Monthly Archives: January 2011

A Snow Day in the Desert

One of the things I miss most about America is snowy winters. Yes, yes, all you Americans reading this are probably groaning just thinking about all the snow you’ve had so far this winter, but I consider you lucky. While I never thought of winter as my favorite season, I have many a good childhood memory involving snow: constructing a tunnel system under 2 feet of snow in the driveway with my brothers, getting buried under the snow by my brothers, making snow angels, building snowmen, making snow forts for snowball fights, sledding down the hill next to my grandparents house on a garbage bag, watching my dog create yellow snow… Ok, maybe not that last one so much. Bottom line: Snow is magical.

Think about it for a second.

As you’re falling asleep you notice a few flurries falling outside your bedroom window, illuminated by the orange glow of a nearby streetlamp. It makes you think about all the feel-good feelings associated with Christmas (see my first post, Miracle on Hayehudim Street, for further insights into the “Christmas spirit”), and you slowly drift off into a peaceful sleep. You wake up the next morning remembering the flurries you saw the night before, and you look out the window to discover a white wonderland. You run downstairs and immediately find out from your mother than school has been canceled today; you have a snow day. You throw on your boots and your coat over your pajamas and run outside. You think to yourself that there is nothing more beautiful than a thick layer of unadulterated snow coating everything in sight. You quickly run inside, get your 35mm film camera, snap a few over-exposed shots for memory’s sake, throw the camera back into the house, and run out into the front yard making the first visible disruption to the snow on your block. As you glide through the soft flurries you notice some imprints in the snow… from a bird or squirrel? You follow the animal-prints to a pine tree on the edge of your property. Looking up you see the snow balanced perfectly on the tree branches, begging you to flick the branch and make the snow fall off. So you abide. At this point the neighbors have come outside as well and are doing similar things in a more restrained fashion (*sigh* adults). Now that the magic of being alone in a winter wonderland has broken, you go back inside and commence your regular morning routine. When you’re done, you mother hands you and your siblings some shovels and asks you to shovel the walkway and the sidewalk, and then to clean off the cars. So you do. It’s not the most fun, but it sure beats going to school – even when your brother sneaks up on you and puts snow down the inside of your coat. You’ll get him back soon though… While shoveling the sidewalk, you scoop up a bunch of snow on the shovel and toss it at your brother. Snowball fight ensues, at which point you are wet and cold and losing miserably. Your mom comes outside and asks you to stop fooling around and finish shoveling. So you finish, with an occasional snowball thrown, then you lay down the salt and go back inside. Immediately the smell of grilled-cheese sandwiches hits your nose and your senses go wild. You top your wonderful lunch off with a heart-warming cup of hot cocoa topped with whipped cream. Then you go play a board game on the living room floor with your siblings. After losing, you all go back outside for the real creativity. Your brothers decide to have a contest for who can build the biggest snowman. You decide to make one yourself, but after rolling the snow around to make a ball it starts picking up massive chunks of mud and dirt and does not look pretty at all. So, while your brothers go looking for branches to use as arms, you take the family dog out and run around with him in the snow for a while. When your brothers are finished, you decide to tag along with them to a close by hill for some sledding. It’s a popular spot for all the neighborhood youth, but you wait your turn and squeal from delight the whole way down. After many turns each where you go down forwards, backwards, and head-first on your stomach, you notice it slowly getting dark out, so you head home. On your way you notice icicles forming around the bottoms of cars and at the corners of sheds, so you pick off a few. You accidentally drop one in a patch of white snow and for the life of you, you can’t find it again. As you kick the snow off of your boots outside the house’s front door, you look around and compare what you see now with what you saw that morning when you woke up. The roads, sidewalks and walkways are cleared, the setting sun gleams off the tops of the cars that pass by, dirty slush is piling up on the side of the road, the snow in your yard is trodden and bumpy with yellow splotches here and there, and there are two, large, lopsided snowmen standing guard to your house; all the work of a fun-filled, successful snow day. After dinner, your father gets a fire going in the fireplace, and the whole family crowds around it, fighting over who gets the wool blanket that grandma knitted. You read a book while sipping more hot cocoa, glancing up at the crackling fire ever few minutes, trying to figure out what images and shapes you see in the burning logs. As the fire dies down, you find yourself yawning. So you trudge upstairs, brush your teeth, change back into pajamas, and climb into bed under your nice, warm covers, and dream about peaceful things.

This scenario could never happen in Israel. Don’t get me wrong – this country generally has about one snow day every winter, although all it takes is a few flurries to shut this country down. (And most houses in this country don’t have anything resembling a fireplace.) We don’t get feet of snow here. We barely get an inch every four years. My first year in Israel it flurried for about 5 minutes, during which time we all ran out of the classroom to twirl around under the open skies. But in the seven winters I’ve spent in this country, only one winter had enough snow to do anything with. I was in my second year of college when it started snowing one school night, and having been in the country long enough to know that even if the tiniest bit of snow sticks to the ground overnight, everything would be called off the next day so that the country’s five snow plows could get to work clearing the roads. So on my snowday I set my alarm for bright and early, grabbed my fancy camera, and trekked through the inch of snow, uphill, for 45 minutes to get a picture of the Temple Mount covered in snow. It wasn’t as special as I thought. No snow stuck on the golden cap of the Dome of the Rock, so the morning sun glared so much off of it that it was close to impossible to make out that there was even snow around it. Morning wasted, I passed by some Israeli kids having a snowball fight on my 45 minute walk home. I’d have loved to stop and play with them, but they were playing rather violently and I had my fancy camera around my neck, so I decided best not to. Around noon-time I decided that I absolutely had to have some fun in the snow, so I began calling up friends asking if they wanted to meet up in a nearby park. No one was interested. So I did the only thing I could think of… I went to a family in the neighborhood that I had become quite close to and asked their 8 year old daughter (who was almost like a little sister to me) if she wanted to go out and play in the snow. So, my playmate and I went off to the park where some other kids were having a snowball fight, and we found a quiet spot with a patch of unadulterated snow only big enough for my little friend to make a snow angel, and then we built a small snowman using any and all the snow we could find. Not the most fulfilling snow day, but better than nothing.

A year later, my husband (then fiancé) and I flew to America at the end of January for our engagement party. We were there for two whole weeks during which time it snowed a massive amount, and during which I, of course, was sick with fever and unable to leave the house. What a bummer. Finally, on the last day of our trip I decided that I didn’t care if I wasn’t 100% better yet – I was not going to miss the snow! So I got to play in the snow a little bit, but mostly just walked around, shuffling my feet through it.

That was the last time I saw snow… real snow, I mean. This winter I was introduced to a different kind of “snow”. It would seem as though our warm and wonderful down blankets that we registered for as a wedding present are not as wonderful as we thought. There are no holes in the comforter, but the goose feathers that are stuffed inside it are so soft, thin and delicate that they slip right through the cotton knitting of the blanket. Over the past few weeks we’ve had an increasing number of feathers floating around our bedroom. I finally gave up yesterday and exchanged the down comforters for slightly less warm, non feathered blankets. As I stripped the duvet covers off of the blankets though, little, white feathers began flying everywhere. And the worst part is that once they settle, all you have to do is pass by them at a distance of a few feet and they’re up and flying through the air again. It’s like recyclable and annoying snow that isn’t cold and you can’t make snowmen with. By the time my husband got home from work that night I looked like a goose, covered in feathers, and that was nothing compared to how our couch looked (still looks, actually – I haven’t cleaned it off yet).

So here I am, going through massive snow withdrawal, reading via Facebook posts how all my friends in America are complaining about the incessant snow they’ve been having all winter long. Boo hoo, poor you. You have too much snow. Sorry I’m not at all sympathetic. Want to send some my way? I’ll happily take it!


The Return of the Ring

Note: This post is a sequel to my earlier post, Scary Movie.

Remember how I saw the horror movie The Ring and convinced myself for a week that I was going to die? Well, I didn’t die, but that didn’t mean I stopped being paranoid. (For the record, while I was writing the Scary Movie post, I kept looking over my shoulder and hearing noises in the other rooms.)

One day, a number of months after I saw that movie, when the days were longer and the weather was already warmer, I came home from school and noticed something strange. There were no cars parked on my street. In fact, there weren’t even any cars parked in neighbors’ driveways on my street. (This is highly odd as my parents’ house is down the street from a public school and as long as school is in session there are always cars parked on our street.) My second big shock came when I opened the front door. Normally when I’d be the first one home at the end of the day, I’d get a loving welcome from our big pet dog (alav hashalom). But that day there was no greeting. In fact, there was no dog. We didn’t have a dog flap, so the only way he could have gotten out of the house was if he was dog-napped. The only way he could get dog-napped was if someone broke into our house. Was the intruder still there, waiting for an unsuspecting me to walk in?

Initiate paranoia!

As I walked in the front door, I heard a beeping sounds coming from an upper floor. Naturally, over-paranoid and dramatic me assumed it was a bomb… Either that or an alien transmission. Still nervous that there was an armed and dangerous intruder in the house, I worked my way over to the kitchen where I took out the largest and sharpest knife I could find. Then, grabbing the phone in my free hand, I ran out the back door of the house and hid in a bush. I called my Mom at work, but there was no answer. I called my Dad, no answer either. Failing all that, I dialed one of the only other numbers I knew by heart (aside from 911, which was next on my list) and called a friend from school. She wasn’t much help at calming me down, but at least I didn’t feel alone. Eventually my Mom called back and convinced me to go into the house. With my knife in one hand and the phone with my Mom on it in the other hand, I went upstairs, following the beeping noise. Poised and ready for battle, I found myself confronted by… a dying battery in the fire alarm. Problem 1 solved. But there was still no sign of the dog, and without him I felt very vulnerable (even though his only form of attack would have been licking the bad guy to death). I decided that my best bet was to hide in my bedroom and distract myself on AIM until a parent came home from work. Only after I turned the computer on did I remember that Samara (the scary girl in the movie The Ring – see my other post for the whole story) emerges through screens. (Scary situations bring out the worst in me.) So I turned the computer off, only to remember that Samara has the power to turn them on anyway, and deciding that it would be creepier if the computer turned on on it’s own when it was off than if it was already on and I lost control of it, I turned it back on. Sure enough, AIM distracted me enough to lower my weapon. Before I knew it, my Mom was home from work, and together we found the dog in the attic. (Apparently he was scared by something and ran through the screen door to the attic, but when he wanted to come back down the steps, he saw the screen at the bottom and decided it wasn’t possible to exit that way, so he stayed up there in hiding. Silly scared-y-dog.)

Life is so much more entertaining when you live in a movie.

Where the Heart Is

Seven years ago, when I came to live in Israel post-high school, I left much of what I knew behind: family, friends, short queues, neighbors who are nice and a place where I could call home. I came to a country where I had no family and no home. And yet I admonished myself for feeling that way. After all, this country is full of my people, my family, and this country is the home that G-d gave me. In some ways wide-eyed idealism made me feel more comfortable. I’d smile at all my brothers and sisters who’d pass me on the streets, and I’d feel lucky to have the Temple Mount as my first home’s backyard in this country. But could I really call the seminary’s dorms “my home”? After all, I was told that I couldn’t stay in on Shabbatot that were not “in” Shabbatot. But I tried to make it as homey as possible by keeping it extra-clean and decorating the walls, knowing that at the end of the year I’d have to move into a different room. And so it was for my first two years in Israel. But in the middle of that second year, my rabbi gathered a bunch of us girls who had either already made aliyah, or were planning on making aliyah, for a helpful advice session. A lot of things were said to help us acclimate to our surroundings a bit easier, but there was only one thing that my rabbi said that day that still stands out in my memory five years later: make yourself a home. Make yourself a home that you won’t have to move out of at the end of each year. Make yourself a home where you can spend Shabbatot and holidays. Make yourself a home where you feel at peace with your surroundings and with yourself. And so I tried.

The summer between my second year in seminary and my first year at an Israeli college left me unsure whether or not I’d succeed in finding a home. My first attempt at signing a contract fell apart hours before my flight to America. I was then out of the country for two whole months unsure of where I’d be living upon my return. A month and a half in to my vacation, my second attempt failed when lengthy lacks of internet and then electricity prevented me from contacting prospective roommate to close the deal. My third attempt didn’t fail, but it required a face-to-face meeting before I joined in. Being the best (and only) option I had, I returned to Israel at the end of my two month vacation, with no place yet to call home (which was quite nerve wracking). I landed in Israel exactly two weeks before my first day at an all-Israeli, Hebrew speaking college (no, the college didn’t speak ::eyes, rolling::). That first week I stayed with an “adopted” family, during which time I met with my prospective roommates and was accepted to move in! Yay! I moved in a week before my first day of school, and that apartment became my home for three fun-filled years.

Little did I know that it was G-d’s plan all along for me to end up in that apartment. Two years in, one of my roommates got married, and guess who I met at her wedding? My next and permanent roommate! That’s right… my wonderful husband. We got married and moved into an… interesting apartment (for a later post). We decided when we got married that we’d continue living in Jerusalem for a year, during which time we’d look for a small yishuv (settlement) to make our permanent home. Almost two years later we’re still in Jerusalem and still looking for our dream yishuv. We’ve checked out some places already, and haven’t quite found what we’re looking for, but the list of places to check out is long, and we’re enjoying our extended stay in Jerusalem. Does our dream yishuv exist? Perhaps, although it’s unlikely. We’ll probably end up settling for something close to perfect, and it may take another few years to find it. Who knows? On the plus side I now have real family here – my husband – and lots of wonderful friends who have become an extended family, and as long as I have all that, I’ll have a home.

Well, it really depends on what “home” is. Is it a physical place or an emotional place? If physical, then can any place with a bed for you to sleep in be called home? Or is a hotel by no definition a home? And if “home” is an emotional place, then in theory a group of “homeless” people who take comfort in each others presences are indeed not “homeless.”

And then there’s the way we use the word “home.” I hear my friends who have made aliyah (moved to Israel) saying all the time that they are “going home” to visit their families who still live outside of Israel. I understand that it’s hard to stop calling the place you grew up in “home,” but I’ve never heard my parents say “let’s go visit home” when going to visit my grandparents in their childhood homes. Is it just a matter of time? Or does family always mean “home” no matter how much time has passed since you last lived there? Did my parents’ house in America stop being my home when I moved to Israel or when I got married (and made a new family)? Or is it still “home”? When I first made aliyah, my teudat zehut (government issued identity card) said that I lived in the seminary dorms. Since then the address has been changed twice. So have the dorms stopped being my home? Or will they always be my home? And were they ever my home in the first place?

Wikipedia defines “home” thus:

A home is a place of residence or refuge. When it refers to a building, it is usually a place in which an individual or a family can rest and store personal property. Most modern-day households contain sanitary facilities and a means of preparing food. Animals have their own homes as well, either living in the wild or in a domesticated environment. “Home” is also used to refer to the geographical area (whether it be a suburb, town, city or country) in which a person grew up or feels they belong, or it can refer to the native habitat of a wild animal. As an alternative to the definition of “home” as a physical locale, home may be perceived to have no physical definition—instead, home may relate instead to a mental or emotional state of refuge or comfort.

I guess “home” is something different to each person. In my mind, I have multiple “homes.” For primarily ideological reasons I call Israel my home, something that I never said about America even when I was living there. (While my parents’ house was indeed home, I never refered to the city, state or country as “home.”) I suppose when G-d tells you that a piece of land is given to you, there’s a strong sense of belonging and possessiveness that comes along with it. Beyond that, “home” has never been simply the place in which I had a bed to sleep in. (The bunks in Camp Moshava were never my “home.”) In order for me to call any physical place “home,” it must have a certain sentimental value in addition to being a “refuge” or comfort zone. My seminary was a “home.” Over the two years I lived there I got settled; there was the makolet (convenience store) to which I frequented, the pizza shop that had a photo of me on the wall (a story for another time) and the shul I regularly went to on “in” Shabbatot. I put down roots there. When I go back to visit, I still feel like I belong, albeit a little estranged.

While I spent the past five years, post seminary, in two different apartments, they were both in the same neighborhood. While at this point I don’t feel a strong pull towards either physical apartment, this neighborhood is certainly my home. Not only am I friendly with entire families in this neighborhood (and not just friends my age), but I just took part in my shul‘s member meeting and elections earlier this week! Katamon (this Jerusalem neighborhood) is most definitely my home, and I think that’s why part of me is dreading the time that we’ll move out.

So after all that, why am I so eager to move? Maybe if we lived in a nicer apartment here I wouldn’t be so eager. As it is, I’m entirely conflicted between wanting to stay and wanting to leave. A large part of me believes that somewhere out there is a place that will be an even better fit than Katamon. I don’t know where, and I’m in no rush to leave. Odd as it is, I started this post of the mindset that this home was just a stop on the route (that even though we missed our one year deadline, we’d still be moving out of here as soon as we can). Now I’m not so sure. There are plenty more things to take into account (like travel distances to work, to name one), but in my heart I’m ready to call this neighborhood home for quite a while longer.

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Last week a very special person died. His name was Vendyl Jones, alav hashalom. He was not Jewish, and that is probably the most remarkable thing about him. I know, it doesn’t sound like much, but when you look at his life’s achievements it’s actually quite remarkable. Vendyl Jones dedicated his life to correcting misconceived notions about Judaism, the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

Yes, I repeat, he was not a Jew.

Vendyl Jones

Vendyl Jones

Vendyl Jones was born and raised a devout Baptist, even serving as a church’s pastor for a couple of years. It was during that time that his studies led him to discover possible incongruities in later editions of the Christian bible with regard to anti-Jewish statements. This discovery prompted him to contact a nearby rabbi, and shortly later he was learning Hebrew alongside elementary school children in a religious school so that he could better understand the Bible from a Jewish perspective. While Vendyl never converted to Judaism, he worked both in America and in Israel alongside the quasi-established (in 2004) Sanhedrin in establishing and running the B’nai Noah movement, stressing the need for gentiles to follow the seven Noahide laws. (Two of his five children did, however, convert to Judaism.)

Another passion of Vendyl’s was archaeology. Combined with his love for religion, Vendyl was fascinated from a young age with the search for ancient, biblical artifacts, especially the Ark of the Covenant. In 1967, Vendyl Jones moved his family to Israel to further his Judaic education. That same year the Six Day War broke out and Vendyl proved himself an asset to the Israeli Army due to a specific kind of colorblindness he had that made camouflaged enemy soldiers stand out.

After the war, Jones began working with an excavation crew at Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. Back in 1952, the Copper Scroll was found in cave 3 in Qumran. For years the Copper Scroll (called such because the text was engraved backwards on a roll of copper, causing the letters to protrude correctly on the reverse side) proved an enigma, eventually understood to be a copy of a sort of ancient treasure map (with markers along the lines of “Canyon of the Crescent Moon“) giving 64 locations where silver, gold and other treasures were hidden (including such items as priestly garment and possibly even ashes from a red heifer). This scroll was dated back to ~70 CE, around the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. In a separate matter, a missing tosefta (Mishnaic text) was found in the Cairo Geniza in 1896 under the section of Keilim, describing various vessels from the Beit Hamikdash that were hidden away by Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah) a number of years before the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. The text mentions the five men put in charge of this task: Shimor HaLevi, Chizkiyahu, Tzidkiyahu, Chaggai, and Zecharia, and that Ezra Hasofer was with the author of this tosefta in Babylon when it was written. The text goes on to say that after completing their work, Shimor HaLevi et al made a list of these treasures on a… copper tablet!

Back to our story, in 1968 Vedyl Jones discovered two of the landmarks deciphered from the Copper Scroll, and over the next ten years discovered many more. Finally, in 1977 he began excavating at the sites he found. For ten more years he came up empty-handed, but in early 1988 his crew discovered what the pharmaceutical department of Hebrew University, after intensive testing, agreed was a certain kind of biblical oil used for its fragrant smell and for anointing kings. Four years later Jones made his next great discovery: a hidden silo filled with 900 pounds of reddish, organic material that tests proved to be 9 of the 11 ingredients comprising the ketoret (Incense). The remaining 2 inorganic materials were found nearby in the same cave.

Through further deciphering of the Copper Scroll, Jones believed he located the position of a chamber at the end of a long tunnel – Tzidkiyahu‘s “cave” – that begins just east of Sha’ar Shchem (the Damascus Gate), passes under the Temple Mount, and is believed to descend to Emek Achor where these chambers are located. It is widely believed that there is a maze of tunnels and passages under the Temple Mount, an idea supported in the Gemara, and that the Ark of the covenant is was moved there when the First Temple was attacked. If this is indeed the case, it’s possible that the Ark is still buried under the Temple Mount or, as Jones hypothesized, was moved through the tunnels under the Temple Mount along with the other Temple treasures to the chamber at the end of the tunnel, around which he had been doing his other excavations and made his other discoveries. Wanting to begin the dig for the Ark, The Israeli Antiquities Authority took away Jones’s license for unclear reasons, denying him the ability to excavate into that chamber or under the Temple Mount. Upon reaching this anticlimactic roadblock, Vendyl Jones then turned his resources towards finding the biblical city of Gilgal (which he believed he did indeed find), and pursued that until he fell ill and eventually passed away.

Many important religious figures, among them Rav Goren and Rav Steinsaltz, as well as the Temple Mount Institute (Machon Hamikdash), endorsed and praised Vendyl Jones for his work. Despite false rumors that Steven Spielberg and George Lucas based and named their multimillion Indiana Jones character after Vendyl Jones, Vendyl Jones will forever be the real Indy.

I must admit that for quite a while I dreamed of being an archaeologist like Indiana Jones. Ok, ok, so archaeology isn’t really as exciting as he made it seem, but I wanted to go on adventures and discover hidden treasures of the past. (Having Indy kick Nazi butt just made him all the more heroic to me.) When I was a camper on Mach Hach I liked to pretend on hikes that I was Indy, jumping from rock to distant rock and swinging from vines. As part of the same summer program I took part in an archaeological dig-for-a-day and had the certificate they gave me at the end written to “IndiANNA Hertzberg” (I was ever so proud of that – I still have that certificate!).

Anyway, the true location of the Ark is still unknown. Is it under the Temple Mount or in a cave? Maybe it’s in the Vatican or in Ethiopia (as recent theorists like to believe). For all we know Jones was on the completely wrong track, although it’s fun to believe he was right. It’s a real shame that he didn’t get to fulfill his lifelong dream of finding it, but his contributions both archaeologically and religiously to Jews around the world and to Israel will forever be remembered and praised. And who knows? Maybe “IndiANNA Cohen” will pick up where he left off…