The Long & Winding Road

I’m sure you’ve had one of those weeks: busy, stressful, and full of bad news. What’s new, right? It’s times like these that I especially need an escape hatch. Yesterday, the badly needed weeklong rains had cleared and the day was crisp and cool, the air clean and fresh. It started out with a list of errands I had to run, but then I saw them!!!!

The Galilee is filled with olive groves. They are EVERYWHERE!!! In the valleys; up mountain slopes; in parks; on the sides of the highways. They stretch for endless miles as far as the eye can see. Some are centuries old, ancient twisted trunks that stand almost human-like as sentient beings, wizened and twisted from their long lives. They are survivors. Then, there are groves of newly planted baby trees, not yet old enough to be fruitful, not remembering past wars fought in their fields or missiles from the past conflicts.

On this particular excursion, the sun was shining on the still-wet leaves. A prism of rainbow diamonds sparkling by the roadside. Add to that the newly green grass growing from the recent rain, and I just had to pull over. I had to walk through the olive groves, breathing deeply the fresh, clean, mountain air…. and taking lots of photos.

In a bit of a better mood, I stopped by a little store at the side of the road and they had freshly pressed olive oils to sample. Just made the week before (I said fresh!). So many different varieties from strong and acidic to rich, sweet and buttery. I’ve never tasted anything so amazingly wonderful, so I bought a large (gallon?) tin as a splurge… the price was amazingly reasonable too, so….

I decided to take another route home… I had some free time, and it was a road I had never before traveled. A road not taken… a road of adventure! No other cars in sight!!! It was definitely not a main, heavily used route… just a simple single lane that beckoned to me from my right…

The mountains were glorious! I turned up the music of Idan Raichel and rolled down the windows to smell the sages, rosemaries, mint, and wild mountain thyme and oreganos. Stopping the car several times to get out and view those beautiful rolling mountains dotted with villages; to take in the sheer gorgeousness of it all…. and to see if I could spot our house off in the distance (note to self: ALWAYS bring the binoculars!!).

Spectacular! Cloud shadows racing along the rolling hills. The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) way off in the distance to the East. I passed Bedouin shepherds tending their flocks of goats. Cows grazing in pastureland. Beautiful birds I’d never seen. This was what my spirit needed badly!

More olive orchards! More ribbon of single lane country road flossing back and forth between mountains. And then, there it was! Stretched out before me, the azure blue Mediterranean! Yes. That’s it off in the distance! Can you see it? Isn’t it beautiful????

It was just what I needed to clear my head and remind me of the blessing it is to live here. To stop by the side of the road (yet again!!!) sit on a rock and say a prayer of thanks and praise…. and for G-d’s protection upon us and this land.

I did finally make it to my destinations, but with more of a spring in my step – an attitude adjustment. I promised myself to take more time to take more time… and savor the moments. I promised myself to take a small picnic basket, my husband… and the binos…. the next available free day.

Here is another shot I took from the mountain ridge looking down on our lovely city:

Sometimes the road is long and winding. Sometimes we take unknown paths. There are times we unexpectedly have to stop (sheep herder crossing the road) for obstacles in the path. Other times there are detours. But it’s all part of the trip. Our challenge is to get out and make the most of those sudden bursts of beauty. To let the Creator into our souls so that our spirits are transfigured for the next leg of journey.

I’m glad you were able to “come with me” for this one! Hopefully we can hit the road again soon. Until then-

Stone Circles and Asherah Poles

So, I need to make a confession to you. For the past 22 years, I’ve been a huge Outlander (Diana Gabaldon) fan. When we visited Scotland two summers ago, we even traveled to Orkney to see the stone circles there.That said, I had no idea we have them here in Israel!!!!

Every two weeks we travel up to Hazor to take our son to his bus back to base. And for the past couple years we’ve passed this supposedly phenomenal archaeological site off the main road through the Hula Valley. Every time, I tell my husband, “You know, we should check this place out.” or “It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.” or “One day we should stop off at Tel Hazor.”

Last week, it was a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning, and we needed a bit of a break, so- we did it. And were not disappointed. In the least.

In Hebrew, a Tel is a hill, and this tall mesa just north of the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) offered sweeping vistas of the Kinneret, the entire Hula Valley and the rising mountain ridge of the Golan to the east. Easy to see why this was a prime location defensively to build a city.

Hazor has a long history. In the 1750s BCE, it was first settled by (occupying) Egyptians as a vassal state among the Canaanites. It is mentioned several times in the Bible: in Joshua 11:10, Hazor is referred to as ” the head of all the kingdoms.” In the book of Judges, it was the stronghold of King Jabin. The king who sent his army under the command of Sisera to march a day to the South towards Mt Tabor. As the story goes, under Deborah (mother and judge in Israel), the lovely Yael goes into Siseras tent, serves him honeyed milk to lull him to sleep, then drives a tent peg into his temples. Yikes! So much for the invading Canaanite army.

Taken over by the Israelites, the city, built atop the old Canaanite ruins, grew to become the largest fortified city in the land of Israel. Situated between Damascus and Jerusalem, it was right off a main travel route. Hazor was greatly expanded under King Solomon, who added the city gates and place in the 10th century.

You have to really use your imagination at some of these archaeological sites to recreate the actual structures, but the throne room was quite amazing. The walls are made from an earthen straw mixture (aids in dating) and to see the ancient straw pieces still embedded in the bricks is incredible.

And if that’s not enough, there’s an actual footprint left behind in the earthen floor from millennia past!

Under the rule of the Biblical King Ahab (yup, that’s Jezebel’s husband! They lived here!!), an incredibly monstrous water cistern, a temple (pagan?) and citadel were added in the upper city. We hiked to the edge of the cistern. John decided to take the winding (modern/added) stairs down to the bottom of the well and visit the tunnels below while I took photos from above. I have no idea how they accomplished this tremendous feat, but it was a spectacular accomplishment!

That’s a wow!!! Right?? So, the upper city also included a citadel or watch tower, and basic housing.

OK. See the stone standing in the lower right quadrant? Mostly they were made of wood, but this one was stone. In the temple. It’s an Asherah pole. So, these Israelites, especially Ahab and Jezebel, at times worshipped pagan gods. Asherah was a cultic goddess, the partener of Baal. It was a kind of orgiastic fertility cult. To whom sacrifices were offered. Child sacrifices. Pretty creepy.

As if that wasn’t surprising enough, the lower city had the archaeological ruins of a Bronze Age Canaanite civilization. And it was there I discovered the stone circle! Yeah. The one with the pit in front… where bones had been found. So totally creepy! And no, I did not go near this one. Who knew there were stone circles outside of Europe? But supposedly at certain times of the year, astronomical and solar line-ups would occur. Around those stones. And I have no doubt these early superstitious people made sacrifices. And not just animal immolations. Double yikes and totally creepiness felt here…

Besides the palace, temple and city ruins, is a large colunnaded storehouse and great examples of old dwellings. There’s also a small museum with artifacts taken from the site.

In around 732 BCE, Hazor was invaded by the Assyrians. The tribe of Naftali living in the area were taken into captivity along with all the other tribes of Israel living north of Judea and Samaria. It was completely razed and burnt to the ground.

Despite the fact that this year Israel has been having a record-breaking amount of tourists visiting, we had the entire place to ourselves. Not one other person was there, which also added to the ambiance of the place. I’m glad this time we took the opportunity and made the stop.

Garden to Table-Israel Style

Eat only what is in season.” Rambam

Shopping here is always a fun adventure, especially in the local produce markets and spice shops. Everything is written in Hebrew, so I’ve had to learn new words for familiar fruits and vegetables. Plus there’s an endless amount of produce I’ve never seen before. Luckily, there’s always an old woman, Jewish, Arab or Druze, to ask.

“What is this????” New word bonus points for me! “What do I do with it?” And then the magic happens as I get a knowing multiplicity of recipes, many sounding tantalizingly delicious. Food has a way of cutting through boundaries and preconceived prejudices. These women NEVER disappoint, and often an overhearing man or two will chime in with “even better” suggestions. It’s quite the amazing thing.

Everything is offered seasonally. You will never find berries or stone fruit in November, and don’t expect to find pomegranates or persimmons in April, because they are fall fruits. Produce here is all grown locally. What I can’t find, because it’s not grown (yet) in Israel, I try to supplement in my garden- rutabagas, parsnips, mache, golden and choggia beets, broccolini, rainbow colored carrots and chard….

And there are amazing fresh olive bars. Not just black and green olives, but vats and vats of kalamata, blue, brown, red and gray types. They come brined in salt or oil with a myriad of spices or lemon or chilies. Some are stuffed with nuts, dried fruits and peels or garlic cloves. And they are so so so cheap as this is the olive growing capital of the world! Another different thing is the mushroom bar. Because we have so many Russians here, the marinated mushrooms are a specialty.

And the spices!!! There’s nothing like using fresh nutmeg, turmeric, zataar, and the like. I have my own “spice guy” I frequent in Akko. He makes me fresh curries and baharat, a blend of powdered cloves, allspice, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and other ingredients secret to him. Each spice shop owner makes ras al hanoot, a secret spice blend special for that shop owner. Sometimes spicy, salty, nutty or exotic.

So, now I will leave you with a couple of my latest seasonal recipes. They are to die for delish!!! The first was a creation of my friend, Hadassah. She calls it her November Salad, because it has produce available here this month. I eat it at breakfast and lunch. For a light snack or a sweet, healthy dessert. It’s really healthy and colorful, crunchy, fresh and full of antioxidants. It uses a root veggie called kohlrabi, but if you can’t find that, just substitute jicama.

November Salad

  • 2 large, firm persimmons
  • 1 large green kohlrabi
  • 1/2 large or 1 small pomegranate
  • 1 bunch (6-8 large) radishes
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1 handful of mint, finely chopped

The secret here is the cut, to make it beautiful. Chop the persimmons, kohlrabi and radishes into matchstick julienned pieces. Add to this finely chopped mint. Squeeze the lemon juice on top. Add pomegranate arils. Toss and serve cold. It’s that easy and won’t disappoint!

At this time of year in the Hebrew calendar, we read the Biblical portion in Genesis of the story of Jacob and Esau. The part where Esau comes home from a long hunt and is so ravenous that he sells his birthright for a bowl of his brother Jacob’s red lentil stew. (Because this is a typical dish served in Jewish homes during a mourning period, rabbis say it was being made for mourning Abraham’s death). Anyway, that must have been some stew!!! Every year, I make a version of the red stuff, and this year I tried to cobble together one that would be typical to Israel. So- here goes-

  • 1 cup little orange lentils
  • 1 cup little black/brown lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes
  • 6-8 pitted dates
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded & cubed
  • Handful of parsley or cuzbara(cilantro) leaves

The first step is to soak the lentils in a bowl of very hot/boiling water to soften. While the lentils are soaking, chop the onion and garlic. In very large pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Cook on medium heat for 5-7 minutes to soften. Add the spices and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes to release their fragrance. Add the vegetable broth. Drain lentils and add to pot. Let the mixture come to a boil, stirring well. Add the pitted dates. Add the tomatoes, juice and all. Let simmer on low heat for a couple hours. You may want to add water as it cooks down, but should be a thick stew. The longer it cooks, the better the flavor. While the stew is cooking, peel, seed and cube a small butternut squash. Place the cubes on a silpat lined baking sheet. Toss with olive oil, salt & pepper to coat. Roast in 400*F/200*C oven for 12-15 minutes until the pieces are just tender. When ready to serve, spoon the lentil stew into bowls and add a small handful of squash cubes. Top with parsley or cilantro/cuzbara.

This recipe cans/jars or freezes well so you can enjoy it on cold winter days. Serve it over rice. Garnish with crispy fried onions. It’s absolutely worthy of a birthright…almost…

My Old Hometown

IMG_9121

I often have plans to write happy, uplifting, informative posts about my new home, Israel. About the places we visit, the people, the culture, the food. And then something unexpected happens that delays the planned posts. This past week was another of those times.

When we first told family and friends of our decision to uproot our home and our lives in Thousand Oaks, California and move to Israel, many people thought we were absolutely crazy. To give up a life of relative comfort and affluence and start all over in an entirely new country; to have to learn a whole new language and culture – but most importantly, to put ourselves in the line of danger with imminent wars and terror attacks. Add to that, our son would be serving in the IDF, and it was way over the top for some people. You see, Thousand Oaks was a beautiful, upscale, safe little city nestled in the Conejo Valley, surrounded by beautiful mountains and hiking trails. Close to the ocean, Between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. A little piece of heaven. A bubble of tranquility. Ours was a friendly, tightly knit community, with family friendly activities, hundreds of places of worship, great culture and shopping. It was the perfect place to raise a family because it was just so safe. (In many ways it looked a lot like Karmi’el, where we live now… see pictures below-)

IMG_9270

Karmi’el, Israel

IMG_9268

Karmi’el, Israel

IMG_9112

Thousand Oaks, C

IMG_9118

Thousand Oaks, CA

Just last Wednesday night (Thursday morning for us), all that was shattered. My son, home on leave, was Skyping with one of his TO buddies when the news came. His friend was thinking of going down to the Borderline for College Night. The Borderline is only about a mile or so from our old home. It’s one of the only Country Western dance places in the LA area – a place where the locals go, wholesome and all-American, and a favorite spot for the college kids from around the area. As they were talking, the sirens could be heard, and news would soon come of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. In the end 13 people were dead, including a local sheriff, the gunman, and three of my son’s acquaintances. Things like that are not supposed to happen there…

As we were reeling from the devastating news, glued to livestream news on our computer, and even before anyone could catch their breath from the massacre, we started getting news of a rapidly spreading brush fire. By Thursday night, the flames were on the ridge lines of the mountains above Thousand Oaks, Oak Park, and Agoura, our “stomping grounds.” Another fire was barreling down Newbury Park, where our daughter and her young family lives. I tried to stay connected via social media as scores of our friends were being evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night. As the fire, fanned by the intense Santa Anna winds engulfed whole neighborhoods, we were hearing from people who were moved 3-5 times from one evacuation center to another. It was heartbreaking to see the homes go up in the hellish inferno, embers being kicked up by the winds and fanned into neighborhoods blocks away. We knew people in every neighborhood affected.

Our daughter had her bags packed and ready to go (more on that later), and through the night we were mapping out escape routes viable to them. The major freeway had been closed down in both directions; the pathway to the Pacific Ocean and Malibu was blocked because the fires had spread across the 101 freeway. A couple of our neighbors, graciously offered to take them in in the event of evacuation. We were praying and fasting for all those affected, now Westlake Village, Lake Sherwood, Hidden Hills, West Hills, Bell Canyon area, Calabassas,  Malibu, parts of Camarillo and Simi Valley. Our home. Our lives for over 30 years. Our friends. We were praying for the firefighters. One of our friends is a battalion captain; another friend’s son a firefighter for LA. We were seeing images posted on Instagram and Facebook, and the live news coverage from all our local California TV stations. Horrific images.

Our kids are all safe and out of danger now, thank G-d. Most of my friends who had to leave the area I’ve heard from as I write this. We don’t know yet how their homes fared, just that they are safe. Then there are the others (if you are reading this, please just let us know how you’ve fared, if possible): 2 friends in the Bell Canyon/Santa Sue area; 4 friends in Agoura; 2 in Malibu near the high school; 3 friends in Oak Park. You are all being prayed for fervently. Still waiting for news on Westlake Village especially the ridge lines above St. Jude’s and around the lake. Yikes! I can’t even begin to imagine the horror you are living through!!!!

It is so important, no matter where you live, or how safe you think you are, to have a family emergency plan, and your “bug out” bags packed and ready to go. That is the absolute first thing we did when we moved to Israel. I am amazed at how many people don’t have this. It provides a cushion and a little peace of mind knowing you are ready when disaster strikes. I have a backpack ready-to-go for each member of the family. We keep one set in our car trunk and one set in the house. It contains(between the three of us here):

  • copies of important documents/papers

a change of clothes/a pair of heavy shoes and sweatshirt next to the bags

  • medications
  • first aid kit
  • hygiene items (toothbrush, toothpaste, wipes, deodorant, lip balm)in a plastic    baggie
  • flashlight
  • water bottles
  • rain poncho/emergency blanket (very small pouch)
  • snack foods/energy bars/instant foods
  • a bit of extra cash if the ATMs are down
  • a small Bible/prayerbook
  • contact list and phone/laptop chargers

These are just the basic things to grab and go. Learn basic emergency procedures so you can take care of yourself, family, and even be a help to others. One never knows, and it might be a while until help comes. Be prepared. (For those in Israel who read this, both my husband and I were certified in the States and can teach basic classes…)

Hopefully, the worst is behind us. Back home, it will be a long haul, but the rebuilding of homes and lives will come. I leave you with some photos of our beautiful hometown….

May G-d send comfort, bless and protect us all-

Living Bridges

As our peaceful Shabbat ended last weekend, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh was enduring hell on earth. A deranged gunman was bent on murdering as many Jews as he could at the Etz Chaim Synagogue. It’s unfortunately an age old history that my people share.

Yesterday evening my husband and I attended a memorial service for the victims here in Karmi’el. For over 20 years Pittsburgh has been a sister city to our community and the surrounding Misgav Regional Council under the Partners 2Gether program. In addition to the hundreds of local population, we were privileged to have in attendance, over 30 members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim Synagogues from Pittsburgh. Theirs was a pre-planned visit, the beginning of a weeklong tour of Israel. We were able to mourn and pray together side by side. Several of our own Olim were originally from Pittsburgh, making it all the more poignant.

The communities of Misgav and Karmi’el have connected through a close partnership and deep bonds have been forged over decades with the Jewish people of Pittsburgh. It is now a family relationship. Through the years, Pittsburgh has helped our Northern Israel communities, with donations to our local synagogues and in times of our crisis- when we were under a barrage of missiles launched from Lebanon in 2006- they provided much needed prayers and support.

Rabbi Amy Levin of Misgav who served as interim rabbi in Pittsburgh before moving back to her home in Israel in 2016, led the Kaddish. The El Malei Rachamim (G-d of Mercy) prayer was recited by Rabbi Gil Nativ, rabbi emeritus of the Kehillat HaKerem Conservative Synagogue in Karmi’el. Our mayor, Adi Eldar gave a moving speech emphasizing the need for Jewish unity. As his last act as sitting mayor, commissioned a memorial statue to be erected in Karmi’el.

As the eleven memorial candles were lit by members of Beth Shalom and Etz Chaim, a choir softly sang. Everyone was thinking of friends and family, sharing pictures. The couple sitting next to us showed us pictures of Daniel Stein (of blessed memory) dancing at their daughter’s wedding just three months prior. “Squirrel Hill was such a safe neighborhood. Everyone knew their neighbor. We left our doors unlocked. We walked the streets at night without fear. Anyone was welcome in our shul….”

We had a live stream video link with two members of the Etz Chaim community thanking us for their support. Rabbi Seth Adelson was officiating funerals, but is expected to join the Pennsylvania group later today in Israel. A video montage put together by our community – schoolchildren, soldiers, workers, family, government officials- was played for us. It will be taken back to Pittsburgh.

After the service, the busload of our “extended family” was taken to Kehillat HaKerem/Spitzer Center where the Conservative Congregation hosted a dinner in their honor. It was bittersweet as president of the Beth Shalom Congregation, Deborah Firestone, recounted the day’s events- “We were in shul saying our morning prayers when we heard the sirens. Our security officer, a retired FBI agent called for us to go into lockdown. Etz Chaim down the street was under attack. We usually don’t use our phones on Shabbat, but all at once everyones’ phones started buzzing, and we knew immediately something aweful was happening. We stationed guards at all our doors (they are glass) and tried to pray. Three separate congregations were housed at Tree of Life on separate floors. By 11:30, we received the all clear.”

Both Don Jacobson and Julie Landau of Kehillat HaKerem gave updates of all events at the Conservative Synagogue and a pledge of continued mutual support. “We reach out to you. If there is anything we can do- help you enhance your security, fight anti-Semitism, anything at all… let’s start a conversation of what we can further do together.”

Emails or notes of sympathy, support or encouragement can be sent directly to jewishpgh.org

In Our Own Neighborhood

The Galilee region in the North of Israel is a land of rolling mountains, olive tree filled valleys, deep wadis cleaving the mountain ridges, and hundreds of small villages scattered throughout. Since I’ve lived here, the government has been widening roads and putting in highways at a dizzying pace. Still, much of this ancient land is pristine, with a rugged wild beauty. Much of it still remote and hard to reach.

Perched atop each mountain is a small village. Most of them are tiny Jewish yishuvim, gate guarded communities of anywhere from 40 to 150 homes. In some , the buyer must apply for residence to keep the neighborhood homogeneous- some are more Orthodox in their keeping of the commandments; others agrarian, each household farming a small plot of land; Amirim is a vegetarian community with a lovely guesthouse overlooking Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee); Har Halutz and Hannaton were founded in the 1970s by mostly American Jews from the Conservative movement. They are not kibbutzim, or communal living settlements. Each homeowner remains private and independent.

Each yishuv has its own synagogue, community center, kindergarten, parks, a medical clinic, and makolet (a small, independently owned neighborhood convenience store selling basic groceries, hardware, household items) with a do’ar, a post office. The community is tightly knit. There are lots of shared activities… films, lectures, concerts and clubs for the children, as they are usually very family friendly. My husband is a sports coach, traveling between several of the surrounding villages to teach baseball and hockey.

At the base of the mountains and scattered throughout the valleys are larger Arab towns- some Christian, some Druze, some Bedouin, most Muslim. There towns are much more densely packed, with fewer green spaces, no set zoning laws, and no parks for their children to play… their choice… and they freely come to our city to use the parks, recreation facilities and malls. So far, we live peaceably side by side.

It’s really quite interesting – and for me, somewhat perturbing – that even though I can see many of these villages from my mirpesset (patio), and many of these places are within a mile or two as the crow flies, it takes forever to reach them. There are no direct roads leading from one village to the other. In order to get there, one must travel down through valleys and up winding mountain roads. Bus lines service each community, but still, they seem quite remote.

I’ve been here three years now, and finally, in the past few weeks, visited two of them, Rakefet and Yodfat, both visible from my house. Was I in for a treat! At Rakefet, I found a huge garden center/nursery, much like Armstrong’s back in California! We had been looking for a garden center since we got here, usually going to the neighboring Arab village of Madj al Krum or Deir al Assad to the tiny plant stores there. This one had everything we need from compost and organic soil to fertilizer, seeds, tools and the like. We were in gardening paradise !

Just down the road from Rakefet is the tiny little village of Yodfat. Yodfat is a moshav, a community a bit larger and more independent that a yishuv. Another surprise!!! Ancient history, a unique zoo, a goat farm, and modern boutique shopping experience all created the makings of a perfect day in the Galil! Yodfat, population 824, is built on the hill adjacent to ancient archaeological ruins. During the Roman occupation of Israel in the first century, a young general of the Israeli resistance fought off the Roman forces. After an unsuccessful routing in 68 AD, Mattityahu Josephus Flavius was captured after hiding out in the caves of Yodfat. He surrendered to them, proving useful to the Romans as historian (he was schooled in Classical Latin), and made governor of the Galil at Magdala. Some Israelis think of him as the Hebrew version of Benedict Arnold. You can walk around the remnants of the settlement and visit the cave still there today.

Yodfat is also home to the Monkey Forest, a popular spot for families and rather unique zoo. There are hundreds of monkeys of different varieties in huge enclosed natural spaces you can walk-through. Stroll beneath the canopy of trees and feed the cute animals who are not at all shy about eating from your hand. They had no qualms at all about hopping up on the shoulders of our madrichah.

From there, travel a few yards to Goats With the Wind, an organic, family run farm and dairy. The cattle and goats roam the mountainside grazing happily. There is a film and tour of the cheese production area as well as a restaurant where all sorts of freshly made dairy delights are served. You eat Bedouin style on large pillows set out on the terraces overlooking the valley and sip local wines. But their main shop is now in the village center itself.

Yodfat is now one of my favorite places for shopping. Small, but beautiful boutique stores,delis and cafes fill the square at the top of the mountain (visible from my bedroom patio!).

There is a lovely shop, Saffloul, that sells handcrafted gifts from nature.

Jemma is a home decor shop with beautiful hand printed rugs, pillows, duvets and a lovely array of ceramics, enamelware, and decorative items at reasonable prices.

In addition, there was a second hand store; an Italian style deli; a hand knitwear shop specializing in funky socks; and most wonderful general store that sells art supplies, and children’s books and educational (Waldorf) toys!!! I was in heaven! The school at Yodfat is a Waldorf school, I later found out. In addition, there is a bulb outlet in the center…. another hidden gem. Yodfat also seems to be the flower bulb capital of Israel. They produce many unique hybrids of flowering plants, which are shipped worldwide.

We bought several varieties of goat and sheep cheese from the Goats With the Wind Store. And then satisfied our ravenous appetite with delicious savory buckwheat crepes filled with wild onions, greens, mushrooms and local cheeses. Local wines were served, and the view of the surrounding countryside back to the city of Karmiel and in the other direction towards Nazareth was spectacular.

We really can’t figure out what took us so long in exploring our own neck of the woods. Surely, we shall have to go out on more tiyuulim more frequently – and you get to come with us, albeit vicariously-

Frailty

Frailty

My husband and son got up super early this morning to start the building of our sukkah before Max went back to base. Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Our next holiday is Sukkot, which begins at sundown on Sunday evening.

Sukkot is the feast of booths or tabernacles. Jews all over the world erect these temporary dwellings where for the next week, we spend much of our time, eating all our meals in this rather fragile structure. Some people sleep in their sukkah. Since moving to Israel, ours is about a third the size, only big enough for a large table. Still-

Dwelling in these tent-like booths, not only are we reminded of the nomadic wanderings of our forefathers in the desert, returning from a 400 year slavery in Egypt before they could return home to Israel, but we are reminded of the temporary nature and frailty of our own lives. When I lived on the East Coast of the US, Sukkot always fell at the peak of hurricane season. In California, Sukkot was usually marked by the beginning of the strong Santa Anna winds blowing in from the desert and the beginning of brushfire season with its choking fumes, ash and uncertainty. Many a year we would awaken to a downed tent, parts strewn over the backyard.

This year is especially difficult. A year in which the fragility of our lives here on earth is fully present. Two days before Yom Kippur we lost a dear friend and defender of Israel. Ari Fuld was a giant of a man. Immigrating to Israel from the US over 20 years ago, he proudly served in the IDF and remained a Commander in the Reserves. A proud American and a proud Israeli, Ari was running an errand to the grocery store for his wife, when a 17 year old terrorist stabbed him in the back. Being the selfless lion (Ari in Hebrew means lion) and defender of the people he so dearly loved, Ari ran after the terrorist, jumping over a wall, managing to fire off his gun to neutralize the punk before collapsing. The terrorist was already running after a young shopkeeper trying to stab her. Ari lived life to his last breath a hero.

Ari Fuld loved people. He loved the Lone Soldiers and was always making sure they were cared for and had all the material and spiritual support they needed. If I ever had a question about the army, I could ask Ari, as did many of the Anglo parents. He and his family would host big American style barbecues for the soldiers. Good memories.

A lover of the land, he delighted in taking people on tours, especially of Yerushalayim. He had so many insights and interesting stories. Each week, Ari would post a drash (homily/explanation) of the week’s Torah reading. It was almost prophetic that last week’s video clip was on the death of Moses. The unceremonious passing of the torch to Joshua. I went back to watch it again just a few minutes ago. I was crying as in the middle of his last post, he takes the time to bless his daughter as she leaves the house for Shabbat.

Ari was a faithful husband and father of four beautiful children. Thousands of people from all over the country showed up at midnight, the day before Erev Yom Kippur, to attend his funeral. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.

Ari Fuld will be greatly missed. His passing is a testimony to the temporary nature of our existence. Our sukkot, like our bodies, no matter how strongly erected, how beautifully decorated are not here forever. Our spirits live on, and I just hope I can be a tiny bit as effective as Ari was in spreading the love and truth of this amazing country.

I leave you with lyrics from my favorite song for Sukkot, “Frailty”…. written by my dear friend in Los Angeles, Britta Kaye.

As I leave this wind blown room, I remember. That I do not leave it, Rather this is who I am. The room I build each year is merely an image. Of my perpetual existence In the state of Frailty.

As I leave this wind blown room, I remember. That You do not leave me, rather this is where You met me. I forget so easily, I was crafted in Your image. And to remind me, You joined me in the grip of Frailty.

As I leave this wind blown room, I remember. The shock of your arrival, the mystery of your life and flesh. In this flimsy box, you installed a treasure. And you lifted your face to me through the gift of Frailty.

Dedicated to Ari Fuld & Britta’s father, who also passed last week. May their memories forever be a blessing. G-d is a truthful and merciful judge….