The Person Behind The Posts

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tandoori Salmon - A Photo Blog

I kind of need a vacation. Before we made aliyah, we always came to Israel. Now, I have no desire to leave the country. I just want a bit of a break from the routine.

Don't misunderstand, often my routine is quite lovely, and I can prove it.  Here's a little taste of today's routine afternoon.

When we first made aliyah, we planned to visit the shuk every Thursday night to shop for Shabbat. The first time we went, we did our shopping and stopped for a late dinner in a tiny restaurant nearby. By the time we got back to the parking lot, the attendant was livid.  Didn't we know that the parking lot closed 45 minutes ago?!  Actually, no we didn't. But we never made that mistake again.

In the end, we found cheaper and more convenient places to buy most things, but the shuk is still a treat, and when we need specialty items, or really, really, really fresh dates, there is no place else to go. The whole thing is always an experience - a chavaya.

The shuk is filled with colorful characters, like the guy screaming his prices for strawberries from one side of his mouth with a cigarette dangling from the other side, the tzedaka collector with the incredibly thick eyeglasses who is there every single time and, despite the fact that there are hundreds of people there, always comes up to us, the 60-something year-old man who wears a gold paper crown without irony and tries to get people to try his halava, the Asian tourists, the 10th generation Yerushalmis, the birthright Israel groups in University of Rochester sweatshirts... You get the idea.  At the shuk, you're not just buying bananas. You're in the midst of a multi-sensory experience. And lately, I've been understanding most of the prices that are shouted at me, so I'm a much more confident shuk shopper than I used to be.

On the way to the shuk, I noticed red something stuck in a stone wall.
Is it an antique mailbox?
Pomegranates are still available in Israel in mid-January.
After shopping for awhile, we sat and my husband had a cup of hot sachlav with cinnamon. According to the guy who sold it to us, it's made from the roots of orchids, cornflour and warm milk.  Yeah, he promises it's good but I'm just not brave enough.

Winter fruits and vegetables are amazing here.  I went a little crazy buying peppers and they wouldn't all fit in the fridge. These are the overflow and they are in the big wooden bowl that my grandmother used to make gefilte fish.

Since childhood, I have loved eating raw peas in the pod. In America, they are in season for about 20 minutes a year, usually in early June. (Hence the name June peas). In the shuk today, there was a single vendor with a small supply of fresh peas. I went to his stash and started to pick out the firmest, plumpest ones. And I had my first-ever somewhat heated exchange in Hebrew:

He: You can't pick them one at a time.
Me: Why not?
He: While forcing a pile into my bag - They're all good. Just take a pile. On the inside, they're all good.
Me: I want what I want.

I was persistent and I kept picking out the ones I wanted.  Okay, it's not academic oratory, but I understood him and I stood my ground.  I stand proud.

And they were yummy.

Now the main treasure we went to get was tandoori paste. A friend served it on salmon and claimed in was available "in any supermarket".  Turns out that's not true. I've been to about 7 grocery stores looking and no one had it. But the shuk is perfect for this sort of specialty item shopping.

So I go into a spice store that always has everything I need and ask for tandoori paste.  The English-speaking sales clerk hands me this and says it's the same thing.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. I bought it because I'm sufficiently unsure... and desperate. Also, it wasn't that expensive.
But I'm not sure, so I keep stepping into different spice stores to ask.  I don't know how to say tandoori paste in Hebrew so when one clerk asks me what it is, I tell him, in my limited Hebrew - It's red?  For fish?  From India?  Not surprisingly, he doesn't recognize it from this description and waves me off.

After the sachlav break, I see a dark, dank hole in the wall spice store.  I go up to the man behind the counter (who clearly hasn't looked in a mirror recently) and, with pretty low expectations, I say, "Tandoori paste?"

After the shuk, we make one more stop at a charedi grocery store where everything we buy is a few shekels cheaper than at Rami Levi. After we get home, as we're unpacking our haul, my crazy funny 17 year-old daughter holds up the bag with medjool dates (truly the BEST in the universe) and dried apricots and says, "Hey, dried fruit! Old people candy!"

And, after all the food is put away, I make the tandoori salmon that this trip was really all about.

It was yum.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Dear Dave

Hi Rivkah,

I'm jewish and am wondering how life in israel is. Although i am far from ready to move, so please don't try to give me any compelling spiritual reasons to! I'm just not ready in many ways (:

So, how is it different than living in the US? Or is it so much different?


Dear Dave,
   It has taken me a few days to respond to you because I really wanted to think about what you've asked. I started to list things that define my life in Israel. I don't pretend to speak for all Israelis (how could I?) or even all olim, or even all members of my own family. Everyone else will have his or her own list. Here's a somewhat random list of what life is like in Israel, but just for me:
  • seeing Arab villages and shepherds on distant hills, instead of signs for Target and McDonald's
  • living in smaller quarters
  • feeling blessed with a life far richer than I could have imagined
  • learning to rely on context because I can't understand every word
  • although having some is crucial, learning how unimportant having lots of money is
  • rediscovering how to cook more from scratch because so many convenience products are unavailable here or just too expensive 
  • adding many new recipes to my repertoire because groceries are different here
  • welcoming friends and family from the Old Country, either those who are visiting or those whose aliyah followed our own   
  • having so many friends who see Jewish history like I do
  • living with people who love this place too, even with all its flaws
  • learning patience because everything seems to take more time here
  • thinking about Hashem more
  • wearing sweatshirts all winter because, in a country that's hot most of the year, insulation is non-existent and heat is expensive
  • having opportunities fall into my lap
  • passing Har HaBayit on the bus every morning and evening
  • learning to do everyday things, like shopping and banking, over again in new ways
  • appreciating that my neighbors have lived all over the world and come from a dozen or more different countries to be here together
  • figuring out how to get English books to read
  • learning what I can live without
  • being happy with crowds and traffic because it means so many other Jews live here
  • learning to network
  • giving up the illusion that I am able to function independently and learning to rely on others
  • laughing with other olim about how small our paychecks are, but how big our lives feel
  • living on the edge of my seat, really, truly anticipating Moshiach
  • feeling proud of myself for every little thing I learn how to do by myself
  • understanding Israeli geography
  • having access to rabbis and women scholars whose Torah makes my neshama sing
  • feeling proud to be a citizen of the State of Israel
  • passing a wadi while walking to visit a friend
  • thinking of everything that happens to me in spiritual terms
  • losing my breath at the view from my bedroom window every morning
  • driving though barren sand dunes to get to the grocery store
  • feeling comfortable negotiating public transportation
  • taking pictures of things that only happen in Israel, like this sign on the bus about the importance of not gossiping

  • actually knowing soldiers in the IDF
  • going away for Shabbat whenever we want
  • realizing my everyday life seems exotic to some
  • learning to think in kilos, shekels and liters
  • constantly clarifying, and often defending, my priorities
  • negotiating with friends and family to get the few consumer goods I still value delivered from the Old Country
  • feeling very American in Israel and very Israeli in America
  • letting Hashem run the world
  • being unspeakably grateful every single day

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Guest Post: Are You Anxiously Awaiting the Geula?

This guest post was written and translated by Devorah (Heshelis) Fastag 

Below is a translation of part of the commentary of the Kli Yakar on this week's parsha, which speaks about the importance of not being settled in the gentile lands, and always awaiting the ge'ula. 

The last verse in parshat Vayigash reads: "And Israel settled (vayeshev) in the land of Egypt, in the land of Goshen, and they possessed it and they were fruitful and multiplied in it." The Kli Yakar, a classic commentary on the Chumash, comments on this:

This entire pasuk is speaking about the guilt of Bnei Yisrael [the Jewish People].
Hashem decreed upon them "For your seed will be an alien" (ger), but they wanted to be permanent residents in the place that they were decreed to be aliens, as Chazal comment on the words "vayeshev Yaakov (Ya'akov settled down): "Ya'akov wanted to settle in peace, the turmoil of Yosef jumped upon him.  [i.e. the Kli Yakar is showing that the term vayeshev refers to a feeling of being permanently settled, which was not right for Ya'akov and not right again here – translator].   The pasuk is blaming them because they wanted to take possession of a land where they were meant to be temporary sojourners. At first he said to Par'o "we have come to sojourn in the land".  This shows that at first they did not intend to permanently settle down, only to reside there as foreigners. Now, however, they changed their minds, and they became so settled there that they did not want to leave Egypt until Hashem had to take them out with a strong hand, and those that did not want to leave died in the three days of (the plague of) darkness."

Then, when explaining the first pasuk of Parshat Vayechi, the Kli Yakar says:

"…the Akeida [the name of a commentary] interpreted the medrash which says that when Ya'akov wanted to reveal the ketz [the end of all exile] Hashem said, "Vilo Oti karata Ya'akov" – And Me you did not call, Ya'akov to mean that you were not concerned with My honor. This is because this knowledge [the knowledge of the time of the end of the exile] causes the people not to call out to Hashem. The earlier generations will not call to Hashem to plead for the redemption. Instead they will want to become citizens in the lands of the [gentile] nations and acquire possessions  in those lands, as if they despaired of the redemption. Therefore, Hashem hid from us the ketz ha'acharon [this phrase could mean the time of the end of the last galut, or it could mean the latest possible time for the redemption, which can come earlier if we merit it, but cannot come later than that date] so that every generation will plead for  Hashem's presence and for David their king [Mashiach ben David] and not desire to be permanent residents in the lands of the gentiles, but rather constantly awaiting the end when Hashem will save them. Due to our sins, this problem exists amongst us now, even now when the date of the end [of the exile] is not known, even so, there are many Jews who settle in the lands of the gentiles and build beautiful and sturdy homes for themselves to be strong and permanent, and for this reason they never beseech Hashem with a full heart to bring them to their land. Therefore Hashem leaves them there.

Note: The Kli Yakar lived about 500 years ago. He became the head of the Bet Din in Prague after the passing of the Maharal of Prague. His commentary, which is deeply logical occasionally includes kabbalistic insights. It appears in all standard Mikraot Gdolot Chumashim. HasHHHH