It's late on a Thursday night. No cooking this week - we're going to Ramat Beit Shemesh for Shabbat. Last night our friend, Zvi, called to invite us to spend Shabbat with him and his daughter. His wife, Tobi, has been in the states most of the last six months to be with her sister who was diagnosed with advanced lung cancer just after Yom Kippur, and I think he's craving the companionship. It would have been nice to invite him here instead, but our guest room is being painted on Sunday with anti-mildew paint and the furniture from that room is all over the place. Emma's going to stay with Yonatan and Shaina, our former neighbors there. I hope she remembers their dog, Coco, and that they used to be good friends. We'll have Seudat Shlishli (the third meal) with them, but the other two will be at Zvi's. The plan is to leave early tomorrow morning so we can spend the day visiting other friends there and shopping for things we can't get here, like instant oatmeal and Ken's salad dressings.
We also need to go to the bank there, although we've been puttiing it off as long as possible. David gets his Air Force retirement directly deposited to a bank back in Minnesota, and every month he cashes a check from that account at Cheerfully Changed so we can put the money in our account here. Unfortunately, the exchange rate is down to 3.4, which is the lowest I've ever seen it. Normally, it's around 4.0 or thereabouts. That means that the 2000 shekels we would usually get (minus the fee) is now about 1400 shekels. That hurts! For people who get paid in dollars or have to pay their rent or mortgage in dollars, it's a big blow to the monthly budget. Thank G-d we have a set shekel rate for our rent, but most people we know pay in dollars that they have to convert from shekels. It's a real problem here; I don't know why anything is charged with dollars - no other foreign currency is used.
I went to the Kotel twice this week. Kind of a record for me since I rarely go. My friend, Ellen, and I were discussing last week the fact that both of us felt less spiritual of late. We met there on Monday afternoon and amidst a crowd of both Israelis and zillions of tourists (I took a little poetic license there) we davened and said Tehillim. Being me, I had left my sheets of names of people to daven for at home but I was able to remember at least my family's names and those of cholim (sick) I daven for every morning.
Yesterday morning I had a 10:50 am appointment for my back therapy (Alexander Technique). My plan was to go straight home afterwards, but I was so near to the Old City that I just started walking there after the appointment. On the way, I called a friend of mine who lives there, Ariel, to see what she was up to. She was delighted that I called and asked if I was up for a shiva (condolence) call. The family of one of the murdered boys from the yeshiva massacre last week lives in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. I had never been in the Muslim Quarter before; I hadn't even known that Jews lived there. Apparently a company buys homes in all the Quarters and sells them to Jewish families so that we can have a presence throughout the Old City. We followed the signs to the home - there were people spilling out into the alleyway. Ariel and I only stayed for a few minutes. We never found the parents, but we able to find one of the sisters who was surrounded by her friends, and we gave her our condolences. I felt so honored to have been able to just be a presence in their home, to let them know that their grief is also my grief, that their sadness is shared by their larger Jewish family all over the world.
After Ariel and I visited in a cafe for awhile, she went home and I again went down to the Kotel. I pulled a chair as close as I could to the Wall, then closed my eyes and had a heart-to-heart talk with Hakodesh Borchu Hu (G-d). I talked to Him about what happened at the yeshiva, about all the sick people I know, about the divorces of my friends, about the terror down in Sderot, about living our lives in this Holy Land, about each one of my children, siblings, nieces and nephews, and about my husband and I. It was kind of a long conversation. I felt bad that I was asking for so much, more than I'd ever requested at one time before, but I knew He understood why I had to ask.
I used to feel guilty that I felt so blessed; that I had so much more than anyone else, but I figured out (somewhat) why it's so. We can't really afford our car, but a lot of times I use it to take someone to the store or to the doctor or pharmacy so we can't afford NOT to keep it. A woman down the street is counting on me to take her to the hospital in the coming weeks when she goes into labor. We haven't been able to give miser (10% of our income to charity) the last few months because our bills are higher than our income, but I always take a handful of shekels when I go into town to give to the many people on the streets who ask, and I try to be a good neighbor and friend by taking soup to someone who's sick or getting some groceries for someone who needs. I'm astounded sometimes by some of the awesome people I've met or heard of who don't have much of anything and still give part of it away to someone who has less, or who spend hours physically helping other people. I know I'm still way too attached to my "things" - to my computer and my dining room furniture and all the things that make up a household. One day Hashem may just take these things away from me, like He did to the people in Gush Katif, just to show me that I can live without them. I ask myself, could I deal with that? With losing all my photo albums and my books and my clothes and all the rest of my "stuff"? I know I'm willing to make a stand here, on this yishuv, on our land, in this place that Hashem promised us. My heart knows this, but I wonder - can my head make peace with it? Sooooooo many things to contemplate.
Guess I kind of rambled a bit tonight.