Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Priestly Seder

"Is daddy coming to the table?" I asked one of my kids.

Hubby was in the throes of depression and refused to come to the table.  Like a banished bad boy.   My daughter's friend from Tiberias at the last minute copped out of the seder too, as did two Anglican clergymen.  But two Catholic priests from France wanted to join up with a Jewish family for the seder and after seeing the email request, I answered promptly.

My son-in-law, a follower of Rabbi Ovadya Yosef, was none too thrilled about my having invited non-Jewish guests over, but this is MY house, and I can invite whom I want.  He said he had never heard that this was a mitzvah (good deed), after I insisted that it was.

I called up the Arab taxi driver I had hired for the priests.

"I dropped them off at your house 20 minutes ago!" he said.  It doesn't take 20 minutes to walk up 8 flights of stairs, and they would anyways use the elevator.   I searched for them outside, but only saw people coming back from synagogue prayers.  I had no idea what they looked like.  I was looking for two men with white collars and crucifix necklaces, perhaps. 

While I was looking for them on the street, they had made their way to my apartment, not wanting to arrive too early.  I walked in to find two smiling young men with yarmulkas on their heads.  That wasn't what I expected, nor did my family.  My son-in-law seemed happy that they didn't look like Catholic priests.

There was chaos for the first 5 minutes, trying to seat people, and me trying to figure out who is gonna run the seder with hubby AWOL, plus everyone was hungry and impatient and getting short with each other.  My guests were still smiling, especially when I told them the meaning of the word "seder" means order, and it's anything but orderly in my home right now.

We began the seder.  We filled our cups with the first of four cups of wine.  The French guests preferred wine over the alternative grape juice that was offered to those who don't like wine.  But of course.  I had made sure that there was enough wine.  We went around the table reading each paragraph.  I had found a French Haggadah which I gave to one of the priests.  The other one brought his very own French translation of the Haggadah. When it came turn for my guests to read, I told them they can read in French, if they prefer, since the language of the seder should be in the language one understands.  The other priest read in Hebrew, pretty well too, much to everyone's surprise.

My boss and friends had teased me prior to the seder -when they found out about my non-Jewish guests.

"What will you do about the paragraph "Pour out your wrath to the Nations...", with the word "goyim" so prominent in this angry section of the Haggadah?"

"Time to take them out on the terrace for a bit of a smoke break"? asked a friend laughingly.

We got through it, because my Haggadah, the Holistic Haggadah, had an additional paragraph afterwards which read "Pour out your love to the nations" and I proudly showed them this new addition to our service.

We talked about the custom of us using eggs in the seder plate and as a first course with salt water and the connection to Easter eggs.  We didn't know what the connection was - but perhaps there is one. 

We explained that we open the door for the Prophet Elijah.  He'll drink from the special cup we prepare for him, filled with fine wine.  And he's the one who will herald the coming of the Messiah.

I figured enough mention of the Messiah might make our guests happy.

"Can priests smoke?" asked my daughter to me.

"Why don't you just ask them?"

Yes priests can smoke.  They just can't have sex, but my daughters had teased me before the seder about them coming on to my son.  Even after four cups of wine, though, they were true gentlemen, a bit more talkative but very polite and very wonderful guests.  They thanked me for inviting them to their first seder or Jesus' last supper.  I thanked them for coming and making our seder all the more interesting.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I love order.  I do my day according to an approximately 41 item "to do" list - a practice I learned from a deceased boss.  Sometimes things that are not on my "list" creep into my life.  Like on Sunday when I got an email telling me that friends from my Rolling Stone fan circle, who live in NYC, "just landed an hour ago and would love to get together."  A surprise visit, and a last minute decision from them.  I crossed out on my list what I had planned to do that late afternoon/evening after work and typed them in instead.

They were in for a relative's wedding and were staying at the David Citadel Hotel.  I walked over after work to meet them.  I see the security men not check tourists as they went through the revolving door, but as soon as I tried it, I was stopped by a tall, very serious man in his security uniform.

"Your bag."

I smiled.  I no longer look like a tourist. 


I let his hand dive into my purse, as he stopped and wondered what the velvet sac holding my cache of makeup was.

After about 20 seconds, I was let in.

My friends and I hugged and hugged.  I hadn't seen them since 2002.  It didn't seem like 8 years had gone by.  Jerusalem had changed since then.  The streets were all ripped up, paving the way for our light rail, which they had thought was a fast train to Tel Aviv at first.  And the Waldorf Astoria is the midst of construction.

They had already seen the sparkling Mamilla Mall which my friend likened to Jeruslam's Rodeo Drive.

"You even have Versace here", she exclaimed with much surprise. 

Yeah, I know who Versace is, but had no idea what H&M was until all the hoopla surrounding the new store, imported from Europe, opened up here in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

We walked down the Ben Sira pedestrian street, full of nice restaurants and pubs waiting for their evening customers.  It was 5:00 - too early for the crowds.

My friend's husband craved local food like shwarma and invited me out to dinner with them.  I asked if they were interested in Arabic food.  Of course they were.  We walked towards Damascus Gate and headed towards the Jerusalem Hotel, a beautiful boutique hotel in East Jerusalem with good inexpensive food.  We looked at the carved furniture imported from Syria in the small lobby.  The guests were all European and the restaurant was filling up quickly with locals and guests. 

They ordered lamb shishlik and a chicken dish and I ordered an Arabic dish whose name escapes me at the moment - chicken on top of pita with a ton of caramlized onions covered with sumac, a middle east spice.

My friend's husband had come to Jerusalem a couple of years back, taking alternative tours to Hebron and Jerusalem.  He wanted to know both sides.

I wanted to know whether US Jews are becoming less pro-Israel, or less supportive of Israel, as I am constantly reading in the papers. 

He claimed loudly in the restaurant filled with Arabs and Europeans that he was still pro-Israel.

I told him I am both pro- Israel and pro-Palestinian, however nuts that sounds, but didn't say it as loudly as he.

He said he believes he is too, in fact.

We walked out of the restaurant along the old city walls.  To them, the walls were magical.  They wondered if I still felt that way after 15 years of living here.  I do.  They still make my heart skip a beat.  I don't take the view for granted.

Before they left the US - the media was filled with "fighting in East Jerusalem". 

"Look at this!" my friend's husband exclaimed in wonderment.  "Does this look like there's fighting going on here?"  The streets were bustling, full of mostly Arab shoppers, but there was no fighting where we were.  "You'd think we would be in the middle of a war zone.   My sister called to ask where we are now and I told her East Jerusalem.  She's like 'Isn't there all this fighting there now?'.  I said, as I'm speaking to you, I'm walking through the marketplaces and there's nothing going on...."

I nod. 

And I'm happy.  I love surprises.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mt.of Olives Cemetery

I don't remember the last time I had visited a grave on the Mt. of Olives. Yes, I'd been to Ibrahim's home, but he lives in the neighborhood of the living.  I guess I don't know that many holy people.  The Mt. of Olives is the world's oldest and holiest Jewish cemetery dating from biblical times.  Many holy rabbis over the centuries have been buried there.  Even Madonna visited one of the Kabbalah rabbis, when she was here with the Kabbalah center. 

This past Friday, however, was the anniversary of my friend's son's death 5 years ago.  He had a rare genetic thing, which left him, since birth, severely handicapped.  He never walked or spoke.  When he died at the age of 14, he was buried in the Mt. of Olives in a special plot for holy children - those who never spoke bad about anyone.  It is a special merit to be buried there because space is limited and is usually reserved for renowned rabbis these days.  Legend has it that when the resurrection happens, people buried there will be resurrected first.

It was tough on my friend to visit his grave.  She lost a son.  It is always tough for the living.  She knows he is fine, not trapped in a very handicapped body.  When she dreams about him, he even speaks to her - something he never did when he was alive.  I looked around at the gravestones.  Some were so tiny - the babies must have been a few days, weeks or months when they died.  Someone pointed out that right behind my friend's son's grave were the graves of the two Holzberg children - the children of the Chassidic couple that was killed during the Mumbai massacre a couple of years ago by Islamic extremists.  They had died of illness before the tragedy with their parents occurred.  Now they have no parents visiting their graves - only a 4 year old brother and grandparents. 

After we read the psalms and the quorum of 10 men left, the mother and a few of her friends stayed on to sit and keep this young soul of her son some company.  We listened to the mother grieve for her son, for her loneliness and some shared what they felt too.

grieving for a loved one

 I felt serene and there was an atmosphere of contentment sitting around the little souls.

tiny grave

 There were red poppies growing wild by unmarked graves. 

I looked at the Holzberg graves and told my friend that her son and this boy were now friends and learning chassidut together.  

Sunday, March 14, 2010

cellphone wars

Cellphones are expensive, but so necessary.  I wonder how we managed years ago when we had to depend on pay phones to tell someone we'll be late, or make impulsive, last minute arrangements with friends and relatives.  How inconvenient it all was, trying to find that quarter or whatever the cost was then.  But my cellphone bill has been expensive of late and so I called up the competitor of my current cell provider. 

There are three major cellphone companies in Israel, Cellcom, Pelephone and Orange.  I got a much better offer from the competitor, after complaining about my current cellphone provider so after a week or so, I got on the phone with my current provider and told them about the offer. Can they match it?  Closely.  They connected me with a special department called Customer Retention or something like that.  I would get a new phone at 50% of the cost.  I complained that their competitor offered me a free one.  OK - then they'll give me a free one too.  Wow.  It sounded so easy!

I went to their service store and waited nearly an hour to be seated with one of their reps.  They wrote my number down on a piece of paper. I was number 218.  Number 211 flashed on the screen but there was no customer.  They probably got impatient and left.  I could have been crafty and written the number 211 on the other side of the paper to be promptly seated - but I'm too American.  Or Canadian.  I'll wait my turn, the way civilized people are apt to do.  I finally got my turn. 

The sales rep gets my phone number and asks me questions.

"How much did they offer you?"

I asked - "Isn't it on the computer?"

"Yes, but you're a special case from the retention department.  What exactly did they promise you?" 

I told him.

"Yes, you're right" he says - obviously regaining his eyesight, as what they promised was probably on the computer screen all along.  I couldn't figure out why they were playing this game.

About 5 minutes into this, a woman comes over to me with a typed up survey in her hand - asking me how the service is and how is the sales rep I'm talking to?

"Isn't it odd that you're asking me how is he when I'm right in front of him?|

"Give me a 10" said the sales rep to me.

"Ok, I'll give you a 10, but if I find that you're saying 'ok' to whatever was agreed on the phone and I get a totally different, more expensive, bill, I'm coming back to rate you a 1."

"Don't worry.  The new rate will show up on your bill."

The new rate didn't show up on what I signed, and after I questioned him, he said it was standard.  I'll get the new rate on my next bill because I was a "special" case.

"So in case you're lying to me, how long am I contracted to you?

"18 months"

Fine. That's better than the more common 3 year contract.  If they're a bunch of liars, I'll use my phone minimally and pay the minimum charge and after 18 months switch to another provider. 

Saturday, March 06, 2010

and now you're cool

For years, ever since we made aliyah, I was considered by my kids to be so uncool.  After all, I am an immigrant, speak Hebrew with an embarrassing accent, plus my grammar is often wrong.  I like Western music, Arabs, Arabic music, health food, go to a trippy synagogue in Jerusalem, invite non-Jews for Shabbat dinner, eat in different restaurants all the time, see foreign films and often go alone.  My oldest daughter even bought me a birthday gift - a 10-movie package - at  Jerusalem's landmark  Smadar theater.  I love the Smadar.  They didn't destroy the Ottomon-era terracotta stone floors and opened up a restaurant attached to the theater.  Unlike the cinemateque, you can bring in your beer and cappucino or hot cider - even wine - into the theater.  There are others like me who sit alone in the theater.  Lately, I saw the movies Push and A Serious Man there.  Next week I'm seeing a Korean film with a friend (!). 

But now, all of a sudden, I'm cool.  My complainer daughter hardly complains anymore.  She hugs and kisses me daily.  The reason?  She has a new boyfriend.  This guy comes from a Moroccan family BUT, and here's a big BUT, he enjoys Ashkenazi (European/Western) culture more than his own. He doesn't listen to Middle Eastern music and is astounded that my daughter acts more "Moroccan" than he.  It's something he has to get used to, he says.  His brother is actually a famous Israeli singer, who still churns out Israeli hits.  This new boyfriend loves the Beatles, Doors, Stones and Fats Domino.  My daughter doesn't know the songs to any of these.  But now she's coming to me to learn this new Western culture her boyfriend is into.  She's now proud of her once-uncool mother.  I know I'm going to have to bring that photo of Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones and me together at an art gallery out of  basement storage to impress him.

"You're gonna love my mother" she coos to her boyfriend. "you might even want to marry her", she jokes, perhaps knowing a little of my Cougar fantasies.