Sunday, April 27, 2014

Apparently eight is not enough

This past Shabbat we had 70 people over for a little kiddush. It started with a plan to host all the usual suspects -- about 20 people -- and by the time the little event began it had more than tripled in size. Do not be insulted if you weren't there -- trust me, if my husband had seen you Saturday morning, you would have been there.

It was strictly invitation-by-happenstance. There was no well thought out logic to the guest list other than the fact that we liked the people who were there. Of course, as my more socially sophisticated friends will quickly tell you, I like almost everyone. They don't say that kindly; they say it with utter disdain and the only thing that would freak them out more about my "most-people-are-nice" attitude was if they found me on the corner inviting the Arab junk dealers who drive around looking for little treasures in the miscellany that people throw out.

I am not a fan of large gatherings. Given my choice I would never invite more than three people at a time. My husband says that I am the kind of person who wants to have an amazing party, at an amazing venue, with amazing food and entertainment, but I really don't want anyone to come. He's not far off.

The point being that while the apres-shul party was in full swing, I was trying my best to speak to everyone and never had a decent conversation with anyone. However, as the crowd thinned out, I sat down with the late stayers. Among them was this stranger who came with one of our friends. He was originally from Toronto but he was now living in Jerusalem.

Of course I started to grill him for more information. I need to know things and since he was from Toronto, I need his basic deets: where had he lived previously; how long had he been here; what did he do there? Frankly he wasn't that forthcoming -- not that that deters me. However, one of the little nuggets that he finally offered was that he had eight children. He sort of hesitated when he said it.

I'm not sure if he was expecting a gasp or applause, and in another crowd, in another place, that might have been a show-stopping tidbit of information. But as I quickly scanned the dissipating crowd, I realized that there were at least two other adults there who were parents to eight children, one man who had seven and two couples who each had six. And that was just the people I could see standing in my backyard at that precise moment. I could fill a small page with similarly populated families in a 10-block radius without too much effort.

So I turned to him and said: "that's interesting but you are going to have to do much better than that if you want to make a progeny statement in this crowd." He just stared at me.

See? Who can have a decent conversation when there are 70-odd people milling around, eating and saying nice things? Obviously not me.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The halacha of matzah at the beach

Yesterday we went to the beach with our regular Pesach crew. We had a row of six reclining chairs and several chairs facing them from various angles. Everyone was talking across other conversations because that is how we roll. We are all good friends so the conversation just flowed along haphazardly between adults and kids.

Apparently between the chair set-up and the multi-conversationn atmosphere, my husband saw an opportunity he couldn't ignore. It was the perfect set-up for a mini Dvar Torah ... about the history of matzah. He tried to get the crowd interested at the Seder two nights earlier but that crowd was too busy diving into their much anticipated meal when he began, so the thrill factor never really materialized.

But the beach crowd was much more open to hearing about the history of matza and my husband was in heaven telling the story to a much more attentive group. There were questions, clarifications and a discussion about the accurate thickness of a tefach. I don't even know what a tefach is (actually I do now, but I didn't three days ago) but apparently that put me in the minority in our little area of the beach because next thing I knew the man in the chair sort-of next to our little social/study group joined in with his take on the tefach question.

He held his rolled fist vertically in front of him and said to no one in particular -- and everyone within earshot -- that a tefach was the height of his fist. And for the next three or four minutes he was part of the conversation. And then, as suddenly as he entered the conversation, he left.

It wasn't a particularly earth shattering moment. But it started me wondering: "where else would such a thing happen" particularly on such an arcane subject to the average beach-goer? The answer is probably NOWHERE. I am willing to bet that it is not even an infrequent topic during conversation on beaches in Hawaii, Tahiti, The Hamptons or The Seychelles!

But on a beautiful April day on the beaches of Herzliya, Israel, it is a conversation that can -- and surely might -- happen. The people having the conversation may all be in their bathing suits and keeping half an eye on their children playing in the water, or they may be soaking up the rays with a friend and a soda, but just like that, they will hear some Biblical measurement terminology and just assume that the conversation now includes them as well.

It is truly one of the miracles of Israel.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

I just want to get you pregnant

People often ask me where I get the ideas for my weekly posts and I have to tell you, maybe it's Israel, but honestly the ideas are really just little nuggets that come straight from heaven! I keep my ears and eyes open and without failure, they show up.

This morning in the gym (my absolutely least favourite place in Ra'anana) my new friend Sharon mentioned that I hadn't written anything this week. She was right. I have Pesach on the brain (finally) and writing a post didn't even cross my mind until she mentioned it. After I left the gym, I was walking to my car still making mental notes about what I had to do today and tomorrow to be ready for the holiday.

I mindlessly got in the car, drove out of the parking lot and headed home on the same route I take every day when I leave the hated gym. I had the windows open, because it was a beautiful morning, when I stopped at the red light at Weitzman and HaHaroshet.

A large white truck with its young, tattooed driver pulled up in the lane next to me. He also had his window open and the song blasting -- and I mean blasting -- from either his radio or some other device in the cab was "girl you make me want to get you pregnant". Yes, it caught my attention (to begin with, it was in English and second, I am confident that it caught everyone's attention for a mile radius) and just like that Pesach went out the window.

Naturally I couldn't get the stupid, creepy song out of my head until I came home, checked who sang it and began typing this truly unpleasant episode on my blog. Who wrote that song? Who thought it was commercially viable? Does anyone out there -- besides me -- find this song offensive? Or at least seriously creepy? And most important, what does it have to do with Pesach?

I am supposed to be focusing on what still needs to be cleaned in the kitchen and transitioning from my everyday stuff to my Pesach stuff. And all I can think about is men singing about getting women pregnant! I think it is fair to say that, at 52, it's not something I want to think about at the best of times. I think that even in my younger (fertile) years I would have run as far and as fast as I could from anyone who started singing a song about getting me pregnant. It's not a sing-y thing.

So now you know where the ideas come from. It just takes one truck driver who is obviously not remotely worried about Pesach to roll down his window and enjoy the day. And one blogger who wants to be doing anything but what she is supposed to be doing. And just like that, a nugget falls from heaven.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My inverse relationship with Pesach

I noticed something today that has probably been developing quietly over the past few years and it finally reached the critical point where it became impossible for me to ignore. Here's my epiphany: The longer I live in Israel, the closer to Pesach I begin my holiday preparation and shopping. If things continue at this rate, in the next few years I will probably be getting ready to think about the holiday the week after it ends.

In that event, the upside is that I will really get some good deals on matzah, potato starch, horrible ketchup and cake mixes. And the even better news is that thanks to the disproportionate chemical content in those items, they have a shelf life of at least 10 years. Probably closer to 50, but who's checking?

When I lived in Toronto Pesach food arrived in the grocery stores the day after Purim. And like everyone else in my neighbourhood, I would hurry out and buy everything I could the next day. It was random hoarding without any rational thought. You just grabbed everything you could because once it was gone there wouldn't be another shipment until the following year. I had bags and bags of dry goods lined up on my basement floor just waiting for the big moment when they were moved to the newly cleaned, Pesach-ready kitchen. And as I mentioned above, most of the food stuffs had a ridiculously long shelf life so if you didn't use your Manischewitz Pesach Pizza Mix that year, you could just stick it back in the cupboard with your unused Pesach gelatin and left over gallons of matzah meal until the following year. I guess you could call that a win-win.

The first year we lived in Israel I continued my Pesach preparation based on the same logic that had served me well for the previous 10 years. I didn't realize how unnecessary it was until part way though the holiday I noticed that all the stores were still chock full of Pesach products. At the time I didn't know that it was actually illegal to sell non-Pesach products during the holiday. If you ran out of Pesach milk you simply scooted to absolutely any corner store or market to get another carton. The same was true for everything -- with the possible exception of eggs and maybe some mayonnaise. I guess the Pesach chickens have a production limit. Since this is Israel, they are probably unionized.

So here I am 12 years into my Aliyah and it is a week and a half before Pesach and I am just beginning to get my shopping act together. As I see it now, I need enough food to get through the first 36 hours of the holiday. After that I can do what every other Israeli does -- pick up what you need, as you need it. And if that fails then there is a great Plan B -- restaurants. The list of kosher restaurants that are open on Pesach is huge. If you don't want to cook, then don't cook. If you want kosher l'Pesach pizza, then you can have it and it will taste a thousand times better than those crazy pre-packaged mixes that I used to break my neck to acquire.

The funny thing is that my family has always eaten by a wing and a prayer for Pesach. Small town Canada gets a trickle of Pesach products before the holiday, usually followed by a larger trickle a week after the holiday ends. There is no logic to what arrives -- one year it is cheese and chicken and the next year it might be cereal and butter. You often end up buying things a year in advance because they may not be there in time for the holiday next year. But you just make-do for eight days. Maybe I am just heading back to where I started.