Monday, March 19, 2007

Hi, All! I should be cleaning for Pesach, but I'm giving myself some time off for good/awful/awful good behavior. You decide.

Our friends, Ellen and Kalman, made a wedding for their daughter, Ali, this past week. The wedding was last Thursday in Yerushalayim, on the worst day (weather-wise) we've had since we moved here. All day the thunder was crashing, the wind the gusting, rain poured periodically - and to top it off - we had hail! It was hitting the windows so hard I couldn't believe it! Emma was a little puzzled when, during a lull in the weather, I took her outside and we were walking on little balls of ice. In Yerushalyim it was actually snowing.

But we made it to the wedding hall; another couple we'd met in ulpan, Karen and Al, gave me a ride and David went straight from work. Poor Ellen! Murphy's law was definitely at work that night. They'd left a bag at home here in Ramat Beit Shemesh with Ellen's sheitel (wig), shoes, jewelry, and Igor's (the choson/groom) new kippah. Thank G-d she had a friend there who normally doesn't cover her hair who gave her a beautiful black hat that exactly matched her dress, and one of the kallah's (bride's) friends had an extra pair of shoes that fit perfectly. The wedding hall Ali and Igor had booked (before Ellen had a chance to see it) had two rooms; the big, beautiful nice one - and Ali and Igor's. It was a tiny, dilapidated room with no heat, torn-up floors, white cloths shabbily hung on the walls to cover up holes, and a very meager staff. But Ali was radiant, and everyone's enthusiasm made up for the surroundings.

Last night we made sheva brachot for them (one of the seven meals they have each day for a week after the wedding with at least 10 men who make 7 blessings for the choson and kallah). I had decided to make meatballs and rice, because it would be easy and not so expensive for so many people. HAH!!!

I actually don't think I've ever made meatballs before. There was an extremely easy recipe in my old Betty Crocker cookbook for sweet 'n sour meatballs using cranberry sauce, ketchup, brown sugar and lemon juice. How easy is that?

So, before Shabbos I made the sauce. It wasn't exactly the flavor I was hoping for, but, oh well. After Shabbos I took out all the ground turkey I had defrosted, added the last of my bread crumbs (see, I'm doing a little for Pesach already!), some eggs, onions, whatever. Then I formed about 90 nice-sized meatballs. But then I worried, as always, that maybe it wouldn't be enough for 20 people. Am I a Yiddishe mama or what? So I had to take out a package of ground beef and defrost it in the microwave. I had already used all my bread crumbs so I added some matza meal.

Okay, so now I have about 105 meatballs, more or less. The recipe says to throw it in the sauce which has been simmering on the stove. All the meatballs were in one large bowl, getting all squished together unbeknownst to myself as I was making the extra batch, and just as I was dumping it into the sauce, David came into the kitchen and said, "You should really fry those in a pan first to keep them from falling apart."

He couldn't have said that about 10 seconds earlier?

Now comes the fun part of the evening.

All of the meatballs were, of course, falling apart in the sauce and I started digging them out with my large slotted spoon until all 105 of them were in about 6 plates, all soaked and dripping with sauce. I got out a frying pan, put in some oil, put on some latex gloves and started re-forming the balls one by one, at the same time trying to wipe off as much sauce as possible before putting them in the frying pan. I wasn't sure if I should be laughing at the total ridiculousness of the situation or crying at the frustration of it. Here I was doing a mitzvah, and the simplest thing was taking hours of my time! The thought crossed my mind that there must be a Candid Camera somewhere in the kitchen getting all this on tape, but then I decided that the only audience I had was Hashem. I have to shake my head sometimes at His sense of humor. And then I realize that He's telling me I'm taking myself too seriously again and He's having a little fun with me. Okay.

So I take my time re-rolling those balls, wiping off the extra sauce, frying them a little until I'm sure they'll keep their shape before they go back into the pot of sweet 'n sour sauce, which is now a sauce dotted with tiny pieces of meat throughout. I scrub the frying pan between each batch, taking my time, laughing at myself.

Later (much later...), as the pot sat simmering on the stove and I was washing my way through an unbelievable pile of bowls, plates, cooking utensils, pots and pans, I realized I smelled something burning. Oh, yeah - it was. But I got to it in time, and David came in and poured everything into our super large soup pot. Then we just looked at each other, and I have to hand it to him; he did a super-human job of not bursting into laughter or making even the tiniest of comments which I'm sure were already formulating in his mind.

In the end, everything turned out fine. We only had about 15 people. One guy forgot about coming and worked late, but David started knocking on doors in our apartment building (only in Israel!), and a teen-age son of our Vaad Habayit (apartment manager) came down to join us. A couple of rabbis were here and they gave great divrei Torah, and after the benching all the men started dancing, which is no easy feat in our tiny apartment where the couches were already upended to make room for all the tables.

And, of course, after everyone left and we had cleaned up somewhat and David had gone to bed, all I could think was - When will it be my turn? Jared seems to be pretty settled in his (non-Jewish) home life, and Nathan isn't in any hurry to meet someone until he's able to earn enough money and have some kind of parnassah (living), and he's not at that point yet. I started to miss my friends back home and called Barb, one of my first friends I had made in St. Louis when I moved back there from Milwaukee in 1992 and who had been one of my mah jongg partners for 9 years. It was so nice to hear her voice! Then I tried calling Lynda, one of my other mahj partners, but she wasn't home and I left a message. I already talk periodically with Shifra, the fourth in our mahj group. Barb and Lynda don't have computers, so we're really out of touch. Hard to believe there are people without computers in this day and age.

Some people would consider my sitting here writing a waste of time on a beautiful, sunny Monday afternoon exactly two weeks before Pesach. (Actually, it's the first sunny day in over a week.) I have accomplished a few things today, however; I ordered meat for Pesach from the butcher in Yerushalayim, I ordered kosher-for Pesach dog food from our vet, I ordered matza that will be delivered a week from Thursday, and I called Avi at Nefesh about possible communities that we could move to that would be closer to where David works. Avi emailed me contact names of people in 4 different communities; Maale Adumim, Ramot, Nachalot and Efrat. We also spoke about Kochav Yaakov, and even moving to Beit Shemesh. So now we have to think about visiting each of those communities, maybe spending a Shabbos in Efrat and Maale Adumim. Nachalot is the only neighborhood actually in Yerushalayim, behind the shuk. I really didn't want "city" living, but that would certainly be in the center of things.

Okay, time to clean out some kitchen cabinets - I have an hour before my Israel mahj group shows up for our Monday afternoon game...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Do me a favor. I have an overwhelming desire to impart something breathtakingly beautiful to you. Please read this and then close your eyes. Sit back in your seat. Then try to picture it all in your mind. Let me see if I can do it justice.

Look at the picture above which we took from our mirpeset when we first moved here last summer of our front walk, the park, the hills in the background. This is the view we had earlier this evening:

It's 15 minutes before the end of Shabbos. David and I are sitting on our glider, Emma in my lap, on our smaller mirpeset, facing exactly what you see in the picture. It's dusk; the sun has set but it's not yet fully dark. There are no clouds in the sky, save for some wispy cotton here and there. Only one bright light glitters so far which I found out later this evening was Saturn, the brightest planet this time of year. It's about 70 degrees and a faint breeze is blowing. Even though we live at a major intersection (for these here parts), no car passes by. We hear crickets and possibly frogs. Above us, one floor up and diagonally across, a father and his son also sit on their mirpeset. It's obvious to us, even without knowledge of the language, that Abba is helping his young son with tomorrow's homework; asking him questions, discussing points with him. (We pick up a few words here and there - and are quite proud of ourselves.) Across the street, the hills are finally green; blossoms are everywhere (my eyes and nose have been quite cognizant of this the past few days - and scores of families were out there walking this beautiful Shabbos afternoon).
Abba leaves to go to shul for maariv and we are left in the darkness, a sky lit up now by multitudes of stars, the quiet, the crickets, the warm breeze, the hills, the glider slowly rocking, the immense gratitude - could Shamayim possibly be more kodesh (holy) than this?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Well, we've been here for Tisha B'Av, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succos, Chanukah, and now Purim. I always thought Succos was my favorite holiday, but I have to say - Purim in Israel is AWESOME! I love it here!!

David woke me up early on Shabbos morning because it was Parshas Zachor and I had to be in shul to hear the few passuks (lines in the Torah reading) about stamping out Amalek. For those who don't know, Amalek is one of the very many Jew haters in course of our very long history. He lives on in Hitler and all those throughout history who have tried to wipe us out. Haman, the bad guy in the Purim story, was a descendant of Amalek. By the way, in my "reform" upbringing, no one ever told us in our Sunday School classes that all those stories we read about were real; that the people and the events that happened were part of our very real history and not just fairy tales to entertain us. Here in Israel, the history of all those "characters" are all around you, and when you live here you feel part of the each succeeding generation who lived through each part of our history. It's just so awesome.

So I went to shul and saw lots of friends I haven't seen in awhile because I actually haven't been there in awhile (even though the shul is less than a block away). I even went to a shiur right after services (which end by 10:15 AM every week - see why I rarely make it there?) for women. While there, I saw Rebecca who gives a shiur on Shabbos afternoons. I hadn't gone last week, and she told me what time to come. So I went to TWO shiurim in one day! Plus I went to shul! David was very happy with me. I love to hear Rebecca speak. Only 4 of us came, but she researches all of her topics so thoroughly and is so excited about every thing she teaches. This week was, of course, about Purim, and Esther and Mordechai's role in saving the Jews from annihilation. There are just layers upon layers of meaning in every single sentence of the Megillah (the story of Purim we're required to hear twice on Purim). As we were leaving, Rebecca told me about the party she has for women every Purim night - starting at 11 PM. I thought, why not?

David and I went to maariv (the evening service) and to hear the Megillah reading. Purim is the festival where everyone dresses up in costume. The whole idea is to show that we are not who we look like externally. That's putting it extremely simplistically, and there are many other explanations. David dressed as Bob the Builder (jeans, hard hat, tool belt), and I wore my blue afro. I tried to figure out how to make it stand straight up in a Marge Simpson hairdo, but it wasn't made to go in just one direction. The Megillah reading was fun. In St. Louis I always went to a later, women's only reading, but I wanted to go to the first reading possible so we could go to a party and get our shalach manot ready at home. As the Megilla is being read, everyone has to be extremely quiet, even the kids, and we have to hear every single word - except when Haman's name is mentioned. Then everyone waves their groggers or stamp their feet or yell "boo!" or make whatever loud noise they can to stamp out his hated name. The reading took about an hour and then we stood outside and talked with people for quite awhile. A friend of ours, Tzvi, had on a monster face which scared some kids, but others were trying to pull it off of him. He was trying to convince them that it was scarier underneath! Another guy, Shimon, who had brought his guitar and was wearing long blond curls, threw his arms around Tzvi and said in as high a voice as he could muster, "No, he's mine! Leave him alone!" Everybody was in a happy mood and playing around.

We went home and by the time I finished cleaning up from Shabbos and filling the shalach manot bags, it was already 11! David hadn't wanted to go to any of the shul parties (most of them were having one), but I headed over to Rebecca's. I had so much fun there! About 15 women showed up; some I knew and some I didn't. It was like being at a slumber party when I was a teenager. Rebecca is probably one of the most learned (in Torah) women I've ever met, but she made some kind of a hot punch with vodka (gin?) in it, and everyone had a cup or two, and we giggled and played and just let go of our everyday lives. We each told about the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to us (everything from bad blind dates to sheitels coming off in public), and then we put on some old rock music and danced. By the time they put on an old Beatles tape, we were singing "A Hrd Days' Night", "Help", and all the oldies at the top of our lungs and dancing like we used to in the old (read: secular) days. I barely had a voice left when I left at 1:30 in the morning! And I really missed a couple of you in St. Louis that I know would have had a blast at the party!

But I had to get up by 7 yesterday morning to get to shul for the second Megillah reading. It wasn't quite so crowded this time as most of the men had heard it already in shacharis (the morning service) and left. The guy who read it for us was phenomenal. He had a different voice for each time Esther or Ahashveros or Mordechai or Haman spoke, and even when he read about the horse that Haman had to lead Mordechai on, he had a special whinny voice for the horse. It was great! When I got home, we filled up our cart on wheels, mapped out our route, saddled up Emma (okay, we put her leash on) and headed out to deliver our shalach manot.

Who would ever have guessed it would be 80 degrees out?! We walked up the hill on Hayarden, cut through Sun Gardens, down to the end of Shimshon and back the other way to Dolev, and then ALL THE WAY AROUND Dolev and down Habesor to our apartment. It took about 2 hours and we were hot and pooped. But EVERYONE was out on the streets; the costumes showed so much creativity and everyone was friendly and talkative - you can't even imagine the sense of belonging, the sense of oneness. I so wish it could be like this between everyone in Eretz Yisrael every day. But we'll stay positive here. One young couple and their little toddler had Cat in the Hat costumes on and Thing #1 and Thing #2 imprinted on the front. After they passed us, we realized they had the same words imprinted on their backs - in Ivrit! There was a 10 foot high monster that Emma wasn't sure if she should bark at or run away from, and decorated cars with loudspeakers and music playing everywhere.

Our seuda (festive meal you're supposed to have) was waaayyy over on Lakish and we had to bring the soda and wine. Poor David had to pull the cart with 10 heavy bottles and 3 more packages we had to deliver. I tried to call a cab but none of the companies were answering the phone. So we finally showed up. It was supposed to be all adults, but apparently the host family had invited more people and there were 27 of us - and a lot of kids. They were afraid there wouldn't be enough food but there was plenty. No one was drinking, though. The men are supposed to drink enough not to be able to tell the difference between Mordechai (the good guy) and Haman (we already talked about him). The idea is "when the drink goes in, the truth comes out." There's all kind of kabbalistic stuff about the drinking; you'll have to ask your local rabbi. David never feels he can enjoy the holiday because he has to go to work the next day; I think he only had one glass of wine.

It was so tough walking home. My legs were sore and I was so exhausted from not much sleep the night before and all that walking we'd done. We were supposed to stop by another friend's house who had also invited us to their seuda, but we just went home. Everyone was setting off firecrackers and there were yeshiva boys and kids all over the streets. It was just so nice to be part of the whole thing.

Today is Shushan Purim. In a walled city, like Yerushalayim, Purim is celebrated today - the 15th of Adar (on the Jewish calendar) as oppposed to the 14th. A lot of people started celebrating yesterday and then went to Yerushalayim today to continue their celebration. I remember Nathan telling me about it when he was here in yeshiva. I've been more than happy to take it easy today! I've been cleaning, doing laundry, making dinner for David for when he comes home from work and before he goes to shul to learn, and taking Emma out now and then. Our friend Dov is coming by soon with his two kids. Emma will be very happy to see the kids. Dov is bringing me my headset and foot pedal so I can start working on my first legal transcript. I guess I'm ready! We really want to be able to make some extra money to be able to save up to buy an apartment in the next couple of years.

I had practically told David I'd move to Yerushalayim, but after the party at Rebecca's and celebrating Purim, I know that I really want to stay in Ramat Beit Shemesh! I really love it here so much. It was so nice to go to shul or sit in the shiur or go to the party - and actually recognize a lot of people! It just seems like we have a "place" here. But we still need to find a less expensive apartment, and with a yard.

Besides, listen to what I saw this morning: As I was walking Emma out in the park, Coco was out in her yard and started barking when she saw Emma, which of course made Emma run over to Coco's yard and start barking back. Shaina invited Emma to come play for an hour or so. When I went downstairs to get her later, I saw Shaina and her girls going out the front door of the building. I followed them out and when Shaina saw me, she pointed to to the corner where Hayarden and Hayarkon meet. On the hill were hundreds of sheep, literally just yards from the street! There were some Arab herders moving them across the hill further down on the hills by Hayarkon. It was so cool! I got Emma, then went home and got out my camera. We've heard them a lot recently and have seen them in the distance, but they've never been this close. A lot of people were looking out from their mirpesets. You don't find a lot of sheep in your back yard in St. Louis!

It's getting dark out; hopefully we're going to get some more rain. We need it.

Time to go; things to do.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Oh, wow - so cool! Albert just called us from St. Louis to wish us a good Purim. I was trying to describe what it was like here just before Shabbos, just before the chag. As soon as we hung up, there was a loud commotion outside, and David and I went to stand out on our big mirpeset. There was a looooonnnnggg parade of cars (and all manner of trucks and ambulances and bikes) driving by decorated with balloons and posters, and they were all honking and yelling stuff (in Ivrit) through loudspeakers! They went down to the corner, around the kikar and back up Nachar Hayarden. Everyone ran outside to see them. I can only imagine how wild and crazy it will be here after Shabbos and on Sunday!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

This is the 56th post I've made since I started this blog 6 months ago. Why is it so easy to write here, but so hard to do my writing assignment for my Tuesday morning workshop? Our assignment tomorrow is to write two pages about a childhood memory regarding a Yom Tov. The problem is, I have no memories of any. I do remember when I was four and my father was sleeping in the second twin bed in my room because they had just brought my new sister home from the hospital, and my brother came in, shaking me and yelling about Santa coming in the night and I needed to go see what was in the living room. It was totally dark out and it was only at my father's urging that I stumbled out of bed to see what the fuss was all about. I honestly don't remember an xmas tree (Baruch Hashem!), but I do remember stacks of wrapped gifts everywhere and the most unbelievably wonderful pressed board kitchen set in the whole world. There was a refrigerator and a stove and a sink, and if you put water in a little container under the sink, you could turn the faucet on and water would come out! Certainly not the sophisticated stuff on the market today, but back then it was state-of-the-art. However, a story about waking up to toys left by Santa was not the type of thing I wanted to read aloud to a group of frum women in Har Nof. So I wrote one draft with 2 pages of dialogue on an erev Pesach where each of my siblings and I had conversations with my mother regarding the important question of the day: was the charoses made with grape juice or wine? The other draft, which I finished just minutes ago, was a more somber look at the dynamics of my family. It had less dialogue, but a little more developed story. The only problem is, when I read it out loud I start crying at the end because, even though parts of it are made up, the basic premise is true, and it hits a little too close to the pain I didn't know I was still carrying around (my mom being diagnosed with breast cancer...). So I sent both versions to a fellow writer and friend in St. Louis and asked for feedback. I'm looking forward to her comments.

Shabbos was gorgeous and sunny and fun! Friday night we had 3 couples over and we laughed a lot. One of the men always has great dvrei Torah, although he had to be careful because his wife was going to be using one of them Saturday night at her daughter's bridal shower (which I went to even though Rabbi Yari was in town and there was to be a melava malka with him at a former St. Louisan's home in Har Nof. Instead we got to play really "exciting" party games, like dress each other up as brides with toilet paper. Yes, it's true. Rolls and rolls of toilet paper. As David said, we have to nurture new relationships...)

For Shabbos lunch we joined a rabbi and his wife who made aliyah from LA last September. I really enjoy meeting new people. The rabbi runs the evening learning program that David goes to twice a week.

Yesterday I had to go to a place in Yerushalayim I'd never been, all by myself. I had to get a bone density test (all us old ladies have to get them) at a hospital in the Katamon neighborhood. I actually rode the #418 autobus from Ramat Beit Shemesh which I've not done before - my first mehadrin bus. I need to describe this in an objective and politically correct way. Okay, how's this: on a mehadrin bus, the men don't want to be "tempted" by the sight of a woman, so the women "get" to sit in the back of the bus where it's bumpier, smellier and quite out of the eyesight of these very religious men who might see a part of a woman's body that isn't totally covered up, or that might very well be covered up but which might incite some part of their imaginations to work overtime. Of course, the women pay the price for these overactive imaginations. What do you think, was that objective enough?

I'm not a women's libber or a feminist, but I do have to say that I find it demeaning to be relegated to the back of a bus. On the other hand, I really enjoyed this particular bus! I sat right behind the back door, and there was a wide open space in front of me which helped my claustophobic tendencies greatly. Plus, hardly anyone rode the bus. Unfortunately, there was a baby in the back who cried, loudly, the entire last half hour of the trip; I felt more sorry for the mother than for the rest of us. I got off the bus at the convention center and waited for the #13, which is what they (the hospital) told me to take. After waiting half an hour and not seeing the #13, I crossed under the road in the tunnel to the Takanah Merkazit side and before I could even start looking for the correct bus stop, the #13 pulled up right in front of me. It was crowded! I stood for part of the time, but it wasn't so bad. After awhile I went up to the bus driver and asked him, בבקשה תגידי לי איזה תקנה במזגב לדך. Okay, I can't put any punctuation on that, and I don't know if the Hebrew will show in the post, and I don't know if I spelled it right, but the driver told me where to get off at the right place (it was the last bus stop). So now I know how to go on Wednesday when I have to go back for a full pulmonary work-up (I still have this fluid in my right lung that they can't figure out).

When I left the hospital, I took a taxi to Geulah. You can't even begin to imagine all the Purim costumes and accouterments pouring out onto the sidewalks of all the shops. I bought David a pirate hat with green hair, and I got myself a sky blue HUGE afro. It's so funny to see Santa hats with payos or braids, and seeing all these religious people buying them because they have absolutely no idea what they are.

While waiting at the bus stop for the #417 to go home, a girl came up to ask if it had shown up yet and we started talking. It's turns out she's married to a St. Louis boy and her parents were one of the couples we had for dinner Friday night! We talked all the way back on the bus. Once again (and not for the last time), it's such a small world!

I'm waiting for my mahj partners to show up. It's pretty rainy out; I hope they remember to come. Just in case they don't, I didn't pop any popcorn yet. Hopefully it won't be so rainy tomorrow or Wednesday when I have to go to Yerushalayim. 3 times this week! We're really seriously considering moving closer to the "city", but I just love it here so much. It's so beautiful here; we have a great view and have made some good friends and there's a great park where Emma can run around. But if we move there, the commute will be so much easier and there are so many more programs and learning opportunities in Yerushalayim. I can't even imagine having to pack everything back up again. And it will be more expensive there. But it will probably take David 2 hours to get home tonight with this rain. But we invited Coco up this morning to play with Emma and she had such a good time on her play date. This is better, that's better. We're going to have to sit down and think through all the pros and cons.

Oh, there was a great story I wanted to relate to you that David told me he witnessed on the bus. A down's syndrome boy of about 12 or 13 got on and sat right behind the bus driver. The boy must ride that particular bus regularly and he realized the driver was new. David was sitting one seat back on the other side and had a clear view of the boy giving directions to the bus driver. The driver took it all in stride and nodded agreeably with each direction. After a few stops, a young soldier got on the bus, and greeted the young boy in such a way that David felt they must have known each other. He sat in the front seat with him, and before long the boy fell asleep on the soldier's shoulder. They stayed like that all the way into Yerushalayim.


I wrote all that on Monday and saved it as a draft; this is the first chance I've had to finish it.

My mahj partners ended up coming; we had a great time; my writer's workshop was cancelled on Tuesday because several ladies cancelled due to getting ready for Purim; I finished editing my deposition sample for the transcription company and will probably start working for them next week (not that I have time to work - I've been pretty busy lately).

So that brings us up to Wednesday, which would be yesterday. I took a bus to Sheinfeld mid-morning, which is an Anglo neighborhood in Beit Shemesh and was easily able to find a home where I attended a Lunch & Learn. But not just any Lunch & Learn; the speaker was Rebbetzin Pearl Borow, originally of St. Louis! The woman who hosted the shiur had posted it on the Beit Shemesh email list, and when I saw Pearl's name, I knew I had to go. We get the Israel Center Bulletin each week from Yerushalayim. They have many classes and programs on a weekly basis, and I've been noticing that Pearl gives a lot of classes there, as does Rabbi Bienenfeld, also a former St. Louisan. She gave a wonderful talk about Esther and her role in the Purim story.

Afterwards, I got a ride to Yerushalayim with the woman who drove Pearl back, and this lady drove me directly to the hospital where I (thought) I was to have the pulmonary work-up. You may be thinking, "I wonder why she went all the way to to Yerushalayim when she only "thought" she was having a pulmonary work-up." When one has an appointment to have something done, one believes that it should happen, nachon (right?) But no, in this country when one's doctor writes an order for a test, one must go get a form from the kupat giving permission to have that test (and/or testifying that one has paid for the test if payment is needed), and BOTH pieces of paper must be presented to the receptionist. Not having been told this little bit of information, I unsuspectingly arrived at my destination with only ONE piece of paper in hand. No amount of cajoling, begging, or laying on of guilt (I don't believe Israelis are familiar with that particular emotion) elicited any symapathy or compassion on their part, and I now have another appointment for NEXT Wednesday. See what I mean about having to move closer?

As I left from there, with only 7 shekels to my name, a very nice English-speaking woman drove me to a bus stop on Emek Refaim (a Clayton-esque kind of area for you St. Louisans) and told me the #4 would take me down to Shmuel Hanavi, where I wanted to go. I walked the last 10 blocks or so to Yad Ezra VeShulamit, where I wanted to drop off our Matanos L'evyomin (donation for the needy) for Purim. {side note: I had originally made some beautiful postcards to hand out on Purim saying that in lieu of Mishloach Manot - gifts of food to friends - we would be donating to Yad Ezra VeShulamit. My mah jongg partners not-so-gently explained to me that no one would ever want to be our friends and we would be ostracized by all of Ramat Beit Shemesh if we would do such a thing. It is customary to "go all out" on Purim; mishloach manot here consists of "themes" or "color schemes" and very creative packages. So I ended up making today some very spicy salsa and I'm going to make some chips out of pita bread and zatar to go along with it. The things you have to do to keep up with the Cohens!}

So, anyway.

I called David who was getting off in an hour and we decided to meet in Geulah and go out for dinner. I walked up Yehezkel while I was waiting for him and just happened to find myself in a (very inexpensive) woman's clothing store. I was so proud of myself for bargaining the price down. The shop owners expect it; they're disappointed when they tell you the price and you just pay it (so I've been told). There was a style of blouse that fit me well, and they had it in 4 colors. So I chose two of them. The price was 59 NIS each (that's less than $15). I asked if he'd take 100 NIS for both of them. He said the special was 3 for 150 NIS. I countered that I didn't need 3 of the same style and only wanted 2. He said 2 for 118 NIS. I shook my head sadly and started to put them back on the shelf. He said, "Bring them back. 100 shekels." We both smiled and I told him I liked his store and I'd be back.

The second store had an owner who was a little more stubborn, but when David showed up he was pretty amused by watching me wheel and deal. Our friend's daughter is getting married in two weeks, and I got a gorgeous outfit for 200 NIS (less than $50), down from 249 NIS.

Getting home from Geulah was a mess. It's a good thing Shaina had been looking in on Emma all afternoon. After dinner we tried to get on the 7:00 PM bus, but it was packed, and about 50 people elbowed us out of the way to get on first. So we took some back streets and got on the next bus two stops earlier. It took 15 minutes for the bus to travel to the bus stop we had originally been standing at! There were so many cars, taxis, buses and people, it was total gridlock. All of Geulah and Mea Shearim was a party atmosphere with music playing, speakers blasting messages from vans, people standing 10 deep in stores buying Purim supplies, people and billions of strollers crossing the streets and crowding the sidewalks. It was awesome! Tourists, Israelis, chassidim, you name it. But we didn't get home until almost 9. I can see why David wants to live closer.

David informed me that he came up with his own idea for a Purim costume (he didn't like the pirate hat with the green ponytail I had bought him?). He's going to wear a denim shirt (I accidentally wrote skirt and had to change it - he hasn't gone that far over the edge yet) and jeans with his tool belt and a hard hat so he can be a contruction worker. I think he just wanted an opportunity to wear jeans. He said he originally was going to call himself a plumber but that he thought it wouldn't be too tznius ... okay, you'll have to figure that one out for yourself.

Today was Taanis Esther, a fast day. Here we are in Israel and David works with all Jews, and hardly anyone was fasting today. He said people told him that not everyone observes these minor fast days, especially when it was supposed to be on Shabbos and got pushed back to Thursday. But we did it, and we had our usual break-the-fast - bagels and omelettes, but I also surprised him with french fries. I never used to make dinner during the week; we'd both just scrounge around for whatever looked good. But now that David's working such long hours and I'm not (yet), I've been trying to have dinner waiting for him every night. He really likes that!

Because today was Taanis Esther, they had a Torah reading during minchah. A lot of the men where David works daven minchah every day somewhere in their building but they don't have a Torah scroll. Intel is located in Har Hotzvim, which is an industrial area. NDS, another company there, has a Torah, and guys came from IDT and Intel and other companies there to daven minchah in the lobby of NDS. Can you picture that? Pretty cool!

For us baal teshuvas (people who don't come from religious families and become observant later in life), experiences like that have a lot of meaning for us. Davening in company lobbies (or on street corners, like we did on our tiyul to Tel Aviv a few months ago with our ulpan class), seeing people waving chickens around their heads at Succos time, seeing all the menorahs in all the windows at Chanukah - the holidays here are so much more meaningful for us now than they used to be.

It's almost midnight and I still have to mop the living room/dining room floor. Emma's asleep on the couch. What are the chances I can put her in bed with David and she'll stay there out of my way while I mop?