical insurance people to process an address change (now that she, for sure, knows her address) and we wandered down Yafo just because. We stopped into a Fox Home store which was beyond both of our financial reaches but it was air conditioned, so there's that. We also looked into a few other stores just for fun. It was nice to be able to make nasty comments to each other. We ran into a friend of Maddie's who has just started in the army (3 weeks ago) and she seemed still excited. Maddie and I also went into the local book store (Steimatzky or something like that) and she bought a couple of books to tide her over. I had a nice chat with her about what she ashould be doing to fill her days until the army stuff kicks in. That's the real concern -- without the structure of work or school, how does she stay busy. We brainstormed and I listed a number of options:
1. Set a daily walk (one suggestion, to the Kotel and back)
2. Set up a daily workout regimen to prepare for the army.
3. Buy a newspaper daily and read it to learn about Israel and Israeli politics.
4. Find people and talk to them to brush up on Hebrew skills (also, hire a teacher to work on Hebrew, but that may be out of budget)
5. Find a website which has relevant Hebrew words and study up
6. Start a list of things she needs for the army and keep track of prices
7. Volunteer at one or ore of the soldier centers (to learn lingo and make connections)
8. Help out family with child care
9. Write me long, daily emails detailing her life (or just start a blog).

There were other suggestions but 9 is a lot to ignore in one sitting so we'll stop there.

We had lunch at Apple Pizza which was surprisingly good (at least thge pizza...we were unimpressed with the fries). Back at the apartment I sprayed for bugs (we had bought the Israeli equivalent of American bug spray called "Raid at Entebee." it wasn't.) And we contemplated moving the refrigerator. We talked some more about how she can be prepared, what the upcoming challenges would be and how she can deal with them. Her neighbors (including the guys upstairs who hung the Confederate flag on their window) are lone soldiers so she is only as alone as she lets herself be. There are plenty of people to connect with. Eventually, I started staring at the clock so it was time to get dinner before I went stir crazy. Note -- we called the sheirut (shared minibus service, 64 shekel to the airport, about 16 dollars) and told them our departure time so it was just a matter of waiting.

We argued about where to eat dinner and eventually I said, "I have never at an actual meal in the shuk, and I'd like fish and chips." So that answered that. We went into the shuk and ate at a fish restaurant. She had a grilled salmon salad and I had cod based fish and fried mashed potato balls. That's a thing, apparently. The food was good and we ran into a teacher I used to work with who, as everyone has done, gave Maddie contact info and sincerely asked her to stop by for a meal or a week. Whatever she needs. There really is a spirit of Middle Eastern hospitality going on. It is lovely to watch even though I'd rather be pampered in a really expensive hotel.

After dinner we went back to the apartment to hang out and wait for my ride. On the way, I was pulled into a mincha minyan. This wasn't some group of a few kids who wanted to dash off davening; this was a hardcore sephardi mini-shul and the mincha was substantially longer than I expected, but I, again, felt like I was part of something important. Afterwards I went to catch up with Maddie in her apartment. This is where it got real, and real tough. She is no longer a child. She is a woman. She is independent, smart, driven, and bottom line, still my little girl. I held her when she was tiny. I comforted her when she skinned her knees. I watched her grow up through high school when I drove her back and forth every day. I have been (I'd like to think) an important and constant presence in her life. That could be good and it could be bad, but whatever it was, it was. So cutting that cord and letting her be on her own was very tough. I want to be just a moment away so I can fix everything, or at least be there when things can't be fixed. I want to be the daddy who is needed by his little girl. I know that she was away for a year already but there, there were surrogate parents who kept her in line and who established structure. Now she is truly (at least until the army kicks her in the pants on a daily basis) on her own, running her own household. She's almost 20 and I'm not old enough for this. Anyway, we went outside to wait for the van and she hugged me and I hugged her back. She was, for one last minute (or 10, as it turns out) my little girl, wearing my coat, grabbing my arm and just wanting to be held. When the van came the scene was just pathetic -- the two of us blubbering like whales, or something like that. Eventually I climbed on and waved goodbye as we pulled away. It hurt. I mean, it really, really hurt, and as much as I am excited and proud, as much as I admire her and know that growing up is a part of life, I wonder if it will ever stop hurting, or if I would ever want it to.

I sniffled my way through the van ride which stopped on top of every hill in the surrounding desert, but only after hitting every bump along the way. I refrained from throwing up because I didn't want to appear any weaker than a crying, fully grown man already looks. I held everything together until, at the airport, I had to explain why I had 2 tickets and was only one traveler. The kindly ticketing lady let me have a tissue which was nice of her. I then made it through a few other levels of security, ran into some other people who didn't want to be seen with me, and am now here, a barbarian at the gate. I will update with what I hope are boring details about a boring flight which I sleep through. But I doubt it.

Hebrew For

I started walking around on Friday (that's Hebrew for Sunday). With Maddie still setting up and planning on a hardware store run to buy more bits and ends (or odds and pieces, I forget) I decided to walk to the Kotel. The Kotel is Hebrew for center of the spiritual universe. When I stand there in silent and very personal meditation, I truly can feel God's presence. The sun beat down but I pressed my head against the stones, closed my eyes and felt like I could place myself very clearly in the continuum of Judaism. As I whispered a quiet prayer in a sincere and spiritual mood, a spiritual bird spiritually pooped on my spiritual arm. True story.

I washed up and returned to the wall, and chose my spot more carefully and reconnected with the divine. On a Friday, one is accosted by more than the normal number of people asking for charity and contributions and I was easy pickings in my spiritual mood. I started giving a little bit of money to each of them t including the guy who just wanted to know what time it was. Now I'm broke but I believe that local etiquette allows me to walk up to strangers with my hand outstretched and they have to give me money.

I was standing at the wall and next to me a morning minyan (that's Hebrew for minion) was wrapping up (note the tefillin joke for the advanced users out there) and I heard one man ask the guy who led the prayer service, "Is this a Sephardic minyan?" The man answered, "This is the Kotel -- it is an everyone minyan!" It was a nice moment.

Next, I went in to the prayer plaza (the little tunnel area on the left side of the Kotel. I have never gone in there and it was great and I'm not just talking about the air conditioner. But that was awesome, too.

As I stood around, I overheard two men arguing. The guy in charge of the parasols was not allowing a man to take a parasol to a woman who was standing in the heat. There was much angry shouting -- very Israeli. Then, suddenly, one of the men apparently crossed a line of propriety. When he saw that the other man was really hurt, he immediately stopped arguing and repeatedly and sincerely, begged forgiveness. He kept saying "We are brothers!" Brothers fight but always have limits and ultimately want to reconcile. Another nice moment.

I walked back to the shuk (that's Hebrew for madhouse) area up Yafo Road, so I could meet up with nephew Rafi as he and his camp hiked through towards the old city. I was to transfer a bag of chocolate biscotti (that's Hebrew for brownie) to him. I ran into a group of college kids from campuses which lack a Jewish community. Some guy organizes these trips to help otherwise unconnected students have a chance to be part of the nation of Israel. Another nice moment.

I walked, dodging people and motorized bicycles. That's a thing here. In Jeruslaem, there are so many hills that it is more feasible to get around with a small motor attached to your bicycle. In Tel Aviv, it is so flat that the same conclusion holds. Motorized bicycles everywhere and drivers (from the 12 year old Arab boy to the elderly Chareidi woman) are fearless, zigging and sometimes zagging, and often, not in that order. In a country where people don't jaywalk, it is interesting to see the disregard for safety exhibited by these bikers. Vespas and motorcycles also abound -- easier to park than cars and they make shopping more convenient.

I handed off the biscotti to Rafi, walked through the shuk on a Friday (think Times Square, but with more cumin). Back to Maddie's apartment and then immediately back out to another store to buy a hot water urn and a microwave (she will save the hot plate for another day). Then back to Nomi and David for some pre-shabbos relaxing and calls to family.

By the way, Maddie was confirmed as disqualified for jury duty based on the bank statements I got printed in English (hapless dad and all that) and, according to phone calls, I will be getting the Ikea money credited and the car rental money returned within 10 business days. More updates on that as events warrant.

Then Shabbat (shabbos, sabbath, Saturday...whatever). We had a great dinner with baTASHevA and Zevi and Emmy, plus Micha and his friend Avrumi. Chicken, quinoa with butternut squash, zucchini, potatoes. Yum. Throw in 2 bottles of wine and you have a party. Afterwards David and I played Scrabble and chatted, then sleep. I davened at Kol Rina in a bomb shelter (it is much nicer inside than you'd think). Then lunch back with Nomi and David (and some great garlic/oregano smothered potatoes, plus more chicken and vegetables). I walked Maddie and friend to another friend's house and, to atone for all the potatoes, walked down to the Kotel. Nomi and David took 3 kids to the Hametz house in the old city (where Eli was eating lunch) and I came along. I went past the house as I was asked by a man from Flatbush if I could escort him to the Kotel. He felt safer walking with me. I don't know why, but he did. I didn't, but whatever. I certainly wasn't going to turn down a chance to go to the Kotel.

Then back up to the Hametz house for an afternoon of conversation about education, Judaism, children and security protocols at the airport. Lolly the kelev (that's Hebrew for bear) demanded I rub her belly so I complied because she is, after all, a bear. Then I walked back to Maddie's to play backgammon (that's Hebrew for shesh besh...look it up) and Chamesh Avanim (Hebrew for Kugelach) until I made havdalah.

For dinner we walked to Cinema City to eat at Moses, a hip and thigh Burger bar. We were joined by the Aarons (take a bow, Aarons). They made aliyah 14 years ago (I think) and are finally comfortable being seen in public with me. The drinks were overpriced, Maddie fell asleep at the table and the fried burger was more of a bit of showmanship than a culinary advantage. But I ate it anyway because it was fried. The onion strings were delicious and then the Aarons drove us home. How about a hand for he Aarons [ ].

This morning I have begun to pack. Maddie has to make a couple of phone calls and I have to go buy chocolate. I expect my next entry will be from New Jersey, summing this all up. I anticipate tears and long hugs, but eventually we will have to let go and Maddie will have to accept that the chocolate is not for her.