Monday, March 24, 2014

Anyone out there missing a Torah?

Every member of our shul received the same email today. I read it twice and I was still baffled (as presumably were many others). If it was last week and Purim I would have sworn it was a joke.

Let me paraphrase the email: 'We were doing some house cleaning today and it seems we have an extra Torah here.  Oh, by the way, we are looking for its owners. Any ideas on who that might be?'

Now do you understand why I had to write this post? I think the inexplicably present Torah is comparable to coming home one day and noticing a cow in your backyard. At first you probably wonder if you always had the cow and then you wonder when it showed up and why you don't remember it. Finally, after you rack your brains and cannot remember acquiring a cow, you begin to question how the damn thing got there in the first place. In other words, on an absurdity scale of one to ten, this is about a twenty.

I can't possibly be the only one wondering  ...
  • Who the heck pays the extremely hefty price for a Torah and then inadvertently leaves it somewhere
  • Or did the mysterious absent-minded Torah owners forget about it? 
  • Have they never sat around the Yom Kippur table and found themselves asking each other: 'Remember that Torah we commissioned? Do you remember where we left it? Did we leave it in the trunk of the car? I could have sworn I got it back from the Mandels after their Simcha Torah party. It's not downstairs with the Sukkah decorations is it?'
  • Why haven't they noticed it missing? It's not like the average Torah is small or compact. It's not like they come in "pocket size". And most require the strength of a grown man to schlep around.
  • Have they been on an opium-induced travel spree of biblical proportions? That would at least explain why they haven't sent out an All Points Bulletin for such a valuable item.
  • Are they locked in an Turkish prison? That would explain a lot too -- I've seen "Midnight Express"
  • And why is the synagogue just noticing now that there is an unaccounted for Torah among its belongings? Doesn't anyone monitor the shul's Torah situation? Heaven knows they get used regularly enough. Considering the number of times a year someone in the synagogue reaches for a Torah, you would think it wouldn't have to be inventory day to notice it.
  • Was it stashed in the basement parking lot after a wild bar mitzvah party? There's a lot of junk just sitting down there -- I noticed it last week en route to the Youth Minyan Megillah Reading. I think I saw a grocery store shopping cart, so why not a Torah scroll? Maybe that's how the Torah scroll arrived in the first place ... via shopping cart. Hmmmmm.
  • Did travelling Torah thieves leave it behind while making a run for the border? And if so, what border? There aren't a lot of easy travel options from Israel -- and probably none that would let you pass with a Torah.
It is no small thing to commission a Torah. First there is the monetary cost. I checked. They start at about 85,000 nis (US$25,000) and go up from there. Next, there is parchment selection as well as finding the best scribe to write it. Checking the scribe's credentials could take months. Then there is the proofreading -- can you imagine writing a whole Torah just to find an error in Bereshit? Each Torah is written by hand and takes at least eight months to complete -- and there is no room for anything but perfection. The review process alone takes months. It is a Torah after all. 

And let's not get started on the cover and the ornamentation.

So how does such a situation arise? 

After much thought I have decided to claim it if no one shows up in the next few days. At least I would keep an eye on it and be mindful of its great religious value. I would even take it out once a week and adjust the scrolls for the parshat shavua. And while I am incredibly forgetful these days I am pretty sure I would be able to remember something as important as where I last set it down. It would be right next to the cow in my backyard.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

My evening in the big city

I went to Jerusalem last night to see the documentary film about violence against Muslim women in the Middle East. I don't really know why I had to see a movie about something that I read about in various newspapers on a semi-regular basis and can always catch in a brief clip on YouTube, but I was there in row 5 nonetheless. The movie, The Honor Diaries, was actually very well done (disclosure: one of my old friends is an executive producer of the movie). But this post is not a movie review. Since when do I review movies? Ah, never.

This is about a slice of the cultural life in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is only 76 kilometers from Ra'anana and you can get there in non-rush hour traffic in about one hour, but it might as well be on the other side of the world.

We arrived at Lloyd George St.'s Lev Smadar Theatre for the VIP reception (okay, don't even start letting your mind wander to fancy dresses, fancy rooms and fancy food). It's on a quaint little street that probably hasn't changed in the past 80 years. I can spit farther than the width of the street -- well maybe not anymore, but I could when I was a kid. And the whole neighbourhood screams "this is what trendy quaint really looks like".

When we entered the theatre building, we picked up our tickets and asked where the reception was. I needn't have bothered since it was about three inches in front of my nose. I don't know what I was expecting from said reception but let's just say that there were more people in that 5 meter x 5 meter corner than there was space to hold them properly.

While most of the waiters were very nice and smiley considering the constraints under which they were working, there was this one waiter who apparently needed to take out all his claustrophobic anger on my right side and my handbag. And man was he angry. I was tempted to body check him after our first two collisions but I knew my husband would look at me with that "was that really necessary?" look and even if I said yes, he would know I was lying so I was forced to take the high road.

Then there were all the pseudo-film-intellectuals in shabby sheik clothes. You know, the de rigeur combat boots and twisty scarves. The one good thing about being squashed together like sardines is that you get to eavesdrop on some really ridiculous conversations. "Did you see the last Lars Von Trier film?" "No, I am waiting for the next Jim Jarmush." (Oh don't start on me about Von Trier; after complimenting Nazis at Cannes last year he retracted his statement and went on to say: "I have nothing against Jews. I have a Jewish name and all my children have Jewish names." I have no idea what his comments mean and if that's was pseudo-film types want to discuss, count me happily out.

After the movie there was a question and answer session with one of the Muslim women associated with the film and the movement to save other Muslim women from the 15th century abuse by ignorant men and their society. She was intelligent and knowledgeable -- and she probably had some really insightful things to say EXCEPT the pseudo-intellectual poseurs in the audience were more interested in hearing their own voices rather than asking her questions. They just wanted to tell us all what they thought about the situation.

If I wanted to hear what they had to say then I would have gone to watch their movies. Oh right, they didn't make any movies. I guess that's why they were trying to hijack the event.

As we left the little theatre with tons of personality, all I could think was that I am going home to quiet, slightly dull, less cultural, less trendy, less historically interesting Ra'anana where I have to search for mental stimulation, but overall, the crowd is much more to my liking.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The inevitable beginning of the end

This weekend is the annual celebration of Purim -- the fun, dress-up-in -costumes holiday celebrating the Jews close call with the anti-Semites of Persia around 360 B.C.E.. However, the real celebration (for kids anyway) has nothing at all to do with outsmarting people who hate us; it is the realization that although it is only March, school is essentially over for another year.

Let me be clear here -- school does not end officially until sometime in June, but every education-aware parent in the State of Israel knows that absolutely nothing productive happens in school after Purim. And we wonder why Israel's international academic ratings have fallen over the years -- quelle surprise!!!!

Here's a brief run-down of all the interruptions to the average school year that occur between the end of Purim and the end of June:

  • Passover begins exactly four weeks after Purim. Now, you might say: "well why can't the schools cram another month of learning into that time frame?" Good question. Write to me if you can figure out the answer. I would also like to know. Here's what the schools will tell you: they have to start reviewing the Passover story which takes a few weeks because it is a pivotal moment in Jewish history and then they need a week to have the kids clean every conceivable crumb out of every conceivable crevice in the schools and surrounding areas. Then, the teachers need a week off before the holiday to get their own homes ready for the holiday.
  • Six days after the kids get back from the three-week Passover break, there is Yom HaShoah -- I would love to slam this day but since it honours the dead of the Holocaust, how can I? I feel Jews spend a lot of time honouring the past and the last thing we needed was another thing to honour. Thank you Adolf Hitler.
  • Seven days after Yom HaShoah, is Yom HaZikaron -- the day honouring those who died for the State of Israel. Personally I am much more sympathetic to this holiday because thanks to those who gave their lives for Israel,  I can live here or almost anywhere (as a Jew) safely.This is a debt that cannot be repaid.
  • As Yom HaZikaron ends, Yom Ha'atzmaut begins -- I love the fact that first Israel honours its fallen soldiers and then celebrates what their sacrifice gave us -- the State of Israel. The national party is something to behold, but after all the sadness and happiness compacted into two days, the kids are pooped. Well, that's what my kids tell me.
  • Eleven days later, yes, we're at it again. This time it is Lag B'Omer or what I like to call the next safest thing to Heroin Day. School-aged kids spend every afternoon from the end of Passover until sunset on Lag B'Omer collecting wood to burn in their giant, parent-ignited bonfires.  And then they spend hours with their freaked out parents yelling at them not to get to close to the fire.The older kids light their own bonfires and then they sit there roasting food and drinking with a giant fire nearby. Very relaxing celebration for parents.
  • Nine days later is Yom Yerushalayim honouring well, Jerusalem. It's a nice thought if only it didn't come after several weeks of other celebrations.
  • And six days later, there is another serious holiday -- Shavuot. This is when the Israelites, newly escaped from Egypt, received the Torah at Sinai. And since the Torah lies at the heart of Judaism, Shavuot is big. It is so big, in fact, that the kids get an extra day off school to prepare and a day after to recuperate. Recuperate from what? Who the hell knows.
By this point we are a week or so into June so the kids go back to school to prepare for any of the end of the year loose ends that were not handled earlier in the year when school really ended -- at Purim.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Report from the front lines: another day in gan

I had the pleasure of spending another day with those cute little boys (in the picture to the right) in gan this past Sunday. And now I feel obliged to give you a quick update on what is new in their lives. Before I do so may I just say that everyone who feels that they are losing sight of the big picture should spend a day with people like them. And second, the greatest thing I can wish you all, as we approach Purim, is the clarity of their worldview.

Since they all go by nicknames -- and not their real names -- I am going to use their individual handles!!

  • Zundel had his haircut -- he no longer has the long blond curls that he had a few months ago. He looks very mature and could easily pass for three and a half!!!
  • Dundun is speaking English like a regular two-year-old -- which is impressive since it is his third language. Also, he seems to have forgotten his obsession with French children's folk songs.
  • Shruli appears to be in the midst of a small personal rebellion -- yes, he was kicking the underside of the lunch table and if you go to gan you know that there is no kicking the table while chewing! I don't know why, but there isn't and that's the end of the subject.
  • Rafi is walking -- and the adults in his life are breathing a sigh of relief because, God love him, is he a very significant little man and carrying him around requires great physical strength and a very good back.
  • Shua is back from vacation -- and spent the first hour after meeting me eyeing me suspiciously before determining that since all his friends were bringing me boardbooks to read, I must be okay. He then proceeded to talk my ear off for the next three hours. 
And now, in the spirit of the upcoming holiday, I am going to paraphrase the version of the Purim story that they are learning. No wonder so many of us Jewish kids get to a certain age and realize that the religion we thought we were part of was actually Disney Judaism and in fact, the real deal is a lot harder to digest.

Here we go. The Gan version of Purim:

There was a city called Shushan. It had a castle. The king -- Achashverosh --lived in the castle with the queen -- Vashti. The king was a very silly king and he liked to have lots of parties. One day the king decided to have a party and he asked the queen to come to the party and dance. She said no.  He was a silly silly king. He made Vashti go away, but then he was sad. Then a nice man named Mordechai told the king, "don't be sad, I will find you a new wife." Mordechai brought the king, Esther, and then he wasn't sad. But there was also a very bad man. His name was Haman. He was very, very bad to the Jewish people. Mordechai told Esther that she had to get rid of Haman so Esther went to the king and told him that Haman was a very very bad man. The king got rid of Haman and then the Achashverosh, Esther and Mordechai -- and the Jewish people -- lived happily ever after.

If you have any issues with this version of the story you can take them up with the teacher, Bracha. But, really, why would you? Happy Purim to all. May we always vanquish our enemies so easily.