Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Yermiyahu

We curiously peek through the half opened door on Yanai Street in Jerusalem as we go in search for Yermiyahu, a Tallit maker who has come very highly recommended. An old man sits quietly on a wooden chair inside his shop right beside the door. As we enter, he barely lifts his head.

“Excuse me, sir,” I say in Hebrew. “Are you Yermiyahu?” He nods affirmatively without a word. He does not move.

“Our uncle Sid sent us to see you. He says you are the best Tallit maker in town.” A smile slowly spreads across his face. He cautiously stands from the chair leaning heavily with his two arms on the sides for support. In English, he begins to ask what we’re looking for.

Our granddaughter is becoming Bat Mitzvah in another month. We’re in Jerusalem and we want to bring her a Tallit “miyuchad” (original and special)

Yermiyahu’s guidance is slow. First we pick the fabric for the shawl. Stella wants it simple. We choose a satiny white on white design and feel confident that we can’t really go wrong with the natural, linen fabric. Yermiyahu tells us later, that his cloth is thicker than most. That’s one of the ways that makes it a little unique. Because Stella is tall, we ask for extra length.

Yermiyahu directs us to all his hand woven strips specifically created for the Atarah (collar) of the Tallit as well as for the four corners of the shawl. Stella wanted some pink in her shawl, and made it clear she wanted it gentle. We choose the fabric for the embellishment of the shawl.

We know, from what people have said, that Yermiyahu ties his own tzitzit. They are noticeably handmade, a bit crude perhaps, and unique.

We arrange to have a matching bag for Stella to carry her Tallit and ensure that it always stays safe and protected. The same adornments from the shawl are used.

Over the next few days we spend several hours with Yermiyahu. The Tallit becomes more alive with each moment we talk, share cups of tea, and encourage him to tell his story. As he works, Yermiyahu talks. His voice is soft and unsteady. His eyes tear throughout the storytelling. I’m not sure if it is nostalgic sadness, or, perhaps tears of honey. Perhaps there is a bit of fear that he will soon be gone. Yermiyahu tells us that when he came to Jerusalem, after emigrating from Yemen, he began to make decorations for synagogues in the neighbourhood. Later, as he became more industrious, he created Yemenite dresses. As the dresses became more popular, Yermiyahu shipped them to all parts of the world. His business thrived. He ended up being quite successful.

Now, married for 68 years, he has 6 children and 17 grandchildren. When he speaks about them all, his eyes tear again and his lower lip protrudes as the tears flow without restraint.

I end up loving this man… loving the Tallit and knowing, that we are doing absolutely the right thing. We are purchasing a whole package here, a history…not just a prayer shawl.

I hope and pray that Stella will love it too, and that she will wear it with pride, confidence and determination to make a difference in our world as Jews and as human beings, all of us, everywhere.



Friday, February 17, 2017

Shabbat Looms In Jerusalem

Friday in the Machane Yehuda shuk is unlike any market experience I’ve ever had!

When I was younger and living in Israel, the shuk was completely open to the sky. Now a large part of it is covered, protecting everyone from inclement weather.

With hundreds of stalls lining the narrow pathways, Jerusalemites and tourists alike come here to buy anything they need. Fresh produce, warm baked goods, fish, meat and cheeses, nuts, seeds and spices are all displayed openly for the picking. Wines and liquors, clothing and shoes, housewares, textiles, and Judaica are all in plentiful supply here.


Paul and I had fun buying spices. Zatar mixed with various flavours enticed me. We made lots of little bags to bring home for ourselves and for gifts for friends - mixtures of various spices combined with seeds, nuts and herbs that can be added to rice dishes or pastas. Ready-made seasoning for fish and meat can create the uniqueness of Israeli, or at least Middle Eastern tastes. In the stalls wig-clad women speak to me in Brooklyn accents advising me about recipes using these mixtures, and telling me where I can buy the freshest, most delicious cheeses. “Welcome home” says one woman to me. “Shabbat Shalom.”

The market offers cubbies full of sweets and colourful candies. Bakeries offer warm sticky baked rugalach that beg me to eat them. I do! Fresh vegetables and fruits, newly baked challot and anything else needed for tonight’s Shabbat dinner line the many streets of the city’s biggest outdoor market. As I walk through the narrow passageways I hear people wishing each other “Shabbat Shalom”, a peaceful Sabbath. Where else in the world do you get to hear this?

Not everyone is so welcoming in Jerusalem. There is a familiarity that borders on rudeness. In the market, some merchants barely even lift their heads as they answer questions. It’s a bit like family here. Sometimes we treat each other with too little gratitude and a whole lot of expectation and judgment. I’m not sure why, but I still feel okay. It’s not always nice. But it’s always real, and the familial loyalty makes it bearable.

The sun is beginning to set over the hills of Jerusalem. The shops are closing. The lights are shutting down. There is a quietness settling in the air as the streets empty. The music becomes quieter as the solemnity of Shabbat sheds its presence on the city. A new week approaches and Jerusalem reflects the miracle of the day of rest.

As Shabbat arrives in Jerusalem, even the birds flutter about looking for their nests. The lights dim and the residents are inside their homes preparing for the quiet. Even the flower seller at the bottom of the road finishes for the week and packs his empty pails to go home.

There is no place in the world like Jerusalem on Shabbat. “There is Jerusalem and then there’s the rest of the world,” I’ve heard said. I feel that strongly here as Machane Yehuda closes its doors until tomorrow night’s stars shine. Shabbat Shalom to all. 







Thursday, February 9, 2017

Oh, Oh What a Beautiful City!


After midnight
It’s after midnight and the streets of Jerusalem are alive with music. Our apartment for the next two weeks is right smack in the middle of Jaffa Street. Crossing the city from east to west, Jaffa is one of the oldest and longest streets in Jerusalem. This is the heart of the city, with all its arteries flowing throughout into the various areas, each rich with specific spirit and purpose.

The Light Rail
I revel in the sounds of the city. It bustles constantly with Israeli music stridently blasting from the street and the many shops, businesses and restaurants that line the road. Pedestrians from all over the world connect with the “triple” intersection of Machane Yehude Market, Central Bus Station and King George. The car free passage offers an electric train (Jerusalem Light Rail opened in 2011) for those who don’t want to walk from one end of the street to the other. It’s a far cry from the camels and mules that originally carried us to and from our destinations here.

Music everywhere
Even after midnight, the energy of life permeates the streets and flows into our apartment. Laughter, loud voices, conversations that sound more like yelling matches continue until the early hours of the morning. Sleep is almost impossible for me without earplugs.  We are told that Thursday night at about 9:00 this Jerusalem central comes even more alive with a multitude of musical choices offered in caf├ęs and bars throughout the area. Music, joyousness and a noticeable expression of joie de vive abounds.

"Quiet" time on Jaffe
I am remembering my past as if it was another life. It is sometimes hard to fathom all I have done in 62 years. As I walk the streets of Jerusalem I feel the same excitement as I felt during my years living here (1972-73). The city has changed drastically since then. Architecturally, it is completely unfamiliar with shopping malls, bridges, high-rise buildings, intricate road structures and spectacular bridges making life here seem so ‘grown up’. I love the Jerusalem of old with the abandoned hills, simple stone buildings and the quiet of undemanding life.
"Quiet" time on Jaffe

Today, the city is complicated with the beauty of multi-culturalism. In the streets, only half the time do I hear people speaking in Hebrew. The other half is mostly English with lots of Arabic. Many many people speak Russian and Spanish and French. I am amazed at how many non-Hebrew languages can be heard.

Busy, Busy, Busy!
This afternoon, siesta time in Israel, I take my glass of beer and my quiet mindset out to our merpeset (balcony) for a rest. Nothing stops here on Jaffa Street. There seems no rest, no reprieve from the busyness of the city. Hundreds of people continue to move about, most of them with their cell phones held to their ears while talking loudly, smoking cigarettes and carrying on with the events of their day.


I am loving every minute!!!
This is where we live!

Friday, December 30, 2016

2017?


2017 looms in the very near future. Sometimes I can hardly believe it! 2017??? I remember New Year’s Eve as we welcomed in the turning of the century. Both my parents and also Paul’s parents were still around and we, along with many of our kids, gathered together in Florida to celebrate!

I remember that year being quite auspicious. Concerns about “Y2K” and the possibility of throwing off computer programming became a big concern. Our four-digit year was, at that time represented with the last two digits making the year 2000 indistinguishable from the year 1900 (for instance). I remember my first response to this was “So what? Who cares? We’ll just make the necessary adjustments when it occurs!” And, in fact, that’s exactly what happened. Our world didn’t blow up. No body was attacked as a result of the confusion and eventually concerns subsided and our world went back to normal!

So…what’s in store for 2017? I believe in the wonder that is coming to us. Our world is changing drastically. Recent leadership shifts in the United States will have great fallout for us in Canada and throughout the world. We will continue to strive for justice and fairness and peace for all, and be aware when those things occur and when they don’t! I, for one, will persist in keeping my heart’s mind focused on “the light at the end of the tunnel” so even when I’m feeling sad or disappointed or even distraught, I can allow myself to feel that because I know it will end. And…if I don’t ‘see’ the light at the end of the tunnel, I will call on my faith to remind me it is there and if I just let myself experience and feel, even the bad stuff, it will eventually become less present and the light will reappear.

I have strong feelings that 2017 will be awesome. That is my resolution for this year. I wish it for everybody. May it be so…


Shanti, Shanti, Shanti


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Catching Up!

I’m catching up! I’ve let many parts of my life lag behind as I begin to piece myself back together.

These past couple of years have changed me.  Turning 60 and feeling the significance of my aging is on the one hand challenging and limiting, and, on the other hand, exciting and limitless. Losing my mother, our last parent to survive, leaves me in a new position in the physical realm of family. I am now one of the oldest of our family. I am accepting a new role as elder and a responsibility to help our ‘future’ transition and grow into healthy human beings.

I have learned to appreciate the simple things in life and to embrace those people and things that want my embrace. Also, I have learned to release those people and things from my life who don’t want to be there, even though I want them there! It is hard to let go of that which I never really had in the first place. I will probably never have them now. I am resigned to that.

With so many life events occurring last year, Paul and I stayed home for the winter and didn’t travel. That’s unusual for us too. Our hiatus created a lag in visiting places where we have never been and revisiting those we have and love. Our ‘bucket list’ has become shorter. We don’t have as much time as we used to. We’d better do the things we want now! Our sense of time and energy is shifting as we age. And the way we travel is changing too!

So…this year of travel is about ‘catching up’.

That's ALL of us!
We have just finished a huge family reunion in Akumal, Mexico with our family of birth. Our 7 children, 6 partners and 4 grandchildren gathered together for a week of resort living in Akumal. We celebrated with gratitude the sale of our house in Toronto where all of the kids were brought up. We had time to ‘catch up’ on relationships, play together and simply enjoy each other’s company.

After our time with our kids in Mexico, Paul and I grasped the opportunity to return to Guatemala where we spent three months in 2011-2012. While living at that time on Lake Atitlan, we also connected with a very special community in Guatemala City. There, we spent many weekends with a group of Latin Americans who have become Jews of Choice. Growing up in various Latin American countries, each of these people were Christian.  Each of them were seeking a strong spiritual expression. Each of them did research to find that expression, and by some chance of God (beshert) found each other. Now they have all come together in Guatemala and delight in their individual lives as well as rejoicing in their lives tightly engaged with their spiritual community. Paul and I loved sharing Shabbat with this group of wonderful, energetic, smart and, oh so grateful people. Catching up with them meant experiencing the growth of their development since five years ago.
The physical aging of the youth and adults, the intellectual expansion of their knowledge about Judaism and Jewish practice, and their increased ability to hold morning service with song, prayer and conversation was so inspiring. And they shared so much gratitude for the times we spent with them the last time we were there and what we were able to share with them.

We’re thinking about catching up with our family and friends in Israel this winter and then to take advantage of proximity to India and catch up with our friends and “family” there. There are so many places in the world I have yet to explore. If I keep going back to the same places, I’ll never see Greece, or Viet Nam, or Australia! And…I also like being at home, and returning to places that already feel like ‘home’. I’m suffering from a real first world problem!

Even my blog needs ‘catching up’. Each year since I began my blog, the numbers of blogs that I post each month reduces. I want to catch up with that too.

I suppose it’s a little bit like closure. Leaving loose ends is uncomfortable, reminding me about unfinished business. I’m thinking that this is a little bit of what getting older is all about…finishing up business so we can clear the paths and make the most of what’s to come……
A Labyrinth.....The Spirit Wa

Friday, December 2, 2016

Antigua and Change

Walking the uneven cobblestone streets of Antigua reminds me of the uniqueness of this city. Antigua means antique and it’s architecture reflects that vibe. Since several devastating earthquakes in past centuries have destroyed the city, it has been rebuilt to highlight its Spanish baroque colonialism. We’re in the highlands here and I can feel it in the air I breathe (as long as I am away from the roads). The Central Square in the middle serves as a focal point for all the narrow stone streets and walkways that are outlaid to the north and south and to the east and west. Navigation is simple here because of the geometric design.

The quiet streets are lined with restaurants and ‘tipico’ Mayan shops and as we make our way outwards, busy mercados offering Guatemalan wares in vibrant colours and patterns are for sale everywhere. Fabric designs are all woven to represent the village from where they were made. Tacos and other characteristic foods abound. The streets resound with music, conversations in Spanish and (often) loud discourse. “Come see my wares! Good prices!” are calls meant to entice tourists to enter shops and purchase souvenirs.

Paul and I have been here before. I remember feeling the intensity of the Mayan culture here, and also the noticeable tourist attraction of the place. Even Guatemalans flock to Antigua for a short respite from the big city of Guatemala just an hour’s drive away. Here is an opportunity to stroll, eat, drink and share the offerings of antiquity, nature and solemn religious energy. The churches beckon, with their massive walls and ceilings and strong constitution of rock and cement. The painted walls of the buildings mirror the colours of Mayan design.

The last time we were in Antigua was five years ago and though the city looks the same, I don’t think I am the same, and so I see the city differently. The residents seem more comfortable and at peace. There’s a community vibe on the streets that I didn’t experience before. I also don’t remember the challenges of walking the cobblestone roads as acutely as I do now. I suppose my body is older now.

Add captio
The children’s’ faces tell it all. There’s a calmness that pervades here as I see them following their mammas who walk with baskets on their heads trying to sell what they have so they are more able to feed their children. Sometimes I become troubled about the divisions that money, or lack of money, create for the ways that we view each other. Occasionally I will buy something, but mostly I offer smiles and communication with an innate understanding of the commonality of how we care for our family regardless of where we live in this diverse world. We reach out to each other with acknowledgement that says “I see you!” I understand…


Our ascent to Cerro De La Cruz this evening is easy. There are apparently about 300 steps to complete the climb. By the time we reach the top the sun is setting and the sky is misty with clouds. There’s a white film that flows across my span of vision and Christ’s cross stands majestic across the city’s view. I’m guessing it provides a security for many who live here.

It’s times like this when I feel on top of the world. I share the space with visitors, neighbours, tourists and residents. There’s music playing in the background. I’m not even sure from where it comes. Drums sound and in communion with those around me I feel at peace with all who are here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Remembrance Day 2016



 Today is Remembrance Day in Canada, and traditionally, although I wear a poppy, find moments to express my gratitude for peace and appreciation for War Veterans, Remembrance Day is not a holiday that I usually commemorate. War is not an activity I typically condone.

Today is different. As of Tuesday’s American election, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to express commitment, devotion, love and respect for our country, Canada. I appreciate this place like never before and, as I become more expressive in that appreciation, I strive to activate that patriotism…that love and gratitude that it exemplifies.

My parents, both Americans who lived in the U.S. until their death, taught me the value of commitment and patriotism. My father fought in the second world war and my mom volunteered to do whatever she could to make those years easier for soldiers and the citizens of the U.S. Even through the challenges of the 60’s and 70’s they both struggled to maintain their love for their country and to assert their faith in the political future. Both were ardent Democrats and engaged in ensuring fairness and consideration for all citizens.

I left the United States as a somewhat precocious teenager of 14. At that time I knew only that the country in which I was born was tormented. Engagement in the Viet Nam war in which both my brothers would have participated had it gone on longer, the leadership (and ultimate criminal behaviours) of the Nixon regime, living in a sterile environment of apartment buildings, office towers and subway stations, pushed me to leave. I went to Israel, lived on a kibbutz-like boarding school where I graduated with American accreditation and met a “nice Jewish” Canadian boy. At 18 years, I married, acquired my Canadian citizenship and actively and enthusiastically began my participation in all decisions of our country. I vote, stay informed with politics and maintain active involvement in my community. I consider myself  Canadian only, and except for the fact that I (apparently) still have American citizenship, I feel completely a part of this wonderful country! My life in Canada has been the greatest.

My heart aches for my American family members right now. This is not the United States they grew up into. I feel, strongly, their sadness from ‘the other side’. There is little I can do but let them know that….and to continue to live with honesty and integrity.
 
I want to remind my children that there is hope in this wonderful world! We must continue to care and to love, and remain active in our pursuit for peace and justice. We remember!!!

Today…Remembrance Day in Canada is a time to reconnect with what matters, to love in the face of adversity and to continue to work towards justice and freedom for all.

I love being Canadian!  Living in Toronto, Ontario was perfect while I was moving into and through my adult years. Growing up our children, developing my career, establishing my ‘purpose’ in life, and grounding myself in community, worked perfectly in the big city then. In Ontario I laid a solid foundation for who I wanted to become. When our ‘job’ there was complete, Paul and I transitioned slowly to British Columbia, and an environment more compatible with our lifestyle.

I appreciate how many people in Canada seem to show that they care for one another. Though it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, many Canadians often begin a conversation with “I’m sorry”. I don’t like it necessarily, it’s often annoying to me, and yet, I’d rather that than conversation full of attack and blame. Maybe we tend to take more responsibility for our behaviours …sometimes, perhaps, to a fault.

As a society, I think we are less controlled by money. That’s not to say we don’t like money, and that consumerism and commercialism do not exist, but it’s not as prominent as in the U.S. Our roads are not completely lined with billboards. Our vistas do not become hidden by advertisements, and our social system is designed to attempt to ensure that those in need have some sort of safety net. We’re not perfect, and, we keep trying. Ultimately, we do care about each other!

I wish, like Costa Rica, we didn’t have a military. But we do! I also think our military is more involved with peace keeping, rather than overtaking and forcing our life style on other cultures. It’s not perfect, and still, it’s better than some.

We have many challenging times. Thankfully our leadership here in Canada is relatively strong and open minded and driven by justice and fairness. It’s not perfect, and still, it’s better than some. We continue to remember our past to create our future. And together we find ways to remind ourselves to be hopeful and maintain faith in the goodness of humankind. For me that’s what today is about!