Category Archives: holidays

The Year in Statistics

Fun and interesting facts: Yediot Achronot ran a multi-page spread right before Rosh Hashana about where we are as a nation, some demographic data, and some curious trivia, all wrapped around a lovely photo of what is dubbed our most international battalion, part of the Paratrooper corps. These guys range from Sabras (born in Israel) to guys who have only been here a year.  Countries of origin include Guatemala, Ethiopia, France, United States, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Romania, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Scotland.  Each is saying Happy Rosh Hashana in his language. Here’s a part of the picture:

Some interesting demographic data:

  • Our entire nation consists of 7,645,500 people (up 1.8% from last year).
  • 4.1 million (71.7%) are Sabra’im (born in Israel).
  • 5.77 million Jews, 1.56 million Moslem Arabs, and about 315K other (Christians, Druzim, etc.).
  • Life expectancy is 79.7 (men) and 83.5 (women).  (Compare that to 75.7 and 80.7, respectively, from the US.)
  • The most densely populated place in the country is Bnei Brak, with 21,031 people per square kilometer. (Compare that to 4,200 for Gaza!)
  • Here’s my favorite one of all: in the past year, 2.5 million Israelis made international flights.  Granted, many of these are repeat travelers, but stack that up against the US, with a population of 310 million and only 68 million passports issued!  Yes, that is right; only 22% of Americans have passports.  Shocking.

A quiet Yom Kippur: Apart from the usual hot spell that seems to always arrive in time to make the fast more difficult, it was a quiet day.  Terri refused to repent for her many sins, which include lunging, chasing cats, eating garbage, rolling in stinky things, eating cow poo, carrying mouthfuls of kibble onto the bed to eat, horking up on the sofa, and shedding.  Of course, I can’t question the wisdom of Wendy Francisco. May we all have a year with more wagging and less barking.

Organigan to the Rescue!

Thank you, Galil Tzmachim! Kudos to the incredibly patient and knowledgable gardener at Galil Tzmachim (the nursery at Misgav). She recommended a natural material made by Organigan (an Israeli company) that should work on my whitefly infestation. (BTW, turns out that whitefly in Hebrew is ash hatabak.) Ironically, this woman looks a lot like my Seattle friend Megan who is also a whiz with all things green.

Naughty dog alert:  I ran into a friend on our morning walk. She was with one of her grandkids, a little toddler clutching a large pastry. Suddenly, I saw that Terri was chewing and gulping, and that the kid was sans sticky bun. She (the toddler) looked a bit confused, and Terri looked a bit guilty. But only a bit. Problem with most dogs is that they bolt their food, which is one of the reasons that they can get poisoned. They gulp something down before they realize what it is. Dogs also have a very poor sense of taste. Despite their incredibly powerful sense of smell, dogs have very few taste buds compared to humans, which is yet another reason why they can gulp down the most disgusting things.

A global class: My latest class for STC has 32 students spanning 7 countries and 13 time zones. Tres cool. While waiting for class to start, I played some Israeli music for them, and then a classic Turkish song. (The guy in Turkey was very impressed.)  We’ve five students from India, so I’ve promised to play Indian music next week (and yes, I have some). It is probably a major culture shock for some of the more insular American students.

Belated Happy Tu b’Av! It has turned into Israel’s version of Valentine’s Day (the secular name for the holiday is yom ahava, or Love Day). Shmaltzy love songs on the radio, specials on chocolates, adds for flowers, romantic get-aways, etc.  Since our holidays are tied to the lunar calendar, Tu b’Av syncs with a full moon, and last night it was an absolutely magnificent moonrise. Terri and I celebrated with a long walk and extra parmesan on our pasty.

Cowgirl, yes. Texan, no.

Turning the clock back on human development: Leave it to Texas to boldly take a giant step backward and condemns their students to more ignorance and idiocy.  Nice to see an outside take on the issue.  Times like this have me despairin’ for the world. Makes me miss the late-great Molly Ivans, one righteous cowgirl who was not afraid to stand tall against small-minded bigotry, ignorance, and mean-spirited redneck ideology. 

There is simply no way that I can reconcile Texan hospitality and the cowgirl mystique with this idiocy, so just color me confused (but note the boots).

Missing Denise: My sister’s yartzeit was Friday. Hard to believe that it has been a year. (Actually, it will be a year by the Gregorian calendar in another week.)  Each holiday or event without her marks another milestone, so it was with some contemplative sadness that I found myself baking a cheesecake for Shavu’ot.

Terri is less hairy: Girl got a haircut this morning. She was well overdue. Now that the hotter weather is here, the brush is dry and loaded with burrs, so each walk ends with me picking oodles of the little buggers out of her fur. I’m lucky to have such a good girl; she sat patiently while the clippers whirred and buzzed around her.

First semi-final is tomorrow! That’s right, the insanity of Eurovision is upon us!  Don’t have your parties lined up? This is your chance. The first semi-final is Tuesday, the second is Thursday (that’s the one Israel is in), and the finals are Saturday. Yeah! If you haven’t reviewed this year’s entries, you still have time.

It’s Been a Long Time!

Yikes!  Haven’t posted in ages. Looks like I’ve got some catching up to do.

Seattle highlights: I’ve been back for a few weeks but it seems like just a week. Great trip. A few key moments:

  • WritersUA conference: sessions went well, did some good networking, and had the final word as part of the panel of “experts” closing out the conference.
  • Linking up with Ben and Stuart, two guys from my high school class. Hadn’t seen them for 32 years.
  • Dinner with a friend followed by a terrific performance at Pacific Northwest Ballet: the meal was as visually interesting as it was tasty, and the performances were ranged from strangely modern to neo-classical. 
  • Alki Beach on a sunny, warm Saturday: great walk with my dad (see pictures of that amazing stainless steel Shelby in previous post).
  • Spa Day with my mom: Olympus Spa is amazing. A far cry from the chlorine-smelling, cellphone-ringing places I’ve seen…
  • Iron Goat Trail: great hike with my dad. The old railroad line is a fairly easy grade (after the initial steep elevation switchbacks) and we lucked out with the weather. The old tunnels are worth seeing and parts of the old snow sheds are still visible.
  • A surprise wine tasting: stumbled across a free wine tasting at a very chi-chi gourmet food place in Ballard. Interesting, but my palate prefers a more mundane, drinkable wine. These were very challenging vinos, to be sure!
  • Dinner with cousins: a charming little bistro with interesting appetizers.
  • Pesach with my folks: the whole megillah, from cleaning, shopping, shlepping, chopping, cooking, prepping, etc. Low-keyed but good.
  • Bargain hunting: prices on clothes and shoes in the States are a fraction of what I would pay at home. Replaced my rain shell but still haven’t figured out the mystery of the “quick pack hood” feature. Color me perplexed.
  • Meeting a lovely Turkish woman while waiting at Schiphol: it is funny how you can connect with people in unexpected places.
  • Seeing my nephew and brother-in-law: Bellingham day trip. Nice to see that my brother-in-law is doing OK.
  • More stuff that I can’t think of at the moment!  Will try to post pictures later.

World’s worst dog: Terri moved into a new class of naughtiness the other night. I was entertaining and had put the cheeses out to soften. We were on the balcony enjoying a glass of wine and watching the sunset. Came back in to discover Terri standing on a chair and gobbling cheese. She had licked up most of the camembert, which was quite ripe and therefore rather runny, and had moved on to a garlic and dill boursin. I was mortified, but my guest thought it was hysterically funny. 

I’ve got a goat!  After ogling this lovely hung of rock for about a year, I finally conned a neighbor into helping me heft it onto a hand cart and shlep it upstairs. It looks like a modern sculpture of a goat (at least to me). I’ll try to get pictures later…

This is just like the service I got on KLM: This skit from the old Carol Burnett Show may be 35 years old, but it reminds me of some of the flight crew on KLM and Air France.  Flying on a budget can be hell.

National holiday marathon: Last Monday was Yom haShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day); tonight starts Yom haZikaron (Memorial Day), followed immediately by Yom haAtza’ut (Independence Day).  It is an odd time of somber reflection and great sadness, but also of great pride. I’ve got flags flying from my balcony and will inevitably get all choked up tonight at the city’s memorial ceremony. So many strange misconceptions about my little country; I was thinking that the other day when talking to a teenage Bedouin boy who sporting braces and unaccented Hebrew. Still odder, he cuddled Terri (the overwhelming majority of Arab kids are afraid of dogs). That same day, I saw a car turn in to one of the big Bedouin houses, flags proudly whipping in the wind. Cool.

Wildlife: Haven’t seen the jackals recently, but Terri and I had a near run-in with a big snake the other night. We were jogging through a stretch of road that is pitch dark, when this big snake zipped right across in front of us. I almost stepped on it. There are apparently 41 species of snakes here, but only a handful of them are poisonous. This looked like one of those deadly vipers or even a black adder. Probably a less scary whip snake. Big (about 5 cm thick, 150 – 200 cm long), and moving very fast like a sidewinder.  I’m not afraid of snakes, but I still let out a yelp of surprise. Springtime is when many people get bit, because the snakes are waking up from hybernation and they are hungry and cranky.

Surviving the Chaggim

Not as easy as you may think: With the end of Simchat Torah, we are officially through the marathon holiday slog that started with Rosh Hashana.  I don’t know if they’re putting something in the water, but this was a very violent Sukkot.  in addition to the usual road accidents, there was a lot of violence in Jerusalem with lots of injuries.  Shootings, knifings, rock-throwing, you name it.  And not all of it was what you would expect (Palestinians vs. Israeli).  There was plenty of violence on the home front, with a kid stabbing his little sister, and adult son stabbing his mother and brother, fights and shootings at night clubs… It seemed that every time I turned on the radio, there was something else.

Karmiel is quiet and peaceful, though Terri seemed to pick up on this wave of violence and go nuts on our walks, chasing birds, cats, hyrax, her ball, other dogs… She ate goat poo, rolled in something stinky, and argued with Snoopy (a usually mild-mannered dalmation).  She always managed to calm down with small children, however, becoming instantly calm and passive and allowing herself to be mauled by those grubby little hands.

The sukkah roof collapsed after the first rain, but at least I had managed to have one dinner out there. 

Onward, courses!  Today I started two new course (yes, on the same day!).  The morning saw me trudging out at 6:00, bleary-eyed and cranky, to get to Rambam for a new course in medical writing.  Highlight of the session: a cardiologist who wrote that a procedure was to be performed “once anally.”  For the heart?  Yes, says he, once a year.  Ah.  Anually.  Mystery solved to great rejoicing.  The second course today was the first session of an online certificate course that I’m teaching for STC.  A few technical snags, but otherwise OK.  I usually greatly prefer frontal teaching where I can see and interact with participants, but there are a few advantages to online courses, such as being able to wear PJs.

Ritual vs. Content

Another year, another Kol Nidre: Each year our hazan seems to get slightly more pompous and ornate (and slow) as he chants the Kol Nidre on erev Yom Kippur.  This year he really made a meal of it: I timed him at 12.5 minutes to get through the three repetitions.  Considering that this is one modest paragraph of Hebrew, and that everyone is standing, and that the beit knesset is jam packed, hot, stuffy, and uncomfortable, this seems excessive.

As with many congregations, we get a huge turnout on erev Yom Kippur.  All the once-a-year Jews, many of whom have little or no Jewish education or knowledge, feel obliged to show up for the ultra-serious kick-off to the Day of Atonement. They associate this particular service with the chanting of the Kol Nidre, which is basically the prayer equivalent of legal boilerplate at the front of a software manual.  Do they have any comprehension of what is being chanted?  The mournful tune and the solemn proceedings seem to be all they need.

As someone who pays attention to words and their meanings, I’m always irked by the excessive emphasis placed on the chanting of the Kol Nidre.  It would be like having some grand diva sing a page from the phone book—beautiful to listen to, but devoid of spiritual content.  Ironically, there are many deeply meaningful passages in the prayers themselves (that is, all the “real” stuff that follows the Kol Nidre), but that is mostly lost on our annual drop-ins.

The other classic erev Yom Kippur phenomenon is that rabbis try to write the ultimate sermon to touch all these people who don’t participate for the rest of the year.  (I’m happy to say that our rabbi is a fabulous speaker and manages to hit a home run every time.)

Despite that, there is a sweetness to the Israeli practice of observing Yom Kippur.  Even the most secular honor the holiday by refraining from driving, turning city streets into playgrounds for kids on bikes, skates, and skateboards.  Everyone is out strolling, stopping and chatting with friends and aquaintances.  Many of them wear the traditional white.

Last night, after the fast was broken, I hear hammering up and down the street, as people start to put up their sukkot in preparation for erev Sukkot (this Friday).  Since I have one of those nifty pre-fab sukkot, and since I have no yard, I’ll assemble it in a friend’s yard over the next few days. Sukkot is a really fun holiday and always feels like such a relief after the heavy seriousness of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Check your clocks: We’ve already turned back our clocks.  Israel is always ahead of everyone else, so twice a year we are out of sync with the world when it comes to going on and off Daylight Savings Time.  This always leads to muddles; I’ve missed out on international conference calls because of this!

Shana Tova!

Best wishes to all for a healthy, happy, successful, and peaceful new year (with some good friends, lovely food, decent wine, exciting travel, and a sweet doggie or two thrown in for good measure).