Tuesday, June 21, 2011


This week has been full of them.  I had the privilege of accompanying a group of Livnot volunteers to the Ethiopian Absorption Center.  There are actually three such centers in Tzfat, as Yehoshua Sivan explained to us before we set out.

We broke into smaller groups when we arrived.  A few guys found playmates by the entrance and a game of soccer was underway within seconds.  It didn't matter that the players were all new to Israel and couldn't verbally communicate.  Sports are international languages.  I continued with another group deeper into the complex.  Unfamiliar smells wafted through open doors and a slight, middle-aged woman carried a large pot--half her size--from one plain building to another.

We stepped into the after-school gan yeladim (kindergarten) and found 37 curious little faces staring back at ours.  Their teacher, simultaneously warm and stern, was accompanied by a bat sherut (a young woman fulfilling her national service as an alternative to army service).  Each volunteer was given a table of several children and an activity such as a puzzle, card game, or coloring sheets.  I was about to lower myself into the tiny seat at my table when I felt a tug at my skirt.

"Shayna!"  I whirled around surprised.  Who here knows my name?  It was a little girl, a petite four year-old with a sweet, crooked smile.  I hugged her and instantly spotted the other familiar face in the room.  To keep Tzfat's schools from being overwhelmed by the absorption of immigrants, many are taken by bus to surrounding towns each day.  We have two Ethiopian children in Kfar Shammai's gan and, out of three centers and many places to go in this one, I ended up spending the afternoon with them.

Earlier that morning, I had made it to the bus stop a little early and stuck my hand out to see who might give me a lift.  Car after car passed, then finally one stopped.  It was a man from the regional council who I had wanted to write a letter to.  After those five minutes until tzomet Meron (Meron junction), I was able to check that letter off my to-do list.  I got out of the car, crossed the street, then the bus came and took me the rest of the way to Tzfat.

Mid-morning, I took a snack break at work.  A few people were chatting by the kitchen and one pointed to his shoe, showing how the sole had already halfway fallen off.

"This is going to look funny," I said as I went over to my shopping cart, which I had dragged with me to work that day so I could go grocery shopping afterwards.  As many of you know, I have a gemach (second-hand thrift store).  Sometimes I'll find something in it that I think would be useful where I work, mostly backpacks and shoes.  Zippers bust and shoes get holes at the most inconvenient times, especially right before a big hike.
These shoes didn't fit quite so perfectly

I pulled out a pair of shoes from my little cart and they were just the right size.  So many coincidences.

In Hebrew, the word for coincidence is mikreh, spelled: מקרה (mem-kuf-resh-hey).  If you rearrange the letters just a bit, you get: 'רק מה (resh-kuf-mem-hay), which means "only from Hashem (G-d)."

It happened again yesterday.  I needed to speak with two different neighbors but didn't find the time between working a full day and being with my family.  Then guess who took the same bus at the same time when I was heading home?  Both of them!  If we could just rearrange our perspectives a bit, we could see that there is order in all this chaos.  Everything is only from G-d.  We're in good hands.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


It's a word I've been hearing a lot lately.  Torn between Israel and America, between children and career, between the freedom of youth and the responsibilities of adulthood, between being well-rested and staying online another hour or two.  There will always be opposing forces in this world, pulling us in different directions...and is there ever an end to the whims and wants of the heart?

I find myself wishing that there were more than just 24 hours in a day.  Life feels so short, each day flying by faster than the one before.  My dearest friend on our moshav reminisces about when she was my age, some 35 years ago, and everyone moved at a slower pace.  Modernization has its pros and cons.  Maybe we would be more at peace with ourselves if there was time to tackle the piles of to-do lists.

There are times when I feel as complete as the moon in the middle of each lunar month.  At other moments I feel as shredded and scattered as a roll of toilet paper that my 18 month-old gets his hands on.  Torn.  How do we work through these feelings?

My little Puriel encounters this dilemma on his own level and, while he was in the middle of getting dressed, informed me that "two times my tummy asked really nicely for food, but I told him to wait a minute."

Patience.  If you're like me then you probably just cringed.  Nobody seems to like this word, unless they're using it on another person.  Patience means I can't have everything right when I want it.  Patience means I might never get it at all.  Patience means the world might rush by and beat me to it.  There is such power--even beauty--in patience.  But isn't there an easier way to obtain it, than having it constantly tested?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Torah is a piece of cake

Last week we celebrated my little girl's seventh birthday.  She had been planning the event since the day after she turned six.  Teneya was born shortly before Shavuot and we fashioned her name from the special basket that held the first fruits on their way to the Temple.  With her middle name, Havatzelet ("lily"), she carries on the blessed memory of my grandmother, Lillian Margolin.  In parashat Ki Tavo (starting in Deut. 26) it's written: "When you enter the Land...then you shall take of the first of every fruit...and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the L-rd your G-d will choose to make His Name rest there."  Normally the word for basket is sal but here it's called teneh.  Every family would weave their own basket each year and load their first fruits into it for the journey to Jerusalem.

For months already, Teneya knew that she wanted a princess castle cake--pink, of course.  It seems that for children, the frosting is the most important part.  On Shavuot, I had the honor of staying up until 3 am with my wonderful new friend and came to the conclusion that the Torah is like a piece of cake.

Cake has everything you need (see my breakfast-cake post) but can use a little dressing up sometimes.  Same with the Torah, but in this case the frosting is minhagim (customs).  Some are passed down through the generations, others adopted for beauty or functionality.  Frosting makes cake look pretty, but if you pile it too high then no one can see the cake anymore and it's too sweet to keep eating.

Kids don't really mind the extra sugar though.  In fact, they're happy enough to lick it all off and move on to the next treat.  But as we get older, we tend to care just as much, or even more, about what's underneath.

May we all merit to decorate our "cakes" beautifully, with just the right proportions, so that they will be enjoyed by all of our family and friends.