of sneezings and linkings

Obviously in order to write something I have to get really sick and crabby, spend three days soldiering on at my (currently worrisome) job, and finally give in to a morningful of bad dreams and a sinusful of junk--and stay home a bit. Here I am in Nachshon's apartment, considerably warmer than my house, downing tea and being tearfully irritable and making plans and sending emails.

I miss you, neglected blog.

Am working on an email and post about holiday giving. I decided that this year I am finally going down to extremely minimal gifts (books, homemade treats) and donating a big chunk of money to charity. Most of my thoughts on the subject will be in the email/post, but as I'm currently getting job-qualms I'm reminding myself that my commitment is to send off some generous checks even if it means that I need to take another part-time gig. It will be worth it.

The current job is at R.E.Load Bags, a small company making custom courier bags. We make backpacks and stuff too, but the real highlight is the fancy applique and embroidery we do--seriously gorgeous custom work. "Applique" and "embroidery" sound like dainty fireside amusements, but we do hardcore elaborate machine work, which involves manipulating the fabric, the stitch width, and the presser foot, all on a big heavy industrial machine. This is on heavy-duty Cordura fabric. I'm impressed on a daily basis. Check out the galleries of bags for sale and previous designs.

The problem is not anything about the work itself but just that we don't have enough of it. Too many cutter-hours scheduled. It takes a lot more time to sew a bag than to cut it out, even with all the doohickeys that our bags come with, so with two cutters and five stitchers we get hopelessly ahead. We finish the day's orders in the morning and then cast about sadly for things to measure and slice. I'm afraid that the bossman (a decent guy) is going to trim back our hours, and as the full-time person, mine might be the first to hit the cutting room floor. (Sorry.)

This job was supposed to be my solid seitan-and-potatoes until I find something Real. It is fine at four days a week but at three money gets tighter than ...something tight.

Ah well. Back to trawling for Real Job and writing up my little charity pledge'n'plea. Some places to look for fun web-based givin':

Click on a candle with a match, your cursor, to light it. Bristol Myers Squibb will donate a dollar to the National AIDS fund.

Pick a postcard and a message (or write your own) and Xerox will print and send it to a serviceperson in Iraq. The art is great stuff drawn by kids, full of flags and eagles and bombers and hearts and "thanks"es.

The old standby, sponsoring the Breast Cancer, Literacy, Child Health, Animal Rescue, Rainforest, Hunger, and other click-free-to-donate sites. Pros: you can do it every day. Cons: having to look at tons of ads.



now the Feds will never hire me:
(starring Ross.)


community blitz

critical mass, 6.00: hundreds of bikers in costumes take over the streets
kol tzedek potluck, 7.00: thirty liberal Jews talk about urban education
leigh's singalong, 9.00: rise up singing is plundered

p'nai or services, 10.30: the usual, with amazing croissant-bread pudding
walk in the woods with michael, 2.00: talk about baking, family, love, drugs
tova and brian arrive, 2.53: hooray!
neighborhood jaunts, 3-6: saad's, dollarstore, real estate, co-op...
dumpster derby, 7.00 sharp!: trash vehicles careen illegally down pine street
curio theater catch-22, 8.00: heller's play, at calvary church
4834 walton's party, 9.00: "the night the DJ saved your life" (?)
haunted house acid masquerade, all night: monthly techno party with vegan cupcakes

brunch, brunchtime: brunch
walkin' around, visitin'
MoveOn calling party, 6.00: dessert potluck and harassing voters
see my honey


...this business is ridiculous.


now, someone bring me a beer

After a lovely ploughperson-themed lunch with Ross, I spent the afternoon hustling around the unseasonably and misleadingly warm canyons of downtown. It was cold when I got dressed, in a sort of classy apres-ski schoolmarm getup (plaid wool skirt, open-work sweater, knee-high biker boots) that I thought would suit well in all the major settings of the day's planned activities. Namely:

1. interview to be a cutter for custom messenger-bag company
2. submit applications for several waitressing gigs
3. "pick up supplies" from the pink-scrubs-clad gang at Planned Parenthood
4. withdraw all monies and close out my bank account at the Inaccessible Unhelpful Bank (TM)
5. buy new underwear at the excellent cheapo shops on Chestnut

I missed out on #4, because IUB closes at 4pm. You see what I mean about inaccessible? In any case, the outfit may have been part of the problem, because the combo of sweater and boots made me so overheated that I just couldn't muster the hustle. Banking notwithstanding, the day was by recent measure ridiculously productive.

The messenger-bag company peeps were, as imagined, way cooler than me but offering a job I could do in my sleep. Also interviewed (instant application gratification) at City Tavern, which despite its blandly historico-folksy name is actually in a Parks Service historical building, and features colonial-style fine dining, complete with knee-breech'd and mob-capp'd waitrons. Be still my beating heart! As a child I yearned to live in "olden days," which pragmatically translated into the wish to become Amish or (when told that that's pretty hard) maybe Hasidic. With the wisdom of age I see that perhaps City Tavern is route to wise moneymaking nostalgia.

So right, not only did I to-and-fro and interview like mad; I purchased and installed a washing machine. The old one up and choked about three months back, forcing a lot of Hazel-to-Baltimore laundromat porterage. Craigslist orchestrated a beautiful match for me, wedding our washables' future to the past of a $100 almost-new Whirlpool from nearby 47th and Kingsessing. ND and I took Mazal (the truck) over there and picked up the pretty li'l thing. Handing the nice lady a crisp fan of five twenties felt so proper, so neighborly, so industrious and connected. Good deeds done all around.

Later at home, ND went to bed and Jen Becky Leslie and myself went to work exhuming the old monster (o, the indescribable scum beneath!) and wresting it to the curb. We used tools. We clamped hoses. We padded the old washer's feet and slid it screeching to the porch. Then, with mounting delight, we whisked the shiny new much-lighter Whirlpool into the vacant kitchenslot and screwed everything back together. Plugged it in, threw the dirty dishtowels in with some bleach, and checked the hoses for leaks. Praise be! It works.

Maybe it's that I just got done reading Nicholson Baker's Mezzanine, which basically consists of lovingly rendered pickings-apart of minor daily sense experiences (tying shoelaces), which gave me such a fine sense of the many sensual and design qualities of the washers, and of the amazing human capacity for technological finesse. I appreciate not only the industrial designers' skills, but also, our nonskilled yet satisfyingly sufficient jiggling, shoving, wrenching, and heaving. What pleasure in making things fit together and work!

Alternately, or perhaps in combination, there is a truly empowering feeling (for me) as a woman to deal with big machines, set them up, make them go. We Could Do It!, you know? Just as we were riding down off the first ego-rush of hearing of UltraWash "intermittent agitation" action, and smelling its hot chloriney streak in the air, our boy-roommate Kevin came home. We told him to buy us a sixpack, and enjoyed the sudsy swishy satisfaction of quadruple-team girl-on-machine triumph.

More interviews tomorrow. Later, volunteer election phonebanking with MoveOn. I keep saying that maybe I'll go canvass for three weeks, not take some random job at a Time Like This. I keep saying I'm going to call one of the many organizations leaving daily pleading-yet-energizing ads on all the job boards. Why haven't I? Well, I'm trying to get a Real Job. Bears more consideration, wot wot.

For now I'm going to bask in the scent of Ecover detergent, and hang some towels to dry.


industrial abrasives

After several weeks of alternately manic and tragic coverletter-writing and resume-tweaking, the only response I've gotten is for an Accounts Payable (admin) gig with a small company (family owned! third generation!) that sells industrial abrasives to the industry.

Aside from the problem that I'm not entirely sure who "the industry" is, I find this particular kidney-punch from the universe uniquely poetic. Even with 2 1/2 years of post-Swarthmore friendlification and de-grumpifying, I'm sadly still deserving of the old family nickname "Rebuke-ula." The rather blunt and rather unkind aspects of the personality run rampant at moments like this: how can I have received no calls, no response, to my carefully crafted self-promotional excreta? Are employers so rude that they can't just click "Reply" and say thanks but no thanks?

Cooler heads remind me that it's only been a couple of weeks, and the decently responsible hiring manager waits to amass a generously-scaled batch of resumes before ladling out shortstack-sized portions of candidates onto the sizzling follow-up/interview griddle.

If my coverletters are as belabored as that atrocious paragraph, it's no effing wonder. Industrial abrasives: I was born for it.



Since the "cultural experience" of the mikveh, it's been a series of similarly unfathomable antics. No time to properly write at the moment: we're back in Jerusalem after a week of constant dashing-around, doing wedding prep, family management, political action, and friend-visits.

A brief schedule:

shopped for chuppah decorations etc., ate amazing hummus in the Old City, attended a war-victims (both sides!) benefit rock concert, drove at midnight through the lovely West Bank (and flew through all checkpoints due to, I think, having a beard and kippah in the car), got locked out of the moshav (Aviezer, like a kibbutz) that we were supposed to stay at, got let in by security patrol at the moment we were about to turn around and drive 40 mins back to Jerusalem...

slept in, drove to Tel Aviv, frolicked with the gorgeous tan people on the beach, visited a friend, went to see "The Slave" at the Gesher Theatre--a play based on an I. B. Singer novel about an enslaved Jew who converts a Polish woman, performed with great style and physicality by a company made up of Russian immigrants, drove to Haifa...

fussed with camping gear in Haifa, drove to Tuba-Zangariyya (a Bedouin town in the upper Galilee) to meet a group of traveling peace activists, found them not-there, drove into the Golan Heights to marvel at ex-Syrian bunkers and to go swim in a beautiful freezing waterfall/pool, back to Tuba-Zangariyya for an evening of 'listening circles' and huge gaggles of adorable munchkins (as our pal Eliyahu calls kids), over to Rosh Pina to stay with our friend Ohad, the far-out "sacred sexuality" rabbi/teacher/artist...

beautiful breakfast in a breezy courtyard at Rosh Pina's cafe (with fascinating conversation by Ohad), dusty-brambly trek to Syrian-built swimming pool (fed by natural spring) in the Golan, visit to Tzfat for tastes of that city's intense Hassidic mysticism and of course dinner (from the same restaurant which provided me with amazing soup in January)--heard snatches of conversation all about the war aftermath, back to Rosh Pina to argue vehemently with Ohad about gender...

woke up at 6am to travel to Neve Ur (N's sister Irit's kibbutz in southern Galilee), grabbed her three sons (Yarden, 11, Snir, 9, Lotem, 6) and drove to the north end of the Dead Sea via the mostly-empty Jordan Valley and Jericho, swam/basked/coated ourselves in mud (just wait for the photo!), showered and ice-creamed, climbed up the desert mountainsides to Jerusalem, ate lunch with Sarit and Tomer, showered, set the kids to video mode, napped, Kabbalat Shabbated a little, had dinner, crashed out!...

giant family party for the Shabbat before the wedding!

...more soon, but I've got to go shower as we have a meeting in Jerusalem in half an hour!


the naked truth about Orthodox men
by ND, as told to Rebecca, who types fast

It was Friday afternoon. We were getting ready for Shabbat, and our host Eliyahu turned to me and said, “do you want to go to the mikveh?” (ritual bath) There’s a common custom for Jewish men to go to the mikveh before Shabbat, which is a custom I observe when in Philadelphia. I responded with great enthusiasm. We hopped into the car and Eliyahu told me, “you’re in for a cultural experience.” We drove to Mea Shearim, a neighborhood famous for being the heart of Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic life in Jerusalem.

We walked into a building that looked like an apartment building, with no distinguishing features suggesting that it was a mikveh. A small corridor held the cashier, in a little booth. Behind him on the wall was a gold-plated chart with variety of prices. Eliyahu said, “get the 25 shekel ‘mikveh with sauna’.” I looked around at the grey painted walls, cracked ceilings, and fluorescent lights, all standing in stark contrast to the golden menu.

We walked up two flights of stairs and into the changing room. I looked around with amazement, realizing I had arrived at a huge place: there were benches and racks for hundreds of people. We took our clothes off and Eliyahu pointed towards a basket with black plastic flip-flops. “These are optional,” he said. I wasn’t sure what would be worse: who knows what kind of skin condition people might have here? Or, what could be on the floor? I decided to walk around barefoot. We went up another flight of stairs and opened the door.

We entered the shower section. From that point on, we were in a world of complete male nudity. Twenty or so men were standing in the showers; others were scrubbing themselves vigorously; others were sitting on plastic chairs chatting. One man was holding a bundle of fresh green carob branches, tied together, to use as a wet flogger. On the wall there was a selection of seaweed-looking and synthetic back scrubbers. We hung our towels and toiletries on a hook and Eliyahu waved me in toward another door. There were signs in Hebrew, which I paused to read. They included warnings (‘No Entry for Boys Under 14,’ ‘No Massage in the Sauna,’ ‘No Gatherings,’ ‘Behave Only in Appropriate Manners,’ ‘Eating and Drinking is Prohibited’) from the committee of rabbinic leaders. I later saw examples of violations of all these rules. I felt like the Big Rabbi Is Watching. Eliyahu said, “a few tight-ass folks think that exposing young boys to the sauna is inappropriate.” I grew more and more curious as to what lay ahead.

I walked through the sauna door. The steam was heavy and thick. My eyes were burning. We passed by the entrance to the first room. Eliyahu waved for me to move with him to the back room. I found myself standing in front of three tiers of marble seats, crowded with men sitting and lying down, many of whom were scrubbing and vigorously massaging each other with seaweedy brushes and frothy liquid soap. Between the anonymity of the steam and the massaging, there was a sense of men tending to each others’ bodies, in a physically pleasurable way.

In that setting of nudity, hairstyle became an important marker of identity and affiliation. Most men wore long beards and peyos (sidelocks, hair growing from the temples), with otherwise short hair, which marks them as Orthodox. Other men in the back room seemed to be in their twenties and had no facial hair and no peyos. I had the hunch that they might be secular young men who enjoyed the homoerotic environment. I was also looking to see if any men had tattoos, which are a big no-no among Jews who follow strict halacha (religious lifestyle law). I think I spotted a tattoo on the buttock of one of the young men, but I wasn’t sure. I was wondering what the response would be if an uncircumcised man showed up in this setting.

Considering the super-covered culture of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, the sauna felt surprisingly intimate to me. However I do know that because of the community’s gender segregation, signs of physical affection between men are common and acceptable. Eliyahu would pour cold water on my head every once in a while, to keep me comfortable in the heat. After a few minutes I went out to the showers. Men leaving the steam room looked as pink as roasted pigs. It was very funny to see all those guys shvitzing (sweating hard) with pink faces and pink butts.

I went over to the mikveh dunking pools. My mikveh in Philadelphia is a solitary contemplative space, with one person using a small pool by himself. However, this area was populated with dozens of men of all ages and body shapes, including young boys diving and playing around. It was also an opportunity to see the bare heads of people who always have their heads covered. By then I had lost track of Eliyahu but found him standing in the middle pool of three. I put my feet into the water and jumped right out because it was scorching hot. I moved to the lukewarm pool, the biggest of the three. The pool was crowded with seven or eight men. I stayed there briefly and then moved to the cold-water pool, where I planned to do my immersion.

Contrary to my expectation, it was hard to create a personal space in the water. My typical practice, inspired by the Ba’al Shem Tov (the founder of Hasidism), is to use this time to review the week and do other introspective reflections. Other men who were immersing were doing very quick in-and-out dunkings. In order to make my own space, I faced the wall and created an imaginary bubble of silence in the midst of a very noisy and energetic environment.

I went back to the dressing room and began putting on my special Shabbat clothes. Nearby, two young boys, about six and ten, were staring at me. Eventually the older one quietly asked, “ata Amerikai?” (“Are you American?”). In hindsight I realized that I had been talking with Eliyahu both in English with an American accent and Hebrew with an Israeli accent. My answer was that I am an Israeli who lives in America, and Eliyahu is an American who lives in Israel. I asked the boy whether he had visited America or had relatives living there. He said no. The young one kept on staring. Eliyahu and I got up and headed towards the door. In parting, I said, “Shabbat shalom” (“Peaceful sabbath,” a typical wish and greeting), to which the young one responded by sticking his tongue out at me. Surprised and entertained by his gesture, I stuck my tongue out myself. He stuck his tongue out even more. We left.

Eliyahu told me that because the word ‘shalom’ is one of the names of G!d, there is a custom not to say it in a place that has bathrooms and nudity. I think the little boy might have been responding to that. Rebecca thinks this is a typical kid moment.

The Ultra-Orthodox community might appear to outsiders to have a body-negating, highly shameful culture. Visiting this very popular institution revealed to me another face of this culture, and an opportunity to peek into the nude life of the Hasidic Ultra-Orthodox men of Mea Shearim. I wonder what the women do, and whether there is an institution in this community that allows women a public domain in which nudity is acceptable.
“juicy booty”
gastronomy and piety in Jerusalem

I have in the past been accused of writing rather too much about food and not enough regarding matters of consequence. Guilty, says I, and I’ll probably never stop. Here’s some of each.

Today we had the most amazing figs ever. The ones earlier in the week were at that point the best ever, but they’ve been eclipsed. ND and Sarit (his sister) and I were at En Hemed, the beautiful park where her wedding will take place, scoping out the setting and making decoration plans, when we discovered a huge stand of fig trees, interspersed with grapevines and towering thorny raspberry bushes. All these plants were literally drooping with fat ripe fruits. ND got that crazed look in his eyes and starting grabbing with both hands, dancing up and down the row of trees and moaning with pleasure, his mouth crammed with juicy booty. Later, he could barely eat dinner.

As expected, I’ve eaten extremely well. One can hardly avoid it in Israel. ND's mother not only stuffed us (un-pushily) while in Haifa but loaded us up with Shabbat foods to bring to Jerusalem and share with Eliyahu and his other guests. We had homemade challahs (amazing), baba ganoush, spicy tomato salad, sprout salad, chocolate cake, and fruit. We stopped for lunch on Friday at the restaurant Sarit manages, which is part of a beautiful mountaintop goat farm, and augmented our Shabbat goodies with a bottle of yogurt and a wheel of mild herbed cheese.

However: I have had falafel only once. Shock and horror!

I’ve started a (lame) conversational poll: how much hummus is eaten in Israel per annum per capita? My guess is 50 pounds. I’ve convinced a few people, but mostly folks just laugh and say, a lot. If I lived here I would definitely do my share.

Writing about food is of course an easy out from writing about what’s really going on. I’ve been spaced out and sort of edgy the last few days, which is a paradoxical state in which I feel both calmly patient and emotionally fragile. Some of the tension comes, of course, from meeting ND’s family and new people generally.

A bigger contributor, though, is the experience of Shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s beautiful and oppressive, sometimes simultaneously, in a complex layering of identity and practice. It would take a long time to explain this fully, and believe me, I tried. I’ve just deleted a long-winded description of two religious rituals I attended this weekend and what everyone was wearing and what I was wearing and how they were looking at me and how I felt, blah blah blah. To dissect these messages is like explaining football to a Martian.

In any case, the central problem goes like this. I love the feeling of an omnipresent Shabbat spirit in Israel specifically and Jerusalem particularly, but I hate the lack of feminist/egalitarian communities and settings in which to celebrate. American Judaism is shockingly far to the left of Israeli Judaism on this account: here there aren’t “Conservative” or “Reconstructionist” synagogues, but only Orthodox communities of varying strictness. Secular-identified people can choose between no religious practice or one that is varyingly incongruent with their (my) personal beliefs.

I now find myself on a path of increasing observance, enjoying the feeling of a committed community and a city full of welcoming Shabbat tables, yet sickened by the knowledge that I have to basically swallow some of my dearest beliefs (notably, the right to full inclusion of women and queers and, hey, non-observant Jews, and non-Jews) in order to participate. Check your everything at the door, and you’ll have a good time.

I just read this to ND, and he protests! There are so many places we haven’t been yet! There are many pockets of subcultures, and counter-discourses. There are sincere people trying to live in the creative tension between these two compelling perspectives: egalitarian, feminist-inspired diversity and inclusivity, versus tightly-knit community bound by shared dedication to religious practice. Hopefully, he says, we’ll have the chance to encounter these folks and share notes on our struggles, pains, and triumphs.

Personally, I would like to meet more creative tensioneers. Sadly, I don't have the knowledge to properly engage in this kind of acrobatics: without an intellectual safety harness and emotional net of self-belief below, I am far too shaken by the chasm to attempt flight.


landing sites

When ND suggested on Monday night that we go see the “rocket landing sites” I was actually muddled and sleepy enough to imagine that he was referring to some kind of alien landing/launch places. I had fleeting visions of bug-eyed greenies mingling with the chilled-out Haifans. Not so, of course.

The bomb site (as I think of it) was surprisingly underwhelming. It hit in a tiny yard right between three buildings (amazing luck, to miss the buildings!) and the impact crater was about 2 yards across, if that. The damage to the site was limited to a destroyed section of metal fence and some shrapnel pockmarks on the building walls. Yoram got one of the hunter-kids to give him a souvenir. The collectible shrapnel bits were no bigger than ball bearings, and looked quite benign, like something you’d dig out of the dirt in any urban garden. Obviously, if someone had been standing nearby, the rocket would have killed them, but compared to the photos of sheared-away buildings in Beirut, this was nothing. A striking illustration of this war’s asymmetry.
here it is, my first ever blog entry. tarrrahh!
(by ND)

After lunch we went on a trip to the nearest rocket-landing site. The rocket, or ‘katyusha’ as they call it here (the sound of the word suggests the Russian origin of this weapon), went between two apartment buildings and hit the ground near a little shopping center less than a mile from my parents’ house. My parents were abroad in Spain when that happened but the neighbor from downstairs told us about the panic that ensued in the building’s bomb shelter on that day.

When we arrived, there were two boys digging in the ground searching for souvenirs. We heard that you can buy rocket shrapnel on line. We saw the damage on the walls all around. This is the shopping center where I spent good number of hours during my junior high school years.

Then we went to the Mediterranean beach. It was after sunset. The water was warm and creamy, approximately 78F / 27C. The surface looked like waves of a velvet dress worn by an invisible mermaid. We swam and floated on the waves, and as the night skies were turning black, many memories floated into my mind. The beach was my favorite place to go during summer vacations. It is on this sand that I walked with lovers; to here we escaped for private trysts. I came to these jetties to look at the sunset and cry when it was all over. Here a friend got sunburned when in her eagerness to get tanned fell asleep on the shore with baking oil on her skin, here I almost drowned when I got too deep on a stormy day, here I lost my first pair of glasses when I was eight.

One good side effect of the bombing is that apparently all the jellyfish disappeared. Many rockets fell in the Mediterranean and the shock waves scared them away. Jellyfish bites can be quite painful so everything has good and bad outcomes! We both thought we got over our jet leg but last night was difficult. As I am writing to you, in the early afternoon, Rebecca is napping in the living room.


figgy foraging

figgy foraging
Originally uploaded by Emmalen.

ba’aretz at last

Will try not to be too dull and travelogue-y here, but the jetlag-fog and family-meeting-stress are combining to stifle my wit and brevity. Sorry. I’m sitting in Yael and Yoram Mahanymi’s living room in Haifa, enjoying the gentle air conditioning. The beautiful view outside (clean-lined apartment buildings and the azure sea below) is matched by the view inside, where Yael is cooking up a storm: date-filled coffee cookies, mango sorbet, home-dried pineapple, sweet baby eggplant preserves, lunch. The fridge and counters are full of amazing Israeli fruit. ND promised I would be well-fed. As if there was some possibility otherwise.

Getting here was quite a drama. We nearly missed both the SEPTA and NJT trains to Newark from Philadelphia, and then volunteered (excitedly) to be bumped from our flight for a later plane and a free Continental voucher. As it turned out, they didn’t need the extra seats, so we (and all the other thrilled freebie-seekers) were disappointed. Too bad; we had a fun hour of speculating as to where we should go: Rome! Warsaw! St. Croix!

Airport security was moving well, even with the recent liquid-explosives plot. The new restrictions seem like far more hassle than they are worth. Banning water bottles isn’t going to stop any terrorists. If you want to carry liquids, just strap them to your leg or something. We saw a woman with two wheezy red-eyed little girls, trying to get the TSA honchos to let her take children’s cough syrup, with safety seals intact, and CVS receipts in hand. It didn’t look good. She begged that they were traveling to Moscow and it would be 24 hours before she could get more medicine. Oy, pobrecitas!

The flight to Israel, as I had forgotten, is a wacky microcosm of the country’s population. From the frumpy-preppy Orthodox, trailing gaggles of children, to the suntanned Eurotrash Tel Aviv set, Continental flight 84 was a perfect minisociety. Modern technology creates these stunning moments of disconnect—as when the head steward requested, via intercom, that the gangs of black-hats “please refrain from davvening (praying) in the aisles during the meal service, and we will notify you of the appropriate time and space for davvening.” How do you calculate sundown when you’re flying straight into it at 1000 kilometers per hour? Meanwhile the expensively coiffed secular folks are eating soggy airline shrimp salad, and watching Mission: Impossible III.

(Yes, I did watch it, and Philip Seymour Hoffman was wasted on that piece of junk. Tom Cruise’s very young beautiful helpless wife had nothing to do but smile, cry, and shoot a couple faceless goons. They could have had Katie Holmes play herself. The anti-Bush Doctrine denouement was great but totally underplayed, especially because Billy Crudup is a terrible villain. Plus, ‘the rabbit’s foot’ is a stupid name for a macguffin. They could just call it ‘the red herring.’)

Right, so we landed at 10am, and I smiled my way through Ben-Gurion’s cool marble hallways, enjoying the familiar-airport glow, then had a baggage-claim moment of panic. Went directly into shy mode for the rest of the day. That turned out to be fine. All the Mahanymis are really lovely people, and were very welcoming to me despite my lack of energy and of Hebrew. We went from the airport to (younger sister) Sarit’s airy, calming apartment outside Jerusalem, where we snacked, yakked, and showered. ND and his parents took Sarit to a meeting in the city while I collapsed into bed.

When they came back, we all drove out to a empty hilltop park and clambered down a wild rocky slope to an underground swimming hole. Against the dusty hot air outside, the water was pleasingly frigid and the air cool and wet. The swimming hole was quite gynecological. We reached the water via a narrow channel in the rock, with ridged steps, down into a dark elliptical chamber of about 10m across and 4m tall. ND said it felt like a spot for secret pledges and initiations. On the way home we scouted for fig trees along the road, stopping to jump out and strip off the ripe fruits in the favorite (much-reminisced: family foraging) Mahanymi activity. The sweetest, juiciest figs I’ve ever had.

The evening was a long blur of sleepy travel for me. Y&Y went off to Haifa in their car, and ND&I dropped Sarit with her fiancĂ© Tomer and drove off in her car. We meant to visit N’s friend Dror on his kibbutz, but when we got close he wasn’t answering his phone and so we continued on to Haifa. Arrived at the apartment building to find no one home, and of course ND has no key, so we visited the downstairs neighbor for bathroom, snacks, and Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer on TV. I was a smiling zombie by this point. Finally Y&Y returned and with amazing fortitude I managed not to dissolve onto the floor for another hour.

Sleep! From midnight until 11am. Glorious. Now we’ve lunched (on delicious roasted veg and lentils and salad and spiced beets and more, yum) and massaged the trip into shape. Typical, that we would come for three weeks with only a vague schedule. Now that we’ve eaten and planned everything seems clearer.

To wit:
This week, til Thursday, Haifa.
Friday (8/25) thru Sunday, Jerusalem.
Next week, Tel Aviv and visiting around with friends in the area.
Thursday (8/31) thru Saturday, Neve Ur (older sister Irit’s kibbutz).
Following week, Jerusalem: Sarit’s wedding on Thursday (9/7).
Last Shabbat, Rosh Pina, near Tzfat.
Fly home 9/10 from TLV!
It will speed by, I’m sure … off to the beach for now.


vroom vroom

...off to Israel tomorrow. This after a successful Boston trip, during which I subjected N to many, many relatives. Also my dear father and stepmother drove up from DC today, with equal motivation (I think) to see me (before I escape to the war zone) and to meet N.

So, right, stay tuned. If you're in Israel, drop me a line! Would love to see you.


taking the plunge
...back into the blog after a long dry spell.

I've been busy and working hard--theater, homelife, friends, money, you name it--and lacking the precious hi-speed line. No longer. And just in time as well, as I'm going a-travelling to Israel in two weeks and will have a lot to write about. For now I'm trying to wrap up some Philly things, as well as start new balls rolling (sounds great eh?) so that when I get back I have things waiting for me and don't have to start from scratch.

In any case, here's a little something: a letter that ND (my heavenly honey, if you haven't heard) and I wrote and sent to the Philly Inquirer after the recent Seattle shootings. Of course that event hasn't exploded into national ugliness, because of the much worse international ugliness in Lebanon and northern Israel, not to mention Iraq. Well, at least our fears about Jewish isolationism haven't come true...

Dear Editor,

Last Friday six workers at the Jewish Federation of Seattle were shot by a self-proclaimed Muslim American. We mourn the death of Pam Waechter, and pray for the speedy recovery of the other victims. This event has cut deeply into Seattle’s urban fabric.

Fearmongering voices within the Jewish community are now calling for increased security at Jewish institutions. Robert Sokolov, the Jewish Agency representative in Seattle, said in response, “Jews in the U.S. are not used to thinking in terms of security. I hope now people will wake up.” (Ha’aretz, July 31, 2006: “Security experts hope Seattle attack will shatter U.S. Jews’ illusion of safety”) These statements propagate fear and insecurity among American Jews, rather than proposing effective safeguards for all communities.

The Seattle shootings are a sociopathic hate crime committed by an individual. They are neither a political act, nor a representation of the Muslim American community’s views. The Seattle Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement saying, "we categorically condemn this and any similar acts of violence. […] We also hope that the perpetrator of this crime is brought to justice." (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 28, 2006: “Six shot, one killed at Seattle Jewish federation”)

As Jews living in vibrantly multicultural neighborhoods, we know that security comes from strong diverse communities and social ties rather than from armed guards and locked doors. American civil society is based upon freedom of expression, and on public defense of diversity. Hate crimes threaten our freedom of expression, and should motivate public coalition-building.

As the people of Seattle recover from this tragedy, we must learn as a society not to drown in waves of fear. American communities must strengthen our commitment to a diverse, open, and safe public sphere.

Rebecca Ennen
Nachshon David Mahanymi


eensy weensy hiatus

...from which I am very tentatively back.
For those keeping track, I am gloriously alive and blindingly well, in Philadelphia and in love, and hard at work making art, community, knowledge, and a little money too. (A little.) Can provide details upon request, and will be writing more often as I develop organizational ability (ha).

In lieu of delectable news+information material, I offer this beautiful poem, created from subjects lines, by the prescient Gmail spam-sorting widget. Amazing how artificial intelligence is able to channel Hemingway and Thoreau and Dickinson:

Backhanded profiteer-
Dampness familiarly-
Bargaining chip romanticize-
i.e. quarrelsome-
Fascinating flashback-
Geographically fondle-
Air raid-
Americanism tundra-
Sunup ceaselessly-
Upward shred-
Monogamous collective-
Protagonist babysit-
Deftly first-rate-
Stock exchange-
Disk drive-
Feat hardy-
Video game pavement-
Subscribe federal-
Insofar as-
Track and field-


"our" gals in turin
snarky self-reflexive racism?

Just goes to show you all, in case of doubt, that I'm as usual and characteristically out of touch with the interests of the/my people. While I busy myself with David Shipler's excellent (if a tad bit outdated) Arab and Jew, the vigilant Jew-trackers of the internet says that all the top women on the ice are indeed Members of the Tribe. Middle East politics: out. Jewish figure skaters: in! And you thought we were 'ice princesses' in only a metaphorical sense.

In other consumption news: here is my recommendation for a very cold evening when the wild winds have raged at you all the way up walnut from 4th to 49th, especially on the bridge, where speeding Town Cars nearly clip you and the new Peugeot racing bike whips around wobbly whenever you try to slow down or turn: get Leslie to bake brownies, and then eat three giant fudgy slabs and drink a foaming mug of soy milk.

This is a preliminary investigation of my current theory that it is better to take moderation in moderation. Arising from a conversation with Angela and her nine-year-old friend Lark Ann, I realized that I don't eat ice cream for breakfast (ick) or waffles for dinner (mm) nearly often enough. There is thus an experiment in the works: a greater segregation of the functional and the indulgent. I'm going to practice asceticism and practicality, until it's time to break out. Then I'll eat panfuls of brownies.

From the Department of Why, Lord, Why: nuts for trucks. Please: why??


bears mentioning

I'm in DC with my Da (and Dada: major retrospective at National Gallery) and wonder of wonders, he found two more bikes in the alley behind the house. No, he did not "find" them with boltcutters. Lucky Rebecca gets the beat-up white lightweight 4-speed Peugeot with the supercurved handlebars. It's a good little ride, and a very welcome addition to my current wheelless life, and a good turn done me by a recently unkind universe (see: stolen BB, no job, unhappy heart). Thanks, universe, and thanks Da for being attuned to the free-stuff wavelength, and thanks everyone who's tolerating and funding my penury. Really, mates, I don't know who's reading at this point but I offer you brimful gratitude. It's good to be cared for.

Saw an amazing concert on Saturday and I ought to write about that. Maybe Ross did. Then I got a beautiful phone call on Monday, though unfortunately was on the Chinatown bus and couldn't properly enjoy it due to the very space-invasive seatmate listening in on my every word. Brunched with Davey J yesterday, lunched with Sarah C today, coffee-ing with Sarah H tomorrow, dinnered with extended-fam-gaggle tonight and realized through all of this that really, life's down. There's not a lot of jolly left in me. What is there is a kind of tacky veneer of chipper fortitude: I'll be fine! All this is wearing thin.

I keep wondering whether I'm hitting bottom on this one, but I think there's probably a lot more down to go (in theory; in practice I seriously hope not) as evinced by such (fake) tales as A Million Tiny Pieces and all the J.T. Leroy rot. Hey, I've got a new bike! A proper job can only be so far behind.


neither profanity nor tears enough

My beloved bike was stolen from 9th and Tasker tonight, while I enjoyed the company of Pig Iron and friends postpreviewshow. Stolen. Gone. I am in shock. I loved that bike, from the little things like its color to the big things like its 21 speeds and tender brakes and elegant frame. I named it. BB was ragtag style and wind in my hair while flying downhill on Chestnut from 49th to 46th past the crummy car dealerships and the barred-windowed schools. It was tall and swooshy and fun to ride and a g.d. nice vehicle. Blessed casual freedom

I guess someone else thought so too.

The real smash-my-head-against-the-wall aspect of this is that I had left my proper Kryptonite lock at home, on my effing desk, because the bracket that holds it to the bike was loose and I hadn't got round to reaffixing. Thus BB was locked with a measly little cable, the cylinder/lock section of which the thieves were kind enough to leave on the ground, as if to say, nyah nyah. They even left James' bike, which was locked together with mine as he'd forgotten his lock entirely. (Ironically, his old-looking vintage bike is nearly as valuable as my shiny newish one.)

At the strong urging of James and Geoff, who tried hard to cheer me up and distract, I took a cab home. It wasn't particularly expensive as cab-rides go, but that stings, you know? This couldn't have come at a worse time, when I'm very close to broke and needing transport to zip around interviews and current jobs. I'm going to have to borrow one from somewhere and bloody well scrimp until I can get the $100 or so for a used beater. I cry for you, BB.



I hate you, amazon.com, for making me believe--for one shining moment!--that there was a new Neal Stephenson book coming out on February 28!! You're making me use exclamation points in a thoroughly untoward and brazenly bad-rhetoric fashion! At last, I thought, there's something due any day, I will know right away, soon as it shows...

Instead, argh!, it's the paperback release of (half of) the book I've already read. Nothing to gleefully anticipate except more weeks of tragic penury and fruitless job-searching. A future of eternal winter gloom, E.L. Doctorow and Ursula le Guin, oatmeal, the stupid Cheney shooting accident "news" (though it is funny how rabidly the press corps now hates the Bushies--they are going to effing town on this one), belated valentines, cold hearts, stretch marks, and Newsweek. Makes a gal want some bourbon.

Neal, can we be a little more insanely prolific please? Give us something to read, something to hope for!

On another note: I saw Brokeback Mountain tonight. Like everyone, loved it. It actually fits squarely into the Lecoqian melodrama genre/structure--unspooling out over time, spare, binding the noose around its own neck plotwise, unavoidably and reflexively tragic. Decent plotting demands enormous respect.

Spent the last couple days wrapping flowers for VD (ha ha) delivery. Ended up with some good dough and some chocolate. Angela and I melted the latter and dipped the entire contents of her fridge in it--apples, pickles, french fries. The former I need, desperately. However, the weather was stunning today, which makes up for a lot in the penury department.

Hot damn, folks, today I'm 23 1/2. I am not at this point able to comprehend 24. The number after that is the age that Dave was when I was with him. It means something. 24 means mid-twenties, and getting-together of life, doesn't it? O dear.


looks like Fall River! isn't going to hit the touring circuits any time soon
censorship, or something like it, on our side of the pond

Check this out: NYT reports that a small town superintendent in Missouri banned the high school from producing The Crucible this spring because he got several complaints about the booze-and-sex-glorifyin' fall production: Grease. Which the drama teacher had already sanitized (cigarettes not weed, slang not cussin') and presented with a PG-13 rating. The concerned citizens--one of whom, it must be said, hadn't seen the show--were upset over all kinds of things, from Rydell kids smoking to Rizzo's outre costumes.

Yeah, it's nowhere near on par with the Prophet (pbuh) firestorm, but the student actors interviewed analyze their communities at least twice as articulately as anything I've heard about the Danish-Muslim fiasco. Maybe they could rewrite Miller's allegorical masterpiece into a Christian-friendly rock opera, in which Tituba belts the gospels, John Proctor is called "Smith" because his name sounds too much like something having to do with your anus, and plucky Promise be-Ringed Abigail exposes real witches, who are dramatically (and tidily) melted with buckets of water. Hangings are so ...inappropriate.

Fulton's students are glumly critical of the ideology and absurdism behind the superintendent's move. They rightly ask: what play can be produced under this kind of regime? The answer:
Seussical, America's most popular high school show. Gag, retch. I say stop the productions of Grease, too--it's a trite, meritless, nauseating show.

The best part? In place of Arthur Miller's dour cautionary lesson against irrational communal fear, Fulton's students will perform a charming pageant of good, clean, Christian living:
A Midsummer Night's Dream.


the Danish cartoon affair

I'm not quite ready for a proper essay on the subject, but an American mod-orth lawyer, Donnie, whom I met in Jerusalem (and debated for over an hour about premarital sex*) emailed an opinion-seeking query. Let's see what we thinks:

The whole thing is atrociously foolish on both sides. Adam writes (see Ester's comments, Feb 5th, for some excellent analysis and some more by me) that it's just plain inflammatory to frivolously print such things. It's not as if the cartoons are particularly funny or trenchant or meaningful--they're not worth destroying property over. Add to that a population without hundreds of years' worth of exposure to/inoculation against the grating slights of a free press, and make that population predisposed against The West, and take away their economic stability, and throw a bunch of extremist demagogues into the mess, and this is what you get.

Now there's very little that I would, say, burn books or trash buildings or kill for; I'm not strongly attached to symbols as sacrosanct and therefore demanding defense. I'm more interested in fixing real problems of actual life. This goes for the Anne Frank/Hitler cartoons that have been proposed. If anything the concept is so trite that it shows the whole situation to be a mere exercise in poking sticks in each others' metaphorical (and emotional) eyes.

So really the issue is the rage and violence. Were they needlessly provoked? Yes, and the stupid newspapers should say sorry and stop printing the stuff. Freedom of the press is one thing, but once you know you're really hurting peoples' feelings (not to mention their flags and embassies) you have to make good. That doesn't however in any way justify the response, and I can't fully understand it except to condescendingly say that the young men of the Arab world are itching for fights. Whether that's cultural or political or personal or religious (I think not the last) isn't clear to me.

The actions taken by some governments (reducing diplomatic contact etc.) are appropriate, and the heads of Muslim states are justified in expressing their people's anger, but the destruction and mayhem routine is a tired and pathetic exercise in alienating the educated, both among their own societies and abroad.

...Donnie wrote in his email, also,
I'm in touch with some Danish teens that came to one of my classes in Jerusalem a few weeks ago and they say that they can't leave the house with any overt Jewish symbols about them.
I don't quite understand the relationship of the [Danish] Jews to this problem. Do they fear anti-Semitic violence against them, and from whom? Has anyone heard about specifically anti-Israel or anti-Jewish actions taken by the rioters?

Over on Ester's comments I mentioned that I think the cartoons aren't very interesting or thought-provoking. Does it matter that they were commissioned to prove a point about free press? They don't seem to be saying much else than 'nyah, nyah.'

*whether or not we were going to have some, that is


peep this

Uploaded a few holy land snaps, thus far all trip-kids. More scenic and artsy fumblings to come as I get time to sort and edit the 350 photos I have.


back in california, or is it florida?

George has some trouble remembering where it is that I am from. "All those places have an 'f' in them." Yes of course, but FL and CA probably aren't as bloody cold as Hazel Avenue. A series of lovely reunions flowed forth from the flight's finish: Mumsy, Tova, Dad-by-phone, Jane, Jack, Lee&Leona, Ben&Ester (Balynker-Gloom, not the mod-orth Packer couple), Rossy, housemates, Dave. And my bike: O darlin, how I missed you.

Nasty cold is vying for attention, and I dose it with liquids and giant vitamin C tablets. Apparently others from the trip are still illin' so I am lucky to have at least held it off until now.

Another pleasant reunion this morning was with the beloved NPR. New for me is a clear understanding of where the Beeb(eeCee) Israel correspondents are speaking from, and why Israelis think that the international media is skewed against them. I don't agree: my experience of the government's "heavy hand against terror" is pretty damn harsh. Still, the Israeli realpolitikspeak and the Hamas hardline sound vastly more real, more like comprehensibly arguable positions, than they ever have for me.

At the end of the Birthright trip, two weeks ago today, I thanked people for getting me (a little) out of the thinky headspace I usually live in. Blast and tarnation! Back there again!

Check out
another trip-participant's funny and smart travelogue (permanently under "David" at right).


Sabrecca* in Palestine
cognitive dissonance was never so good

After a very intense and food-stuffed Shabbat with the Modern Orthodox (mod-orth?) of the Old City, I went out to a Jerusalem gay bar last night with some yeshiva boys (not mod-orths) and my frum friend Esther's sister, Yael, lesbian soldier barista extraordinaire. Then today I took the #124 bus from the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem to the Bethlehem checkpoint and crossed into the West Bank for a visit to the church of the Nativity (small, elegantly austere and filled with spirit) and then a long day in the Deheisha refugee camp. My heart is hurting and my head is spinning.

I thought Sri Lanka had bizarrely imponderable cultural collisions. I hadn't been here. I go from a discussion with religious Torah-studying girls about shomer negi'ah, a facet of being observant in which men and women don't touch each other in order to preserve the specialness of touch for the marriage relationship, to drinking cheap Golan wine from the bottle in Kikkar Tzion with 19-year-old Oklahoman rabid aliyahboy Yossi, to rocking out to Madonna with cute German aryan-queen dyke Karina, to praying on the spot where Jesus was born (cave, not stable), to watching Palestinian boys practice circus tricks with improvised equipment in a half-finished basement. I can't write about Israel in non-run-on sentences, clearly.

The refugee camp is sticking in my throat. How can I have celebrated a beautiful Shabbat when twenty minutes away children are playing in an empty dirty subfloor and young men are risking their lives to throw rocks at soldiers because they have no other form of protest when their little sisters are shot and their homes are bulldozed? I am sitting in the Jewish Heritage Home, a free hostel for Jews in the Old City to stay at while studying or travelling, listening with one ear to Jerry Maguire on the VCR and simply in disbelief. Jerry Maguire! Are we really all just sitting here, drinking tea and eating pound cake?

So many Israelis will never see the other side of the wall--literally--which is covered in graffiti and murals. They think the Palestinians only want to kill Jews. The state has effectively hidden the Palestine-side art and protests. The plain gray concrete side promises only a bland simple brutality: keep them in.

*thanks to my dear ima


slamming the brakes

...just finished the breakneck dash through Israel's landscape history and politics that is Birthright Israel, and whoa. I contacted the internets only once at that bizarro little gas station ("Extreme Wodka" in a metal tube and twenty kinds of roasted peanuts and mini Eeyore gummi pops) with the free connection. Other than that it was nonstop bus-hopping mountain-climbing madness. I'll tell you about it sometime.

So now I'm going for another week to all the many places we missed and some of the ones we dashed through too quickly. I am subsisting with great (supergreat) pleasure on a wholly chickpea and yogurt based diet, and staring wide-eyed at the beautiful people, and rocking my tiny duffel bag. I am starting to feel like maybe I'm here, a little, and not just flying around with a tiny bus-sized America.

If anyone needs to call me, email my mom and she'll give you the number of the rented cell phone. If you don't know her email, write me and with some luck I'll see the message.

When everyone else left (well, the 3/4 of the group that didn't stay on for more travel) I basically had a mental nervous attack--as if I had drunk five espressos and eaten spoonfuls of sugar and then heard nails on a chalkboard for twenty minutes. It was so physically powerful I was shocked. Ten days' worth of giddiness, wonder, frustration, and the cement of hastily-formed close friendships all comes to a crest rather dramatically and I was literally twitching and aching from the top of my head to my ankles. Also, I'm exhausted from sleep deprivation.

But! I had some fantastic discussions: which was, if not The Point, very central to my sense of Jewish identity. I'll tell you about that too. For now I will go to sleep, with four compadres, on the floor of our Israeli soldierfriend (they send soldiers to be buddies on the trip)'s adorable studio apartment in Tel Aviv. Tomorrow, Haifa. Good night.


Fly Away Home

...or rather, to the homeland. Or is it the Holy Land? I'll settle for the homely land, which I hear it's not.

That's right, I'm flying to Israel tomorrow. As is typical with me and trips, I'm not really believing it, and probably will experience the aha! moment while waiting in customs at the other-end airport. One critical note: I am not checking
any luggage. No one is getting the chance to lose my stuff; that's happened on the last three flights I took.

Meant to write during the holidaze, especially while working insane retail detail in the two weeks before the Christmukkah weekend, but the insanity got in the way. It was all a good time, and feels so so long ago. The holiday week was however brilliant, with four family and friend and beautiful scenery sites visited. The high point: sweatlodge in the snow with Benj, Skelly, Angela and Ross. The low point: losing my luggage en route to Christmas--see above--and thus going to midnight mass in Kathleen's mother's clothes plus my grubby sneakers.

Then I worked on job applications (how can they be so time-consuming? is it dishonest to change your resume with each specific application?) and tried to make some actual money back in the health-food joint and furiously read books about Israeli and Palestinian politics. Furiously means fast-ly and also angrily, here.

And yesterday I ran around trying to do errands and meeting up with a local Lanka scholar (hello, Alan) and kind of spilling my guts. After seeing Pig Iron's fantastic Gentlemen Volunteers with K-Ross, Fire Boss, P-Thrash, and Biggsie Shortie, and eating an atrocious "hoagie," the hard drive crashed and I wept as I cycled home through the empty moonlit streets of Powelton Village.

I have more thinking to do about why I'm tense and upset, but as it was, I came home and made millet-almond pudding and drank some bourbon and inhaled sandalwood until I softened the bands in my shoulders. Went to bed without packing, shame on me. So now, I pack.

Watch out falafels!
Updates from the road: I'll try.