Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From Mourning to Morning

We just completed the observing of Yom HaZicharon, Israel's Memorial Day and the celebration of Yom HaAtzmaut, our Independence Day.

The first day is the day we remember our loved ones who gave their lives for the survival of this nation, and the day we stand with the families who gave the ultimate sacrifice for this Land. Yom HaZicharon is a day of deep sadness, a day when we are permitted to remember and to mourn.

For us, a Land so small and a People so connected, there is not one person or family untouched by the loss of someone in war or in terror attacks. Our history as a People is ancient, but our history in restoring this Land is within our collective lifetime, and the losses are fresh - some just a short 61 years ago, some yesterday. For us, it is ongoing and the sorrow is personal and intense.

Remarkably however, in the fading hours of HaZicharon, a torch is lit, and the Day of Remembering is immediately handed off to a Day of Rejoicing.... rejoicing in our rebirth as a modern nation, rejoicing and celebrating this miracle of our return to the Land of our destiny.

The juxtaposition of the two days is purposeful, because it is recognized that without the sacrifice of those who died, we would not have had the miracle of rebirth. One of the realities of Judaism is expression of the balance between two opposites - things like mourning and joy, mercy and justice - for it is recognized that without the one, the other cannot exist.

So it is with these holidays. The two holidays are linked together, not just on our calendars, but knit together in our collective soul. As a country, we move from somber services and tears to fireworks and BBQ's in an immediate turnaround.

It is not easy. In some ways it seems it is asking a lot of us as a people. I struggle with it. Many struggle with it. Many are unable to make the quick transition.

I am very close to a family who has had many many losses, not all of them war losses, but all connected to this two day period. The sadness of their family at this time of year penetrates my soul, and I find it difficult at first to move forward. Part of me shouts, stop! wait! we need to linger here a little longer.

But the day marches on, the torch has been lit, and slowly, all together as a people, we move out of our mourning into the morning of a different day. I think it would be impossible alone.

You see this is one of the things that defines us as a People and what makes Am Yisrael unique...we do what we do, together, as one. For it would be too much to ask those who have suffered such tragedy to just turn around and change course. But as a People our losses and our joys are shared, and what one cannot do alone can be accomplished together as a unit.

There is yet another secret to Am Yisrael. One might think that it is on the shoulders of those whose loss is less personal, that the families and individuals for whom the loss was deeper are carried. But I think not. It was really the words of my friend in the hours of transition that helped me to move ahead. You see, most of the time it is the strength of those who have lost the most who carry the rest of us. Yet, it comes full circle, as they strengthen us we can strengthen them....the lines are indistinguishable.

It's who we are as a People.

And so, reluctant as I was to move forward just 24 hours ago, by the end of the day today, spending time with many friends, watching fireworks and tekesim (ceremonies), enjoying the wonderful food off the BBQ and seeing them smoking all around the country, I felt, at last, some semblance of peace.

Finally I realize the wisdom of the juxtaposition of the Two Days. Without the collective move into celebration, however slowly and hesitantly we go there, we might be tempted to stay in the mourning. We have other very well prescribed ways to give us the needed times of individual mourning. But as a People, it is necessary for us first to suffer together the sorrow, and then to lift one another up so that we can face tomorrow; it is necessary for us to go forward as One People, Am Yisrael.

Because we are also inseparable from this Land we celebrate, I think it is only here in Eretz Yisrael that the fullness of what I am saying can be fully realized and understood. We are married to this Land - Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael, we are one.

Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reflection on Yom HaShoah

Please go to TodayinIsrael for some thoughts on this Day of Remembrance.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Chasing the Elusive Moufleta

Now that Pesach is over, the first order of the day (right after sundown last night) was to eat bread with chametz!!
Photo Jewish Agency

The Moroccan community celebrates the occasion with a beautiful festival called Mimouna. In Israel it is a time when Moroccan families open their doors to everyone, inviting others in to join in the celebration. Mimouna not only celebrates the first leavened bread after Pesach with a delicious crepe called a moufleta, but finds this an opportunity to express hope for good fortune and prosperity ahead. Fine linens, dishes, and traditional dress, plus lots of delicious Moroccan delicacies make this a very special and colorful festival.

I have always wanted to participate in the Mimouna, but somehow over the years I have missed it for various reasons. Not being Moroccan, I needed personal invitations to join in. This year I thought it would finally work out, as a Moroccan friend was making arrangements for me. Unfortunately, illness prevented the family from hosting the dinner, and no other arrangements were made.

The main Israeli celebration this year was in Sderot, but other Moroccan communities were of course, hosting their own events. I had hoped to attend the evening activities, when the main events were taking place, but it didn't look too promising. Not to be discouraged, I was assured by others that the public gathering in Jerusalem's Gan Sacher (Park) on Thursday would draw thousands, and though a public event, was still well worth the while..

Especially I was in search of the moufleta....the special crepe drenched in honey and butter.

Unfortunately, my search for the elusive moufleta did not produce results, but my encounters along the way...well, they still make a good story.

Gan Sacher Park is nearly a mile long, extending from the Knesset to the Botanical Gardens near Givat Mordechai and I began my trek at the southern most end, near the Botanical Gardens. Normally the Gan Sacher event is filled with individual families barbequeing, stages set up for entertainment, and tents with food. I said normally...or at least in the past. Did I mention that it was raining today...and cold?

Empty. The Park was empty. The sun had come out and I didn't really expect the families to be there until the rain stopped and it dried off. But the tents? and the stages? Surely they were set up long ago. As I walked northward I expected to round each bend and see the public stagings of the Mimouna. So did the many police, the soldiers, the television camermen. Hmm.

The Park was empty. No one, nada, zip....except of course, for the soldiers, police, cameramen and me. All looking for celebrators of Mimouna ... all looking for moufleta. We talked and laughed amongst ourselves, the police, the soldiers and I. Since they couldn't find any Moroccan families, or expressions of Mimouna, Channel One decided to interview me, a writer with a website, looking for Mimouna and Moufleta. (Thank G-d, I think my stellar performance didn't make it off the cutting room floor and wasn't aired this evening as far as I know.)

Disappointed but not ready to give up, I headed for Ima's Restaurant, a popular Kurdish establishment with a few Moroccan offerings. I hoped they might be open and serving... just for the fun of it..... moufleta. They were open, but to the question of Mimouna food and moufletot, the answer was "no, no, no."

I decided that now I needed to make plan "C" (plans A & B already not working). So I ordered some traditional Kurdish kube Nablusia (meat filled fried crushed wheat pillows served with delicious tehina) and a beer. Well, it wasn't Moroccan, and it wasn't moufleta, but it was fabulous.

Heartened and rested, I decided to head for the Machne Yehuda market, JUST in case some Moroccan restaurant was open. I doubted it, since it was the holiday, can never assume anything in Israel.

The most famous Moroccan restaurant in the shuk is Azura, and walking down the main road of the market I saw the name Azura on a juice stand and I wondered if they were connected. No, no, no... same name but not connected the owner told me, but yes, definitely Azura the restaurant, which was just around the corner, was open.

It was not. They would open, I was told by a pleasant kitchen worker, at shemoneh v'hetze, half past 8:00 o'clock, when Mimouna was over. I smiled, took the restaurant card, and went back to Azura, the juice and coffee stand....which by the way, wasn't really open either.

By this time I had half of Machne Yehuda market looking for moufleta for me. It was really very sweet. But they knew, and I knew, there was none to be found. It was a charming interchange of Middle Eastern manners...they needed to show their desire to go all out to help me and I needed to let them, even though we already understood there was no mimouna or moufleta in the shuk.

We finally formally admitted it was a search in vain, and as I left, we all agreed that next year, I would be more prosperous, and I would be successful in finding the moufleta.

Gan Sacher was still my best route home, and on my way I passed another famous Machne Yehuda restaurant - a middle eastern restaurant called Sima (now also in Tel Aviv). There was a line down the sidewalk, and only a few at a time were being let in. Of course, it only seats a few...and I knew the food would be fabulous, but I had already had my kube. Another time for Simas.

Sauntering through Gan Sacher I came upon a few families now barbequeing various foods. I searched each table or blanket that I passed.. alas, pitot, but no moufletot. I even stopped and talked with a few large gathering I was sure would be Moroccan were instead from the Caucaus. There actually was one Moroccan family, but no they were not celebrating Mimouna today, only last night, and laughed at my search for Moufletot.

So, I arrived home, a bit disappointed, a little tired, but realized that in spite of the fact that I didn't find my Mimouna celebration and most of all my moufleta, I had made a lot of new friends, been treated very specially by a lot of very sweet people, discovered new places in the shuk, even had an interview on national television.

Even without the moufleta, it was a special day...a special way to celebrate Mimouna.

(Besides, I may not have found the moufleta at the Mimouna, but I found the afikomen at the, you can't win them all. I know , I know.....but the youngest...he's in the army, and he hid the afikomen. !!)

Next year at Mimouna!!

Post Pesach Matza Video

Hat tip to Jameel at Muqata for this funny video

Fortunately (or UNfortunately) I ate all my matzot, so I didn't have this dilemma. But, enjoy.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Chag Pesach Sameach 5769 / 2009

As we move tonight into the week- long Pesach observances, the City of Jerusalem and all of Israel is palpably excited and happy. This is a profound chag (holiday) on many levels - one enjoyed by everyone - at every level of tradition or observance.

For many it is a week long trip after the seder, camping, visting the beaches, a relaxing week off with many activities available around the country. Most restaurants close because kashering them for Pesach is quite overwhelming, so weary cafe and restaurant owners welcome the wonderful respite from their year long hard and constant labor in serving us the public with coffee and goodies.

There are a few who do stay open, switching their menus (after careful cleaning and kashering) to non-chametz, including or not including the kitniyot (rice, beans and legumes enjoyed by sephardim during Pesach). You could tell which cafes would be closing, as the owners and workers were practically dancing through the day on Tuesday, anticipating the weeks vacation. For the others, who will remain open, it was a "business as usual".

Around the neighborhood one could smell the fresh clean smells as apartment dwellers scrubbed up and polished up. Items not needed or wanted for Pesach or beyond were removed as we did a deeper "spring cleaning" and the results were piled on the walls, near the trash bins, waiting for the homeless to find clothes, shoes and many useful items, often in excellent condition.

Stores were in process of hiding, covering or removing all chametz related articles at the same time as customers pressed in to get Pesach supplies and foods. All this making for a real, but fun, balygan (mess)

In addition, starting Tuesday some very visible signs of Pesach began to appear on the streets in the neighborhoods. Kashering stands were set up around town for the purpose of making existing kitchenware and stove parts kosher ready for Pesach.

Kashering on HaPalmach

Flower stands took on a new look with large and
beautiful spring bouquets
made especially for Pesach.

Shuki on Shay Agnon

By Wednesday, yom Erev Pesach, the homes were free of chametz and spots for burning any left over breads or other chametz were seen and smelled all around town, as the last of the chametz disappeared.

Wishing all who celebrate our "freedom", a blessed and wonderful Pesach.