Shabbos Blessing- Week 39

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I am in Iceland. So far I’ve learned that I think this place is cool, and I like the airport, and someday I’d like to come back here and leave it, and when I’m half-delirious from what’s already been about 21 hours of travel I should not be dumped into a duty-free shop. Although, come to think of it, that’s probably exactly why I (and everybody else) got dumped into a duty-free shop. I bought myself Icelandic yarn, because of course I did, and birch bitters, because I was curious. There were many adorable and enticing things, but I managed to resist most of them. Now I’m sitting here, very perplexed as to the time of day, wondering if I need a coffee or a beer. I managed to sleep a fair amount, so I’m planning to try and avoid more sleeping until I get to California tonight (in some vague sense of that term).

When I was sitting in the airport in Paris for 7 hours this morning, I found myself thinking about just how bizarre they are. I wrote in my journal:

“You know, I’m basically on a moving walkway home now. Airports are airports are airports. People jostle for charging stations, and pay too much for coffee, and appreciate or bemoan the cleanliness of the bathrooms, and try to keep track of IDs and cell phones, and sleep anywhere they can. Airports are spaces outside of time and space. The accoutrement shift, but the overall place is the same. Maybe that’s why I find airports kinda comforting.”

And I do find airports kinda comforting. They’re a place where everyone is locked into more-or-less the same thing, there are huge windows everywhere you look, the signage is usually sufficient to explain what needs explaining, and they’re good at feeding you (however expensively and unhealthily). Don’t get me wrong– I’m very, very eager to get myself out of this airport and on my way to my final destination, but I can’t really complain.

This week’s blessing is the last picture I took in Israel. Behold, my stuff:

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I gave (and threw) a lot away. I left some things behind in the apartment for the next guest. I sent some things home with visitors earlier in the year. And here is what remained when I walked out the door yesterday. I may not entirely believe that I’m going home yet, but that huge suitcase doesn’t lie.

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I don’t think I should be trusted to blog in this state, so I’m going to stop. Shabbat Shalom to all, and I look forward to sharing a final shabbat blessing from America next week.

Burned on the Way Out

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I was so close to making it home without a sunburn.

All semester, I’ve been pretty careful– slathering sunscreen when at the beach, getting to the shade fairly often, and, of course, making sure to hydrate. I’d gotten a tiny bit pink a couple of times, but I was pretty proud of my non-sacrificial tan.

That is…until today.

Today is my last day in Tel Aviv, and today I rented a bike, and today I pedaled up and down the beach, and today I said goodbye to this city and this country, and today, my upper arms turned red.

And, y’know what? That’s ok. IMG_2376.jpg

A lot of the time, when I travel, there’s something of a disconnect between where I’ve left and where I’ve gotten to. It’s a feeling that makes me think of every Yom Kippur, following the Break Fast, when I catch myself wondering if I have fasted at all. I’m used to eating. For Yom Kippur, I fast. When I’m done with my fast, the first few moments of comfort in returning to food quickly fade in favor of a more normative (privileged) thought process of “what do I feel like eating/not eating now?”

I remember when I returned home from my time in rural China feeling an astonishment at America. Years later, when my youngest sister got home after a semester studying in Ghana, I remember watching her face as we walked the aisles of Trader Joe’s in Berkeley. There’s an awe in home, in the good sort of “default,” when you have been away from it. And there’s a sense, accompanying that awe, of disbelief.

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I am sitting on my couch in my apartment in Jaffa. I am listening to the meuzzin at the neighborhood mosque chant the prayers that signal the end of the daily fast of Ramadan. In just a moment, those prayers will end and he will chant the adhan. I’ll hear the adhan once more this evening before I order a cab and go to the airport to begin my very long Friday. Tomorrow at this time, I’ll be boarding a plane in Iceland, I hope. This couch, this apartment, this meuzzin, this neighborhood, this time of my existence will feel disconnected from my present, in the same way that in this moment, the idea of taking my suitcase downstairs and getting into a cab and flying away and not coming back feels disconnected from everything I think of as normal here.

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Like these Ramadan lights

Tomorrow at this time, I will still have a sunburn. It will have faded by then. It probably won’t hurt anymore. But it will be there. It will connect what feels disconnected, connect the “me” of today with the “me” of tomorrow. I am heading into a strange shabbat. It won’t be long before I too walk the aisles of Trader Joe’s and drink my fancy coffee and surround myself with loved ones and feel awe. I am so grateful, and I want to make every effort to link that awe with this reality. I want to be home and know that I have been here.

You’ll hear more from me before I get home. Shabbos Blessing 39 will come from Ben Gurion or from Paris or from Reykjavik. It’ll probably be short, but maybe not, since I’ll have a cumulative 11 hours of layover. In the meantime, I am signing off from this apartment.

Things that Stay and Things that Go- Jaffa Edition

40 weeks became 40 days. 40 days became 40 hours. And now, I am down to even less time than that. Tomorrow night around now, I will be either on my way to or at the airport. Two days from now (“days” being used in the Genesis-Chaper-1-not-necessarily-24-hours sense due to flight and time zones), I’ll be in California. I am more than ready. I’m about 85% packed. There are a few things still out: laptop, aeropress, hammock– the essentials, you know– but most of my things are nestled into a suitcase and backpack and purse. If the people at the bag drop are kind and/or my bag makes the weight cut, I won’t even need to check my smaller bag as a carry-on because it’ll fit snugly inside the suitcase. But I feel like the chances of my bag clocking in at under 20 kg are slim.

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So, harkening back to my packing list from early September, and my updated packing list from my move up to Jaffa, I give you an edited, updated, and probably incomplete list:

Things Packed:

  • Clothes for summer
  • Floppy hat
  • (New) sunglasses
  • Sneakers
  • Chacos
  • Blundstones (aka Israel’s official unofficial shoe)
  • Hammock
  • Water bottle covered in with the remnants of a couple of stickers
  • Big purse
  • Little purse
  • Several knitting projects
  • 1 bag of assorted toiletries
  • 2 1 toothbrush
  • 1 half-used  mostly-used travel-sized tube of organic toothpaste
  • Many A couple 1 half-used tube of burt’s bees lip balm
  • 2 expired epi-pens
  • Many A few hairbands
  • 1 2 boxes ziplock bag of of vanilla sleepytime assorted Israeli herbal teas
  • Aeropress
  • Jedi mug out of which to drink said coffee
  • 1 small bag of za’atar
  • 1 envelope of Very Important Papers/Documents
  • 2 reusable grocery bags
  • 1 siddur
  • Alanna: The First Adventure
  • The Blue Day Book
  • Many Jewish texts
  • Cards and letters from folks back home
  • Notebooks
  • Journal
  • Far too many  Not enough  A few writing implements
  • Kindle
  • Laptop
  • Headphones
  • Phone
  • Many chargers and adaptors
  • Several kinderegg toys
  • 1 small stuffed moose, 1 small stuffed dragon, and 1 eucalyptus pod
  • 1 2 1 tallit, 2 3 2 kippot, and 1 set of tefilin
  • 1 mezuzah
  • 1 set of shabbat candle holders

 

Things sent home with visitor from the States 2 months ago:  

  • Clothes for winter
  • Raincoat
  • 2 sets of tzitzit
  • 1 tallis
  • 1 siddur
  • 1 box of assorted jewelry
  • Hiking boots
  • 1 reusable grocery bag
  • 3-liter camelback not covered in stickers
  • Sleeping bag
  • Many Jewish texts

 

Things Left Behind: 

  • sorta smushed flats
  • flip flops 
  • 2 bags of worn out clothing
  • 1 mostly-used tube of overpriced sunscreen
  • bags of cumin, curry powder, and cayenne
  • PartiallyMostly-used containers of red miso paste, soy sauce, and sriracha
  • 1 barely-used half-used bag of flaxseed meal
  • many toiletries 
  • various chocolate delights
  • 4 oz of ground coffee
  • 1 reusable grocery bag
  • 1 ziplock bag full of ziplock bags
  • Umbrella
  • The Lonely Planet: Israel and the Palestinian Territories 

 

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I’ll have more to say soon– probably tomorrow before I leave, in fact. But at the moment it is relatively late and I am relatively tired, and I have one more night in my Israeli bed to take advantage of. Tomorrow I sleep in the air (and I don’t mean in my hammock, although that would be way more comfortable than my seat on the plane).

Shabbos Blessing- Week 38

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In a week, I will be in transit. My flight leaves at 1 AM on Friday morning, so I’ll actually be heading to the airport on Thursday night. Chances are that I’ll write next week’s blessing in either the Paris or Reykjavik airport. Friday will be very, very long, and California’s shabbat will arrive, God willing, about 20 minutes before I land in San Francisco.

At this moment, it’s Saturday evening (because I am, yet again, posting this a day late), and I am listening to the neighborhood mosque broadcast the special prayer that marks the end of the fast on this first day of Ramadan. I’m so used to the typical call to prayer that hearing this new blessing now, months after arriving here and mere days before leaving, is a little shocking. The call to prayer is comforting– something that reminds me of where I am in time. This new prayer is exciting, and I know that in the time I have left it will likely remain exciting rather than settling into normalcy.

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The loveliest setting for an anti-Trump protest you ever did see– with my poster contribution.

This last week was my last normal week. We finished up classes and then took a trip down south on Thursday and Friday (hence my late post). This week the only “normal” event on my schedule is volunteering at the preschool on Tuesday. Other than that it’s going to be all about organizing, celebrating Shavuot, checking items off of my unofficial Israel Year bucket list, eating hummus, and packing up.

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Judean Desert hiking

This week’s Torah portion is במדבר– Bamidbar– which is the first parsha in the Book of Numbers. Why is it called “Numbers?” Because it starts with a census of the Israelites in the desert. It felt pretty appropriate to come upon this parsha during a week that I’ll be taking a census of my belongings and learnings. It also felt appropriate to find myself, briefly, in the desert. Yesterday morning, I woke up at 5 AM to watch the sun rise over the Dead Sea. It was one of the more spectacular sunrises I’ve seen in my life. The next sunrise I’m awake for will likely be in Paris on Friday when my flight lands at 5 AM.

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One photo of many many many

I’m lucky to have a blessing for this shabbat offered recently by one of the people who knows me best in this world. She wrote:

You’ve dealt with a lot since you’ve been there, far more than you were expecting to have to deal with.

And you’ve done it.  It was a roller coast and nevertheless, you persisted. 

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Going forward, may the wonderful phrase you knit in magic yarn be more than just the epic feminist rallying cry that it already is.  May it also be a reminder to you that you persisted.  Despite people telling you that you can’t because you’re a woman, despite social and political turmoil back home, despite anxiety and loss, you persisted.  If you find yourself in tough times or doubting yourself, may this time serve as a reminder that you are strong and persistent and will not be dissuaded.  

I appreciate this as a charge to take with me when I leave Israel behind. I’m pretty damn eager, honestly, to be able to think about and talk about this year in the past tense. I have so much processing ahead of me, but, for now, I’m trying to embrace this experience’s “lasts.” 6 days to go.

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And, just maybe, have the confidence of this sunrise desert shadow. 

 

 

Thoughts from the Homestretch

10 days. This should feel like nothing. I have been here for so long. I have experienced so much. I am leaving so soon. I’m down to the amount of time of a Birthright trip. Still, 10 days doesn’t feel like nothing.

Here’s how these 10 days look from here:

  • 10 more days in Israel.
  • 9 more verses from psalms to set to music.
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The musical “Emily, you like to write stuff, remember?” countdown is on. Will I share all of these someday? Maybe. 

  • 8 more walks to the beach (I try to get there every day, but realistically I’ll miss a day or two)

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  • 7 more days of counting the omer.
  • 6 more ends of balls of yarn to try and knit something out of since it won’t be worth schlepping them home and I hate wasting yarn.
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Like this charmingly-useful double pointed needle holder. It rolls right up. 🙂 

  • 5 more showers (I’m an every other dayer unless I get sweaty. What can I say?)
  • 4 more ounces of coffee before I run out and start buying a cup every morning instead of buying a new bag of beans.
  • 3 more ounces of bourbon to find a use for (luckily, mint and lemon are both in ready supply these days).
  • 2 more days of class at BINA
  • 1 more BINA overnight tiyyul (trip)– this time to the dead sea for some hiking and swimming and camping, and then to East Jerusalem for a tour focusing on the conflict.
  • 1 more Tuesday of volunteering at the preschool
  • 1 class to teach to English-speaking Tel Avivians.
  • 1 more load of laundry? Probably?
  • 1 more shabbat in Jaffa.
  • 1 probable day-trip to Acre, a couple hours north from here, just for fun.
  • 1 all-night celebration/study session for Shavuot.
  • Several goodbyes.
  • Many hours of organizing and packing.
  • As much walking about as I can manage.
  • 1 cab ride to the airport (or, if I’m feeling truly ambitious, to the train station, followed by 1 train ride to the airport).

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 37

In 2 weeks at this time, barring delays or whatnot, I’ll be on a plane from Paris to Iceland, a little less than halfway through my very long journey from Tel Aviv to San Francisco.

I wish I could say that the proximity of that departure date, that very, very long Friday in 4 countries, has brought me to a place of pre-emptive nostalgia– of urgency to do all the things I haven’t yet done here or to repeat the experiences that I’ve most enjoyed. That’s kinda what I anticipated when I imagined hitting the 2-week mark a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I’m not there yet. I wish my departure was 1 week away. I wish it was 3 days. I have had a multitude of experiences this year, and I am ready for it to end, and it keeps going.

To be fair, I know that much of the academic world is in its “Oh God, why isn’t it over yet?” state of being. That’s what May brings. I’m used to it. And this is such an incredibly chill May compared to most that I can remember. There are no finals. There is no crazy summer job to prep for. I’m teaching a class on Tuesday evening that I need to put more time into, but generally speaking I have more spaciousness in the next few weeks than I’m likely to have at any point… maybe ever… once I get back to school next fall.

This week was significant, as I said goodbye to a number of my classmates from other institutions whom I’ve studied with this year. We had our final Rabbinical School Consortium gathering yesterday. Many students will leave before next shabbat, and I don’t anticipate making it back down to Jerusalem again before they go. It felt very strange to give hugs and talk of future potential visits to Philly and LA and NYC. And, unlike with many other sorts of goodbyes, none of these felt permanent. We’re all going to be rabbinic colleagues one day, and even if we don’t see one another often, the connections will remain. It felt different than graduation from high school or college, when lives can diverge into such vastly different directions. There’s a comfort there, even as it’s sad to say goodbye for now.

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I also bade farewell to my kittens-who-are-no-longer-kittens

Spaciousness for me means time for creative projects. I decided when I hit the 18-days-left-in-Israel mark that it would be a great idea to set one verse from a psalm (using psalms 18-1, just for fun) to music every day. This was pretty easy for psalms 18, 17, and 16. Then, yesterday, I gave the guitar I’ve been using all year back to RRC. I feel confident that I can write without a guitar, but it does complicate things slightly.

I’m also going to be working on a creative midrash project. Some folks think that you can’t write new midrash today, and maybe they’re correct. But reading last week’s Torah portion, and then discussing it with my spiritual director, brought me to a place of realization: I gotta talk to some folks in these texts, and, as a writer, I wanna do it through writing. So, aptly or not, I’m gonna call it midrash and see what I get.

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Finally, I’m going to begin preparations for the project I’ll be embarking upon this summer. I got lucky enough to be given a micro-grant for a podcast focusing upon the positive influences of non-Jewish family members and loved ones in Jews’ lives. I’ll be crafting 4 episodes as a pilot and I really can’t wait. While I’m eager to have this summer as a time to relax and process this year, it’s, well, me. I’m not very good at doing nothing.

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At least now when I’m bad at doing nothing I make things like double-knit potholders to use up leftover yarn.

This week’s blessing comes from a Jesuit mentor. He saw my post expressing similar wistfulness for home a couple of weeks ago and sent along this poem, along with an explanation of its author:

“Chardin was a Jesuit paleontologist, philosopher and theologian. His thinking got him in trouble. But now he is revered.”

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Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.”

― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I need those words this week. It does feel as though there’s something of a new spirit forming within me. I feel ready to begin my final year of rabbinical school. I feel ready to put myself into the world more fully than I ever have since childhood. For now, I am impatient of being on the way to something. This shabbat, I wish patience for myself and, really, considering the week the world has had, for us all.

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Shabbos Blessing- Week 36

This post is late again. I ended up traveling up until nearly the moment shabbat began, and yesterday I was thinking too hard to actually write. Here’s why:

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Friday began for me in downtown Bethlehem. It was my second time there, almost exactly 6 months after my first time visiting in December. Much of this trip was the same as my first. I was traveling with the same organization. I visited some of the same sites. I ate some of the same foods.

Yet, it had been 6 months. Not everything had remained constant.

Prickly thistles that were hidden beneath the earth in December were blooming. IMG_1972.jpg

Surrounding the Arab village of Kefar Zecharia, the fields were green instead of grey with cold. IMG_1985.jpg

Along a part of Bethlehem’s border, where 6 months ago had been just a road, was a shiny grey fence– one more piece of the ever-expanding Israeli security barrier. IMG_1974.jpg

My role in this visit was also different, as I shifted from being a participant to being a peer facilitator, preparing and guiding other Jewish-American participants through processing conversations as they encountered Palestinian narratives.

I paid the same amount of attention. I asked more questions. I took far fewer pictures (though, it being me, “far fewer” is relative, as this mule will attest).

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In the last 6 months, I also moved from West Jerusalem, where my environment was almost entirely Jewish, to Jaffa, where my environment is far more mixed. I hear the adhan– the Muslim call to prayer– 4 times a day (fortunately for me, the mosque doesn’t broadcast the 4 AM call), and I hear bells from the nearby churches more often. I volunteer in a preschool with Jewish and Palestinian children. I go to beaches frequented by women in hijab, men with peyes, and secular tourists in shorts. Certain elements of my life here remind me of Bethlehem, but Jaffa is certainly not the West Bank.

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In Bethlehem, I met a young Palestinian woman named Emilie. I have met so many Emilys and Emilies in my life, and here in Israel I have met countless Cohens. But I had never met an Israeli or a Palestinian who shared my first name. She was named for her grandmother. When I was a baby, before “Emily” surged in the US, people commented to my parents that “Emily” was a name from their grandmothers’ generation.

In nearly perfect English (“English doesn’t count,” Emilie said, when I complemented her language ability), she spoke about her experiences growing up in Bethlehem and her luck in getting a job “just because I speak French. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a job.”

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Bethlehem was not a city filled with hope 6 months ago, and it was not a city filled with hope on Friday; if anything, as the security barrier grew taller these last months, hope sank deeper beneath the earth.

Our Palestinian speakers spoke their truth, and their truth was vicious and their anger was righteous, and I felt their words carve a line through hope and shatter it to pieces, and I knew that I could not piece it all back together, and in that moment it felt like hope itself was a privilege that I had not merited.

But I also know that I can’t exist without hope. Their truth is vicious and their anger is righteous and the privilege that I merited was to hear it and to hold it and to share it.

This week’s Torah portion was Emor. 17 years ago to the day, in both the English and Hebrew calendars, I read a section of this portion for my Bat Mitzvah. The section I read was what might be called the “kid-freindly” part, in which the calendar of holidays is laid out in detail for the first time in the pentateuch. I read about when to mark Pesach and Rosh Hashanah and about leaving the corners of one’s fields for those in need. I did not read the section of the parsha about how Kohanim (priests) with “blemishes” could not serve in the Tabernacle. I did not read the section about the man born to an Israelite mother and Egyptian father who blasphemed God and was stoned to death as punishment (and trust me– I’ve got a lot more to say about that particular story).

No. When I read at my Bat Mitzvah, I was 12. I was celebrating the rite of becoming a Jewish woman. I chanted beautiful, inclusive words about our holiday practices. I engaged in ahavat yisrael: the love of  the people Israel and the traditions passed down through the generations from the Torah to the year 2000.

But it has been 17 years. I am nearly 30. Yesterday, I sat in my apartment and chanted the entire portion of Emor aloud, from the laws regarding Kohanic marriage to the laying out of the calendar to the stoning of the blasphemer according to God’s command. I let the justice and injustice in the holy words wash over me, and I let myself be angry, and in that anger I found the pieces of hope that had eluded me in Bethlehem.

I reminded myself that ahavat yisrael can be a foundation not for oppression but for grounded love as we work for a better world for all. I reminded myself that the holy words in our texts that ring of injustice today remind of us of our mandate to seek justice always.

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On Friday afternoon, I left Bethlehem. I got on a bus to Jerusalem, and I got into a shared taxi to Tel Aviv, and I walked the streets of this city where I live to Jaffa. I bought pita and vegetables at a corner store run by Palestinian-Israeli neighbors, and I came inside, and I heard the adhan ring out from the minaret, and I lit my own candles for shabbat.

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17 years ago, in the 3rd verse of Torah that I ever read, I chanted the words:

שֵׁ֣שֶׁת יָמִים֮ תֵּעָשֶׂ֣ה מְלָאכָה֒ וּבַיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֗י שַׁבַּ֤ת שַׁבָּתוֹן֙ מִקְרָא־קֹ֔דֶשׁ

On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, a sacred occasion. (Leviticus 23:3) 

On this shabbat, I lit the candles, breathing into the weekly sacred occasion, letting myself rest, and that was blessing enough.

Shabbos Blessing- Week 35

So here’s the truth: I’m at the point where every day here feels like a victory. I don’t mean that as a note of some sort of awfulness in my life. Life here isn’t awful at all. It’s fine. I’m lucky to be in a place where I can usually feel safe. I’m lucky to be in a place where I can learn and explore with some degree of comfort and, at this point, familiarity. I’m lucky to have formed significant friendships with colleagues from other rabbinical schools. I’m lucky to enjoy my apartment in Jaffa, my neighborhood, and the ocean that makes up one of its borders.

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But, I’m kinda done. I have been in Israel for a long time, and I am ready to come home, and this is the in between stage where I can’t quite start getting ready to come home, and at the same time I can’t quite feel settled anymore. I’m at the point where when the milk runs out I’ll replace it, but when the turbinado sugar runs out I’ll switch to brown sugar for my coffee. I’m at the point where I still find my classes valuable, but if my classes were to end, I wouldn’t be upset. I’m at the point where if I had a chance to leave tomorrow, I would say “wait a sec,” but if I had a chance to leave in one week instead of in four, I’d gladly take it.

I suppose I have the Israel year equivalent of senioritis. This experience has been valuable. It’s had its ups and downs. It continues to be just fine. And I’m ready for it to come to an end.

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My biggest battle right now is between me and my sense of presence. Two weeks from now, I think it’ll be appropriate for me to feel like I’ve got one foot out the door. I’ll be about to head into my last week of class. I might stop replacing the milk. I’ll be starting the process of organizing my stuff into “take” and “leave” piles. I’ll be preparing to say goodbye to most of my friends here, who will leave before me. I’ll be thinking very deliberately about the places I want to see one more time, the foods I want to eat, the walks I want to take, the waters I want to swim in.

But it’s not time for that yet. Ok, it’s time to plan the Israel year bucket list more deliberately (and I basically have), but it’s not really time for any of the rest. For the next two weeks, I need to keep my brain definitively here.

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Spring is helpful for that. We’re in the thick of it now– the heavy, layered, bountiful, wild green cradling flowers of all colors. Every moment of being outside calls for presence. “Look!,” the trees call with their pink buds. “Look!,” the bushes call with their bright blossoms. “Look!,” the leaves call as I pass beneath on my walks to school and to the beach and to the bus station. I listen. I look. I paused. I breathe. I try to remember that I am here.

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Every day is a victory. Every day is one day closer to returning home. And every day is a chance to be here. So this week’s blessing is a poem by John O’Donohue, offering praise for presence and possibility at once.

I give thanks for arriving safely in a new dawn,
For the gift of eyes to see the world,
The gift of mind to feel at home
In my life, the waves of possibility
Breaking on the shore of dawn,
The harvest of the past
That awaits my hunger,
And all the furtherings
This new day will bring.

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Shabbat Shalom.

Shakshuka!

I realized something kinda crazy: I have had this blog going for 8 months, and I have yet to post a single recipe. Now, depending how long you’ve known me, you may or may not know just how into food I am. I’m a lot into food. I’m a lot into cooking. I’m a lot into baking. (In fact, past me had a now-mostly-defunct-food-blog). I’ve done a lot of cooking (and some baking) this year. But, I have yet to post a single recipe…until now.

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Tomato season is back. When I first arrived in the fall, tomatoes were everywhere and I found myself making dish after dish with them, as is the only appropriate response to loads of in-season tomatoes. Then, as happens every year, the weather cooled and the tomatoes started tasting sad, and I stopped buying them.

Since they’re back, it was time for me to take on a dish that, at home, I felt pretty lukewarm about but that, here, I have come to love. I’m talking, of course, about shakshuka (pronouned shock-SHU-kuh).

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Here are my folks eating shakshuka in December at Tmol Shilshom in Jerusalem

Shakshuka, it turns out, is pretty easy to make. I won’t claim that mine is perfect or perfectly authentic, but I enjoyed making it and I’m excited to share how I did with all of you.

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Ingredients (for 1-2 servings):

  • Glug olive oil
  • 1 small onion, medium dice
  • 1/2 red pepper, medium dice
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 large handfuls cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2-3 tsps paprika (hot if that’s your thing)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup water, plus more as needed
  • 2 eggs
  • a few sprigs of basil, parsley, or both
  • bread, veggies, and tehina to serve (optional)

 

Procedure

The key to shakshuka is to be gentle. There’s no rush. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat, let the oil warm up, and add the onion. Let it cook for a few minutes, stirring a bit, until it’s started to soften and go golden. If it starts browning, you’re in a rush and cooking it too high. Chill. Cut the heat back. IMG_1884.jpg

Once the onion has started to go soft, add in your garlic and pepper, which will naturally offer a little bit of moisture if you’re cooking low enough. Let them cook together, stirring, for 3-5 minutes.

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Time for the tomatoes to make their debut. Slide them in, along with as much of their juice as you can manage to preserve. Add the cumin, paprika, and some salt. Then, after cooking a couple minutes more, add in the water. Many shakshuka recipes that I saw called for both tomato paste and water. Since I opted for cherries, which have a little less juice, and I didn’t have tomato paste, I just guestimated here. IMG_1894.jpg

Now it’s really time to let time do its work. Let the mix come to a simmer (giving the heat a tiny boost if necessary) and cook for about 10 minutes. The tomatoes should start to fall apart without completely losing their sense of self, and much of the water should integrate into the mix. IMG_1897.jpg

Now it’s time for the egg well. I don’t know how easy it is to see in this picture, but in the middle of the pan there’s a square that’s a bit deeper than everything around it. That’s for your egg. (If you’re cooking 2 eggs at once, you’ll need 2 egg wells. If you’re planning to get 2 meals out of your skillet, I suggest cooking 1 egg and then cooking the second egg as you reheat the leftovers. It tastes better fresh.)

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Crack the egg into the well, being careful not to break the yoke, and then cover the pan. Timing is the tricky part here. You want the yolks runny and the whites not. I mean, you can cook your eggs however you like, but that’s how I like them in this. I set a timer for 7 minutes the first time and found the yolk too solid and 5 minutes the second time and found the whites solid enough to not be scary but not as solid as I like. I think 6 would probably be the sweet spot but I haven’t had time to try it yet.

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When the egg is done to your liking, cut the heat, garnish with herbs, and serve up. I like to have bread for dipping and crunchy veggies and tehina for contrast, but you do you. Happy Tuesday, folks.  IMG_1905.jpg

Shabbos Blessing- Week 34

I don’t mean to be repetitive here, but I really can’t get over living by the sea. Maybe it’s just because, despite the number of climates I’ve lived in, I’ve never lived near a beach before. I’ve lived walking distance from lakes, and I’ve lived within relatively close driving distance to the beach, but walking out my door and seeing the surf less than 10 minutes later is amazing. I’m honestly not even that much of a beach person, but there’s something so calming about walking by the water. And I’ve come to make sitting on a towel with my kindle part of my shabbat experience. Last shabbat I went swimming, and the water was clear in a way that I’d never experienced outside the tropics. I could stand where the water was up to my neck and still see my feet.

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Tonight, I’ll get to experience a “Shabbat on the Beach” that a non-denominational group has organized here in Tel Aviv. I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I’m pretty excited to grab a siddur and walk up and enjoy whatever I find.

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This week’s blessing is a few pictures from this morning:

For reasons I cannot begin to fathom, I woke up at 6. I thought about trying to go back to sleep, but I felt pretty darn awake, so instead I got up and went to the roof to watch the sunrise. IMG_1811.JPG

As I watched the sky slowly welcome the sun, I listened to the birds. There were few cars that early, so most of what I could make out was natural. IMG_1830.JPG

The sun popped up but its impact wasn’t yet felt. It was still dim, the light small and concrete. IMG_1846.JPG

Of course, it wasn’t long before that changed and the light ballooned into itself. I went inside and found myself wrapping tefillin, tying the memory of the peaceful morning into my prayer practice.

Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Ruach ha-olam, yotzeir or uvorei choshech, oseh shalom uvorei et hakol.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Spirit of the world, Former of light and Creator of darkness, the One who makes peace and creates all.