Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Stir Crazy

The snow to end all snows is still on the ground here in beautiful Efrat and I am feeling a little bit nutso. I would say I’m stir crazy but the truth is, it’s not about being stuck in the house—it’s about not being ALONE in the house. There are people all around me, all the time.


I vant to be alone
It started Thursday. It began snowing and it didn’t stop. It snowed and snowed and snowed some more. We ended up with over 3 feet of snow on the ground and we were all home because when it snows in Israel, everything shuts down.

It’s not that we’re wusses here in Israel. I grew up in Pittsburgh and my husband grew up in Chicago. We know snow.

But Israel is a young country and snow is an unusual occurrence so we’re just not prepared for the white stuff when it does come down. Israelis don’t have snow shovels or ice picks to clear icy sidewalks. You can’t buy rock salt here at your local hardware store. The city doesn’t have many if any snow plows or firm snow contingency plans.

Panic Buying

When the weatherman predicts snow in Israel the supermarkets overflow with people and the shelves empty out as panic buying ensues. So you’ve got to do it too, or you’ll be without basic staples like bread and milk. Stuff runs out.

The streets are narrower in Israel, so they become especially hazardous in difficult weather conditions. The low-lying areas flood. People don’t have snow tires or chains. We get especially heavy winds in Israel that down trees and electric lines. At the same time, people flock to Jerusalem from the warmer areas of the country to see the unusual weather phenomenon so you end up with icy, jammed up roads.

Furthermore, houses in Israel aren’t well-insulated and most people don’t have central heating. The cold seeps into your bones.

In short, it’s best to stay home and cuddle with the kids if you have them until everything is back to what passes as normal. Which at this time of year should be rain and not snow and freezing temperatures.

"The Look"

Now I like my alone time. I like my family, too, but not all around me all the time, especially not when I’m trying to write as per my job at Kars for Kids. And of course, my desk is in the living room and I don’t have a way to cloister myself from noise and distractions. The most I can do as my family members naturally forget to be quiet around me is to give them “The Look.”

It helps. Until the next time. Usually five minutes later.


So when I realized my writing just wasn’t going to happen today, I packed it in and looked for distractions on the ‘net. Since I was cooped up in close quarters with too many people for too long a time, the distractions I found had to suit my morbid mood. And oh lucky you, I’m good at sharing (don’t thank me, I’m a giver, as my friend Dave Bender always says).

A Movie About You

This website lets you customize a movie to be about you by inputting the address of your home from back when you were a kid growing up. At least that’s what it’s supposed to do. You actually don’t see much of your childhood home—it’s more expectation than wish fulfillment. But when you’re feeling nostalgic due to the weather, it’s nice when you start to type in your old address and the search engine spits it out for you. You feel acknowledged.

Here is the movie it made for me. Note that Google Street View is not comprehensive for Israeli streets, so I couldn’t make a movie for my kid with our (current) address.

Next, I found this social experiment pictorial. Here’s a quote from the page:

“After Candy lost someone she loved, she went through a long period of grief and depression. With time she felt gratitude for the time they had together and eventually she found clarity in her life by contemplating death so much. But she struggled to maintain this perspective. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you. She wanted a daily reminder and she wanted to know what was important to the people around her. So she painted the side of an abandoned house in her neighborhood in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with a grid of the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” Anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.

It was all an experiment and she didn’t know what to expect. By the next day, the wall was completely filled out and it kept growing: Before I die I want to… sing for millions, hold her one more time, straddle the International Date Line, see my daughter graduate, eat more everything, abandon all insecurities, plant a tree, follow my childhood dream, be completely myself…  People’s responses made her laugh out loud and tear up. They consoled her during hard times. She understood her neighbors in new and enlightening ways, and the wall reminded her that she’s not alone as she tries to make sense of her life.”

Morbid enough fer ya?

A Fun Guy

Moving right along, here’s a fun guy. He pours molten aluminum into ant hills. But hey, Kiddies, these are fire ants that are pests, so it’s okay to torture them with the equivalent of a manmade mini-Pompeii. Besides, it’s ART.

It actually is really cool art. You have to watch the whole thing to see why (alternatively, if you don’t like to watch fire ants tortured you can just skip to the end of the clip).

Next up, I contemplated some really neat architecture, which is a depressing thing to do when you’re living in a moldy rental, so yeah. Really fit my moody blues.

Last but not least, I found this totally useless item. Actually, it may be useful for you, if you’re the type to fall asleep on buses, trains, or planes. Unfortunately, I am too hypervigilant—I’d be afraid I’d miss my stop—to ever appreciate the merits of this estimable sleep travel hat that both cushions your head from bumps and shields your eyes from the light. It’s called—you guessed it—the ostrich pillow.

Come to think of it, maybe I could use that ostrich pillow hat to feel more, um, alone. That is, if they’re all still home tomorrow. Until then,


Thursday, December 12, 2013

A Rare Judean Snow Day

Yesterday it was gusty and cold and the rain came down in torrents. It was the kind of rain that would soak through your clothes clear to the bone in the dash from door to car. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I wanted to crawl beneath a quilt and think warm thoughts. But it was Wednesday, and Wednesday night means choir.

There was a chance of snow, so I called to see if our choir director was going to brave the roads. But I already knew what she’d say. Judy’s too tough to let a bit of wind or rain push her around. Besides, she said, they always say it’s going to snow and it never does.

I got home from choir at 10:15 PM and the first reports of snow came in half an hour later on our local Efrat e-list. Dov sniffed. “It’s not going to really snow until Thursday night.”

No School

But I woke up this morning and there was my youngest on the sofa. “No school?” I asked.

I looked out the window. Oh my. It was a world of white.

I love the way that happens. That surprise of seeing thick snow first thing in the morning, when the night before, there’d been none.

Usually, I’m the first one out there making snowballs and angels. A good snow is so rare in Efrat and I don’t like to waste it. I love to play in the snow. But today, I just wanted to stay in and be warm.

Work, Work, Work

Besides I had to work waiting for me. *sigh* Thursdays are all about that rush to fill my weekly quota of articles over at Kars for Kids. Still, a snow day is a snow day and that’s not to be taken lightly.

My firm belief: a snow day can be celebrated, even with work beckoning and even from inside the home, all snug and warm. I put up a pot of soup and brainstormed appropriate snow music, but the truth is, it was a no-brainer. I give you The Snow is Dancing, by Claude Debussy.

Son number six stumbled out of his room on hearing the music, cocked his head to listen, and then looked out the window at the white. He said, “By the way, Eema, that music is perfect for snow.”

I smiled my secret Mona Lisa smile. My next step: I changed my Facebook profile picture to this:

Snow in Efrat (photo credit: Varda Meyers Epstein)

It was kind of cheating because I’d taken the photo during last year’s storm. Still, it was a nice photo and several of my friends asked if they could share it. I was happy to share.

My snow photo got me thinking about snowflakes and how cool they look when you magnify them. I googled “snowflake photography” and found this amazing side show: macro photos of snowflakes by Alexey Kljatov.

In particular, the first photo in this series caught my eye. Doesn’t it look like Superman’s logo? One of my kids asked me why it looks like metal. Great photo, right?


Optical Illusions

Anyway, more about snowflakes: you know how everyone always says that no two snowflakes are alike? It’s only somewhat true. Snowflakes fall into specific classifications. I found this page of stereo snow images. The photos are supposed to be optical illusions. Alas, my eyes didn’t see anything special. Worked for my son, though. Did it work for you?

Last but not least, crafts. In particular, you guessed it, snowflakes. For Game of Thrones freaks. Here. (I even made a new Pinterest board for this one. I called it, “Crafts I’ll never do.”)

It’s a peaceful day. The house is filled with the good smells of baking and cooking, my kids are playing a game, and with this blog piece, I’ve filled my work quota for the week. Life is good.

Until the next time, stay warm, wherever you are, and if you brave the snow, throw a snowball for me.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rabbanit Kapah: Like Nachshon Jumping Into the Sea

(photo credit: CC-BY-SA עוזי ו, Wikipedia)
She went in the same modest way she lived, her death overshadowed by that of Arik Einstein. There was half a day’s grace. He died later that night and then the country went into shock. An Israeli icon had died.

But earlier that day Dov had mentioned it to me, first thing in the morning. “Bracha Kapah died.”

“Baruch Dayan Emes,” I said. Blessed be the True Judge. “That was one special woman. Imagine! She fed the poor of Jerusalem.”

She deserved more than a passing mention in the morning, in between email correspondence and sips of instant coffee. So I stopped for a moment and allowed the loss to wash over me. I shut my eyes, imagining the reception that awaited Rabbanit Kapah in the heavens. 

“The righteous sit with crowns upon their heads and enjoy the splendor of the shechina.” (Talmud Brachot 17a)

Angel Escorts?

I imagined heavenly choirs, angel escorts, a diamond and ruby crown held aloft in midair to be placed upon her head, a golden chair where she might rest after a lifetime of good works. Would this be her welcome?

For years she’d existed as a one-woman army against poverty in the Holy City.

I thought about Rabbanit Kapah the rest of the week. There was very little media coverage. She had lived in modesty and died without fanfare in this world, despite my overworked imagination about her reception in the Next.

I thought about her as I read an article based on the same premise as one I’d written earlier in the week and which in fact, quoted the same experts I had quoted. The article was written by a well-known academic, a professor.

I'll Dither

I am no professor. But I had dared to voice the same ideas.

I’m not always so brave. Often an idea comes to me for a story to write, an important story, yet I will hesitate and think, “It can’t be that nobody wrote up this topic. It’s so important, so obvious. How can it be a new idea??” and I will dither. I will think, “I am no professor to write such thoughts.”

I will search a bit more on Google looking in vain for the story in my head and see that indeed, nobody has written on the subject.

The Words Come

Still finding it hard to believe that my original idea is in fact original, I will begin tapping out the story on the keyboard. At first my touch on the keys will be tentative, the letters and words not flowing. But I begin just anywhere and soon, the words come.

After the fact, I will wonder at my initial hesitation in tackling a task that had all but walked itself over to me and tapped me on the shoulder. What stops me at that juncture and tempts me to give the topic a miss—to leave the job to someone else?

I thought about a volunteer job I’d been asked to take on at work, a mentoring position. Most of my colleagues at Kars4Kids volunteer to take an active role in the work of our organization. But I had hesitated. I worried how I would fit another task into my overcrowded schedule. I worried whether I was capable, whether I’d be good at mentoring.

Dirty Breakfast Dishes

I doubt Rabbanit Kapah suffered from this sort of existential angst. Was that the secret to her success? For her, feeding the poor was a task that needed doing: that fell to her. Feeding the poor was a task to be approached like any other: a sink full of dirty breakfast dishes, for instance. You don’t stop to intellectualize the task or worry about whether you can carry it off. You don’t pat yourself on the back, preen at being chosen, or think, “Why me?”

You just do it.

Rabbanit Kapah reacted. She responded to the pain of the people who approached her, crying out in hunger, pain, and fear. She was Nachshon jumping into the Red Sea as Pharaoh’s men approached, with all the Jews in despair and indecision milling about in a panic all around him. Rabbanit Kapah did what came to her, what needed to be done. She did it the best she could, for as long as she had the strength. She did it because it was hers to do.

And she showed us the way.