Thursday, November 18, 2010

Singing the Torah

I haven't really spoken very much about my nephew's bar-mitzvah. You probably already know that a bar-mitzvah is a celebration of a boy turning 13, and it involves lots of parties and presents. But it's really all about learning how to sing the Torah (which you probably know as the "Old" Testament). The picture above shows what a typical Torah section looks like, what you see are only consonants - no vowels and no musical notes, those you have to know by heart.

In the sentence below the the consonants are in black, vowels red and notes (cantillation) blue:

It's not easy!

In Orthodox communities women are forbidden from singing the Torah in front of men, but they are allowed to sing in front of female-only congregations. There is just such a scene in that series called "Srugim" which I briefly described in a previous post. This scene brings tears of joy to my eyes and encapsulates so much of my love of the Hebrew language and culture, it starts around minute two.

This television series has been coined "No Sex in the City," and "Sex in the Holy City," and that cracks me up. But I tell you what, this series makes SATC look like a tawdry, crass and dumbed down exploitation of the lives of single women. And I'm a huge SATC fan from way back, so go figure.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Things that you can see from there you can't see from here

Frozen yogurt with fresh figs and halva, best combination ever:

Israeli halva is based on sesame seed paste and usually breaks apart like dreamy fairy floss.

Here is a picture of the best humus I have ever tasted (pronounced with a guttural h - "hoomoos"). My father and I walked around Tel-Aviv and he took me to this tiny restaurant in a back alleyway. The restaurant doesn't even have a name, nor a menu.

This is what it looks like:

This is the chef, greeted fondly by the locals, and working from morning to night in front of this barbecue which he fans occasionally with a newspaper. Best kebabs too, but I ate so fast I didn't get a chance to take a photo. Sorry.

In the mornings, I liked to eat this carob spread on my fresh bread. I had forgotten that carob (haroov) is something I picked from a tree on my way to school when I was eight, you could suck on the sweet pods. As I grew older far away from Israel carob became a weird replacement for chocolate which people bought in health-food stores, how had I forgotten my haroov trees?

I also ate this:

This is a chocolate "yogurt," I use the term loosely, called "Dani" (yes, it's a children's yogurt which has been given a boy's name). The taste of Dani is so intrinsically connected to my childhood that the experience of eating it again was sublime.

I had quite a few salads which had apples cut up into them. Great idea!!

Fresh mint leaves, called "aley na'ana" are superb in fresh lemonade. Also pour boiling water on them and, voila, the best mint tea you'll ever have.

An omelet sandwich people, it's all about omelet sandwiches. They are everywhere you look. Great idea! Make an omelet chik-chak (slang for "quick-smart") and slip it into a pita (you know, the pocket bread). Add some cream-cheese and a slice of tomato and you have the BEST meal ever.

Finally - there is no Starbucks in Israel and my brother says that it's because Israelis don't "get it". They don't get why someone would rush into a cafe, grab a coffee and take it away, even sip it ON THE RUN. Israelis are all about sitting down comfortably and having a REAL breakfast with their coffee - a big salad, cheeses and an omelet sandwich.

The title for this post comes from the famous (in Israel, that is) song by Matti Caspi - songwriter extraordinaire. The translation and transliteration is here.... it is a singalong after all.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kippa Sruga

I arrived back home yesterday morning, a whirlwind trip which has left me breathless and horribly jet lagged.

While I gather my thoughts, here is a post I put together before, inspired by the Bnei-Akiva flag-waving ceremony I attended. One of my nieces took part in it, although she explained to me that she actually has no plans to continue attending the meetings of the Youth Movement; my niece is particularly independent and sassy, and she simply wanted to have fun hanging out with her friends during the many rehearsals. Her one complaint about the event was that the Bnei girls have to wear a floor-length dark skirt for the ceremony, she bought one for 15 shekels (5 bucks) and refused to even put it in her closet next to her other (very short) skirts as it was "not worthy."

As I stood on the hill, looking down at the carpark which had temporarily become the Bnei-Akiva stage, I noticed that I was surrounded by kippot srugot - crocheted kippot. In Israel, the type of kippa (skullcap) a man wears defines his religious and political affiliation, and the crocheted kippa usually points to a "Modern Orthodox Zionist." I'm generalising for the sake of explanation here, but that's more or less how it works.

I immediately realised that my crafting friends would love to get a look at what a crocheted kippa looks like, so here are some samples I discovered on the night:

Here are some interesting kippot in the local shop - Metallica, Rolling Stones and Spiderman!

Which brings me to one of the most popular TV shows in Israel titled "Srugim" (the plural of "crocheted" and referring to the Orthodox characters in the show). Fascinating.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's me!

Here are three ways of showing a positive reaction to something wonderful that's happening in your life:

Ze mooshlam - "It's perfect"

Ze ahla


Sunday, November 7, 2010

For Tuli

Tuli wrote in my commentbox:

Dearest Eleanor, I think you need to do videos of the Hebrew Phrase Of The Day. I *think* I'm pronouncing it correctly but I can't be sure!

Tutorial, please!


Dear Tuli,
My father was so impressed with your respect for the Hebrew Phrase of the Day that he agreed to provide a brief tutorial for your enjoyment.

Much love,
E x

P.S. Please note that the first "H" is guttural while the second is not. Tricky.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A literary window-frame

It is so hot today that I haven't actually left the air-conditioned apartment yet, this weather is typical of August rather than November. My nephew's bar-mitzvah festivities start tonight and continue until Sunday night so I need to conserve my energy. I would have offered to help with the last minute preparations but I am well aware that sometimes she who waits also serves. My father brought me back the newspapers and some chocolate babke. Chocolate babke, my old friend, we meet again on the eve of the Sabbath. How Eurolush would love to meet you, but alas, she is far away in a cold land. Oh well, more for me.

Last night I watched the Israeli version of Masterchef, their task was to make a pavlova and I was reduced to hysterical laughter. Apparently the Israeli take on the pav is to cover it in STEWED fruits. How Kim from Allconsuming would have loved to witness their ridiculous concoctions.

So I'm lying here on my comfortable sofa, reading through the paper and I come across the list of the ten top-selling books in the country. Thought you might be interested that out of the ten are three Israeli books, and then translations - two from the English (Harlan Coben and Aleksandar Hemon), German ("Alone in Berlin"), Norway ("Red Breast"), Italian ("The Lonliness of Prime Numbers"), Spanish (Mario Vargas Llosa) and Swedish ("The Girl...Fire"). That list fascinates me.

One of the Hebrew books which stands at number six this week and has remained on the list for the past 17 weeks is written by Sayed Kashua and is called "Second Person", I'm reading it now and really enjoying it. I looked him up to see what else he's written and discovered that he wrote a television show called "Arabic Work" which has been quite popular.

I'm having a wonderful time here in Israel, and now I'm off to shower and get dressed and celebrate my nephew's special day. I shall try to include you in the festivities dear friends.

E x

Haval al hazman

Please note, the "H" in the Hebrew Phrase Of The Day is pronounced with a guttural clearing of the throat.

Literal translation:

"It's a shame about the time."

Actual meaning:

"What an absolutely awesome time!!!"


"We went to Neve Tzedek today, what an amazing place, haval al hazman!!"

Most road signs in Israel are in Hebrew, Arabic and English.

Tel-Aviv is not a pretty city, this is a photo I took as we entered the city. This style of apartment building is typical of the entire country, as are the water tanks (each of which is attached to a solar panel).

But I do love the smell, the dirt and the chaos.

We drove by the Mediterranean for a few minutes and arrived at Neve Tzedek - me, Miss CB and my mother, three generations off for a brief adventure. It has been unseasonably hot - 30 degrees today! We took it slow and stayed on the shady sides of the streets.
Very beautiful buildings abound, many of them beautifully restored.

A man inside makes wooden chairs. The shutters are covered in fine sawdust:

A shop which sells only chickpea chips (made in the kitchen next door):

Almost all of the streets are named after famous people, this plaque explains that Shalom Shabazi was "The Zionist poet living in the diaspora of Yemen in the second half of the 17th century." Shabazi the STREET has some awesome cafes, boutiques and a fab bookstore called "A Simple Tale." If you have never read any of S.Y. Agnon's short stories I highly recommend them, many have been translated into English. Agnon is a unique experience.

This is "The Righteous Rabbi Yehuda Street - A kabbalist and exegesist who was the leader of 1500 rabbis who travelled from Poland to Jerusalem in the 17th century."

Citrus and olive trees on the balcony and roof:

The letters decorating this building denote the year in which it was built - 5689 - which is 1928/1929. When you don't believe that Jesus is the Messiah then you don't necessarily start to count your years from the time of his birth.

We stopped at a beautiful restaurant for lunch, and I shall post photos of food, YES, FOOD. But tomorrow. Because I am exhausted!

Off to bed.

E xxxx

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Shetihiye bari

I'm back at the apartment following a lovely family dinner (humus, tehina, pita, chicken kebab). I stupidly forgot to take photos, sorry, I was too busy listening to my brother's stories about the day he and his friends decided to test out whether it was faster to hop onto their bikes, following the swim, with the shoes already clipped onto the bikes, or not. So they put on their full wetsuits and jumped into the local pool and then practiced racing out of the water onto their bikes while one of them timed the whole thing, over and over again. I just kept thinking of what it would feel like to ride without wearing socks, which I still don't understand. My sister-in-law's brother (a gorgeous New Yorker who arrived this afternoon) then described his latest rock-climbing experiences. I countered with a fully detailed account of my latest power-walk up and down my local beach, wearing my sun-lotion and wide-brimmed hat. They were suitably impressed.

I told my parents about your excitement concerning Yiddish and Hebrew phrases. My father feels it would be remiss of me not to immediately teach you this Hebrew phrase:

Shetihiye bari.

Literal translation: "You should be healthy."

Actual meaning in everyday usage: "You should drop dead."

It's a true classic.

Off to bed, more tomorrow.

P.S. It is definitely faster to hop onto the bike which already has the shoes stuck onto the pedals. You're welcome.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Israel - day 1

Miss CB and I landed in Tel Aviv late last night (that would be Tuesday night Israel time). We made it. Quite a journey for two women who suffer from terrible travel-sickness.

Here we are this morning, posing outside the apartment building in which we'll be staying for the next week. It's an apartment which we're sharing with my parents, a five minute walk from my brother's house.
Behold my brother:

Miss CB and I arrived at his house at 7 this morning and were enjoying breakfast with my sister-in-law, three nieces and nephew when my brother came in looking just like this. He had just returned from a one and a half hour bike ride. My brother and I are pretty much, well, complete opposites. While I spent my childhood hiding in my room and reading, my brother was running, jumping, swimming and generally on the go, non-stop, forever. He's an Ironman several times over and is constantly training for his next Event. He is also an amazing husband to the loveliest and cutest woman, and their four kids are each a gem. A GEM I say!!

Even their dog is awesome.

Behold Oskar (note - with a "K"), he's a Cairn Terrier who reminds me of Eurolush's Tex, only beige and somewhat furrier.

Oskar immediately took a liking to Miss CB as she joined her cousins in working out the daily crossword over breakfast.

I shall try to take photos every day and share my experiences with you. I realise that these photos don't capture what Israel actually looks like from the outside, I'll try to show you the neighbourhood but for the moment it's all about the mishpocha.

Monday, November 1, 2010

One more random thing before I go

I highly recommend this film (and the trailer for it is great too):

The film's publicity consistently mentioned the screenwriter (the amazing Aaron Sorkin) which is quite something in an industry which hardly ever gives credit to any writers.

Although the story hangs on the lawsuit, it's really our story - the story of people who are living in the age of digital social networks. But now this one particular blogger must finish packing and go on a real trip.

See you on the other side bloggers.