Monday, October 24, 2016

Written In The Book Of Life

In Israel and in the Jewish calendar the new year begins on September 1st in the solar calendar (schools go back) and Tshrei 1st in the lunar calendar (Rosh Hashanna). The Hebrew new year starts three weeks of intensive festivals marking the new year, days of repentance, atonement, finishing the annual cycle of reading the Torah, and the sealing of the book of life and death.

Rosh Hashana can fall any time from September 5th to October 5th. and this year was almost the latest it ever gets. There has been loads of synagogue time, eating with friends and family, holidays from work and school, street festivals, days out, etc... However, it's also a time of retrospection, repentance, and atonement.

Tonight was the final sealing of the book of life or death for the coming year. We hope we have been written in the book of life, but of course there's no way of knowing. Did we do enough praying, apologising and forgiving during the past three weeks? I probably didn't.

What I did do was a lot of introspecting (is that a word?), declutterng, preparing coursework for the coming year, and mental revving up for the duration.

For months no one has been motivated to get much done as there is no real routine. No sooner do we go back to school than we have three weeks of holidays and holy days. The phrase, 'after the festivals,' is ubiquitously used as an excuse for not really getting stuck in to anything after the long summer until the end of the festival period.

Well it starts tomorrow folks! No more excuses. Yesterday I was actually cold enough to put on socks and long sleeves. New Year, I'm ready for you! I'm written in the book of readiness and good intentions, this much I know.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Just Good Stuff - Reasons 2B Cheerful

A whole village of sukkot between buildings
Remember the frame for this one
A Bevvy of Booths?
The sukkot are sprouting between the buildings and on the balconies. Some have to be finished but they have until Sunday evening to complete them.

A den
The friend who DD disappeared with last week for the whole day, came to our place today.

First they sat at the table and did all their homework for the holiday (we have 11 days holiday for the festival of Sukkot). DD didn't panic at all like she does when I'm helping her with her Hebrew homework - shows how much she doesn't trust me with it. Her friend was a great teacher, making DD read parts of the text and find the answers.

Then they had lunch. And then they disappeared to play in DD's bedroom and I've not seen them since. After 5pm. I offered to take them to the park but they were too busy building a den.

Finally the friend's dad came by on his way to the park with the dog and took them both to run around outside for a while.  And then we're going to friends for dinner. Another great Friday.

This just started growing in this pot.
So I watered it and weeded out the other stuff.
It's a succulent of some sort. I have no idea where it came from. 
A Happy Teacher
Without any interruptions this afternoon I am completely up to date with grading for my online courses. Hooray!

Greenish Fingers
Operation Cuttings is coming along slowly but surely on the balcony. It would be so much easier just to pop down to the nursery and buy a box of plants ready to plant. But that's not the point. I want to grow plants not just arrange them in the pots.

This was a weed in the succulent. I replanted it in its own pot.
I'm waiting to see what happens.
Technically it's no longer a weed.
The Lemon Scented Geranium from London is doing well.
It's next to a dead geranium which isn't.
I'm keeping it in case it comes alive again. 
I think I mentioned that we are now on holiday for 11 days. And for three of those days DD's school afternoon program runs a summer camp for the whole day including two meals. Another hooray!

I managed to keep this gift from a pupil alive all summer.
I managed to keep the pupil alive all year.

Every child at my Kibbutz School went home with a baby something to plant.
I found this one abandoned on the path so I adopted it.
I'm linking up with Reasons 2B Cheerful over at Lakes Single Mum.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Reasons 2B Cheerful - Being Connected

The sukkahs (booths) are starting to appear for the festival of Sukkot

October and we're still going back to school
I went back to the kibbutz school this week. I started teaching at this school last year for only two days a week. To say the school runs on the principle of organized chaos would be a fair summing up of how they begin the new year. As I'd not received any confirmation that they wanted me back this year, I didn't know how many hours they could give me and no timetables had been finalized, I signed up to teach a summer course at my college which meant I could only start in school at the beginning of October.

In the end they increased my hours at school by 50% and I'm now teaching there three days a week. I must have got used to the way they work because it was nice to be back. It makes a big difference when you walk into a school and you know the people there and they know you.

I am not a spy
I know my brother-in-law's family pretty well as we all grew up together. Even his cousins were in our youth movements. I know, however, that he has a set of first cousins who grew up in Israel and whom I don't know (although I was at a family bat mitzva party with them once but I don't think they came to my sister's wedding).

This week the son of one of my b-i-l's cousins turned up in my 6th grade class. You might say, 'small world,' but this is Israel. Things like that happen all the time. In fact there used to be a joke that if two Israelis meet and they've not found a mutual connection within five minutes, then one of them is a spy.

Some sukkahs under construction in my building
Good friends
Yesterday I went to collect DD from school at 11.45. Yes Friday school is from 8 am till 11.45. Don't ask, we suffer it. Anyway, her friends' mother brought an extra pair of roller-blades and asked if DD would like to stick around and try roller-blading. (The school grounds are open to the public when school's out so the basketball courts, playgrounds, and park area are always in use.) The alternative was coming to the supermarket with me so it was no-brainer.

By the time I got home they'd already gone back the friend's apartment for lunch and were playing there. Then they watched a Harry Potter film with the older brother. Apparently, the mother told me, DD was like a little professor telling the other children how they must read books and not just watch movies because you get so much more out of books. She's very aware of what the films miss out and she's worked out for herself that the films can't tell you exactly what the person is thinking wheres the books tell you.

I was told I didn't even need to come to collect her as the father had to take the dog out so he would walk her home. In the end her friend went too and they decided they wanted to play in the park while the dog got his exercise.

So DD arrived home at 7.30 pm, just in time for a shower, supper and one chapter of Harry Potter (we are on book five if you wanted to know). Actually we didn't even get to the end of the chapter as she fell asleep after a few pages. A perfect day.

And good family
We have been invited to go to Netanya by the sea for the beginning of the Sukkot festival next week. My nephew who is here on his gap year will be coming with us to my cousin's place. One thing I really miss by living here is spending the Jewish festivals with family. This year our satellite gathering will be almost as big as the mother ship in London.

I'm linking up with R2BC which is back on Lakes Single Mum this month.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A New Rosh Hashana Tradition

No sea in Jerusalem for 'tashlich' so we made our own
Just before the Holiday I wrote about our Rosh Hashana menus with symbols. It was a lot of fun and much groaning over the awful puns abounded.

The big change for me this year was that DD was old enough to go to synagogue with me. We went to morning services on both days. She spent most of the time  playing outside with the other children there who she knows already, but also managed to sit with me for a while and hear the shofar (ram's horn) blown and join in some of the singing.

I've promised her that we won't do anything this shabbat and the shabbat after in compensation for having to go out so much this holiday. She's a real homebody my daughter. What she doesn't know is that Yom Kippur falls in between the two weekends..... We'll do some of the services though not the whole day. This is still better than I've been able to do for the past eight years re going to synagogue. I hope we will also be able to visit the 'Yom Kippur club' which is a gathering of non-synagogue goers and their children at a friend's house.

Apart from the food with symbols, the synagogue services, a communal breakfast at the synagogue both days, my nephew joining us for the second night dinner, lunch at friends today, some playtime in the park, and about four chapters of Harry Potter (yes I read aloud about 100 pages but not all in one sitting), we did manage to instigate one new activity that I hope will become a family tradition.

There is a short ceremony called 'tashlich' which involves going to some flowing water - a stream, a river or the sea. In England we used to go to the brook in the park at the end of our road. It was never hard to find some flowing water in the UK. You put some bread in your pockets and then empty them into the water to symbolize getting rid of your sins and any bad stuff from the previous year. And obviously there are some verses to say to seal the deal. In England it's often part of a pleasant afternoon stroll after a heavy lunch. Just right.

In Jerusalem it's a nightmare. There are some trickles of natural water in obscure places but they involve a long walk and it was still over 30 degrees heat this year. You can imagine how hot it is when the holidays fall even earlier at the beginning of September. Most people here don't bother or they compromise with a man-made water feature or fountain (the garden hose?).

We did our tashlich on the first night after dinner. We sat on the balcony with a bottle of soap bubbles and blew away our sins and undesirable stuff. We took turns to name the items we wanted to blow away and blew the bubbles into the night, watching them pop and disappear. All very poetic and rather sweet.

We had a full Rosh Hashana and what I loved the most was that we had parts of it on our own. I don't mean we gave up on parts of it like we sometimes do on a Friday night and just go to bed after a cheese sandwich instead of a proper Shabbat meal. We did everything but without the pressure of having to find other families to be with to somehow 'make' the festival. We were a complete family of two celebrating the New Year. And we loved it.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Rosh Hashana Menu With Symbols

From a previous year. Too busy blogging to have set the table yet.
There is a Rosh Hashana tradition of eating symbolic foods at the meal. The symbols are based on puns from old and obscure Hebrew and Aramaic words relating to good and bad things that we do and don't want for the coming year. If it's a bad thing we say we don't want this and if it's a good thing we say we do want it. Some people do a whole ceremony of saying blessings over the different foods and repeating verses 3, 7, or 10 times that connect to the food in some way. It's all very contrived, ancient, and quite frankly, boring.

In recent years my friends on facebook have been making up new symbols for foods, still based on puns, but with English as well as Hebrew. One hilarious symbol this year was to wrap fruit in Kleenex (clean Kleenex of course) that we should be fruitful and multi-ply. You get the idea. It's all a bit silly but lots of fun.

First night:
Apple juice spritzers (apple juice with soda water) drunk with a straw for a successful year (suck-cess).

You're supposed to make a blessing over wine (or grape juice for the children) but what's so special about grapes except that traditionally people drank wine? They probably would have done themselves a favour had they drunk apple juice instead.

Beigels instead of challah. They are round symbolizing the circle of the year and the cycle of life. (It's traditional to eat round challah instead of the plaited challah but we love beigels so that's what we're having.)
Egg salad because eggs are also round (cycle of life, circle of the year) and DD likes it.
Butter that we should be better people.
Brie because the Hebrew word for health is briut. So we should have a healthy year.
Almonds to make amends for anything we did wrong last year.

Lettuce and onion soup made with a whole head of lettuce for the head of the year. A fish head is traditional - yeah right.

We don't need a main course as it's just the two of us.

Fruit salad with maple syrup for a sweet year. It's traditional to dip apple in honey at the beginning of the meal for a sweet year, and also to eat a new fruit. We don't like honey and we don't like sweet food before dessert, so all the above is covered in our fruit salad.
Vanilla ice-cream because it would be rude not to and we don't want to be rude next year.

First day:
We have a kiddush (brunch) at our synagogue where everyone brings something. I'm taking stuffed vine leaves. The come in a tin but I'm decanting them into a tupperware box. Well everyone else produces amazing dishes so I'm not turning up with a couple of tins am I? Vine leaves in Hebrew are aleh gefen so if I eat four of them I might be all forgiven (aleh 4 gefen).

Second night:
Apple juice spritzers and straws again, for a successful year.

Round gluten-free rolls instead of challah (our guest has to eat gluten-free) for the circle of the year and the cycle of life.
Egg Salad, butter, brie and almonds again for the same reasons as yesterday - cycle of life, be better, healthy and make amends.

Salmon mayonaise for a happy year (sameakh).
Sweet potato puree and peas for no worries. Sweet potato = batata, peas = afuna so together it's afuna batata (akuna matata).
Baked potatoes in their jackets and butter for better manners and punctuality.  This is a reference to the German Jews who always wore jackets (Jacke in German) and were called Yekkes. This came to mean someone who paid special attention to detail, manners, and punctuality.

Fruit salad with maple syrup for the same reasons as yesterday.
Vanilla ice-cream for the same reason as yesterday.

Second Day:
We are invited out for lunch to a traditional family who will, I'm sure, bless wine and dip apple in honey as most people do.

There are so many more foods with symbolic puns but there's only so much we can eat in two meals. As it is the fridge and freezer have been well stocked with the excess. I'm happy to consider any suggestions for next year. Just write them in the comments below.

 Shana Tova Umetuka! 

A sweet and happy year!

Friday, September 30, 2016

Making Rosh Hashana Traditions

Candles are a given
Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new Year, is almost upon us - it's Sunday evening - Tuesday evening (basically two days that start and end at sundown). The first evening of R"H is a big family event. It's roughly equal to the Passover (Pesach) seder in terms of being with family and friends.

Today I wished one of the teachers at DD's school Shana Tova (A Good Year) and, knowing that I'm a single parent, she asked me, "what are you doing for the festival? Are you invited?" And a few years ago my father asked me what I was doing for one of the festivals to which I replied, "I'm celebrating with friends." He came back with, "oh good, your friends are looking after you then?" WTF? I take it I don't need to explain how I feel about these inferences?

A few years ago I was deeply moved by a single mother who wrote about always being invited to other families to celebrate the major Jewish holidays. She was writing about the Pesach seder but her thoughts apply to all the calendar events. Her conclusion was that just because they are a family without a man at its head, this doesn't mean that they're not a real family. And as such, they should have their own traditions. She made the seder at home that year so that her children would have childhood memories of their own family seder rather than remembering that they were always the guests at someone else's table.

I have similar thoughts about Rosh Hashana. Not the whole festival - there are four meals involved in a two-day festival. Personally I prefer to keep the celebrations down to one festive meal per day otherwise it just gets gluttonous.

It's lovely to be invited out and we are going to friends for the final lunch on Tuesday. We also have a brunch in our small synagogue on Monday. But what about the two evenings and especially the Sunday night which, to secular Jews, is the biggy? (To religious Jews they're both biggies). I want to stay at home and establish ourselves as a family with traditions. I want DD to have special memories of Rosh Hashana. I want us to have family traditions.

Part of this urge came from Chris Mosler at Thinly Spread who back in 2011 wrote about their special family Christmas Eve and the snuggle-sack tradition. Yesterday Chris told me that they still do it and her kids still love it. I've never forgotten that post and I've always wanted to do something similar. We don't do Christmas and most of our festivals have plenty of customs already. However, Rosh Hashana is a special time with not much going on other than synagogue and meals. Perfect for making up our own unique R"H style.

There is a tradition of a R"H seder which is a series of foods during the meal that symbolize things to do with the new year. For example, some people have a fish's head on the table for the head of the year. We dip apple in honey for a sweet year (we also drizzle honey on our challah and eat honey cake). We won't be having a fish head and we don't like honey but you get the picture. And we will have some symbollic food - I'll let you know when I've decided what.

I'm collecting my thoughts and ideas. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated in the comments. The theme is obviously the New Year and I'm not against a gift or two. Obviously I'll be back with a full report after the holiday.