Friday, December 28, 2007

Health Update

Temperature normal

Slowly adding solid food to my diet

Coughing less, sleeping more

Still have lots of congestion.

Sitting here watching movies and not getting out is starting to be boring.

In short: moving slowly in the right direction

For Shabbat, I have a pot of soup going in the slow cooker, and a few challah rolls, and a bottle of grape juice, and plenty of hot water and Coke. Should keep starvation at bay. Visitors are welcome.

Have a Shabbat shalom.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Let me restate that

And to think just 5 days ago I thought I had a chest cold.

Um, yeah.

In the past five days, I have:

- not managed to keep down any solid food, though today I'm finally (bli ayin hara) keeping down liquids if I drink them at the rate of one sip every 2-5 minutes.

- been to one doctor (my own is on maternity leave) who said "I don't hear anything wrong with your lungs, here is an expectorant, have a nice day."

-been to Magen David Adom's emergency clinic, where I was given an IV (at my request) to prevent dehydration, and was diagnosed with gastroenteritis, which is a fancy way of saying "you sure are throwing up an awful lot but we don't really know why. Go home and try to rest. Oh, and here's some anti-nausea medication"

- Thrown up my anti-nausea medication

- Went to another doctor in lieu of my own who is on maternity leave, who listened longer to my lungs than anyone else had and said "You have bronchitis. Here is an antibiotic. I can't promise you won't throw up the antibiotic. Here's hoping for the best."

- Thrown up my antibiotic - but only once.

-Lost my voice from the incessant coughing

- Barely slept, because I cough so much

- Lost 10 pounds (in 7 days)

- Have started, slowly, to get better, in the sense that at least my fever is down and I can, mostly, like I said, keep down liquids. And I have enough energy to sit here and blog about it. And last night for the first time I managed to sleep for a few hours at once, thank God.

- Discovered that I have the best friends in the whole wide world! Yael hosted me over Shabbat so I wouldn't be alone. Estee took me to MADA and stayed with me there for 5 hours. Rachel drove me to the doctor and the pharmacy. Sarah Beth came to sit with me for a little while. Lisa came with a bunch of movies. And, most unbelievably -- I seriously cannot believe this -- Beth and Tzivi came and cleaned my apartment practically from top to bottom, just to cheer me up. I have been completely supplied with chicken soup, coke, probiotics, tissues, bottled water, and sympathetic wishes. I feel so loved, I could cry.

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Chest cold

Low-grade fever

Coughing up a lung

Didn't we just go through this?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Housing update

Other than the House that Cats Built, there is exactly one one- or two-bedroom apartment available in my price range in the areas of Jerusalem I want to live in (that is, within sort-of reasonable walking distance of my friends and of my "office" at Tal Bagels. The radius is pretty large.)

It was a place I saw several months ago, back when I'd first started searching, and now that I understood the reality of housing prices here, I decided to take a second look. I went back with engineers, who reported that the entire roof needs replacing and is leaking into both the bathroom, where the ceiling has major damage, and the kitchen, where the ceiling has mildew. The Vaad Bayit (Building Committee) is supposed to be maintaining the roof, but clearly they aren't, probably because almost the whole building is occupied by tenants, not owners. It would probably become my job to chase the other owners and insist that they pay for their share of the roof maintanance costs, which could take months. All the plumbing is leaking, and must be completely replaced. And the electricity is running at 25 amps, when 40 is standard.

So I gave an offer which was a little bit lower than the asking price, and which would leave me just barely enough in my budget to make the necessary repairs. The owner refused the offer, and I decided it is just as well. Even after all the basic repairs are made, the apartment still won't get much sunlight. The layout is strange, with a zig-zag path from the front door to the salon. And the full flight of outdoor stairs leading up to the building are in a remarkable state of disrepair and honestly don't look safe to me.

All in all, not a good situation.

So, I'm now officially priced out of this neighborhood. If I want to buy anything, it will have to be somewhere else, because there is literally nothing available around here that I can afford, unless I decide to take my chances with Cat Lady, who has a reputation for being a non-serious seller and jerking people around before pulling out of negotations. Not what I need.

Since I might be kicked out of my current place when the lease runs out, I have absolutely no idea where I'm going to live afterward. The rents around here, too, are so high that I don't think I could find a reasonable (that is, non-moldy, non-basement, non-dark) place to live by myself.

I've spoken with a friend about the possibility of sharing an apartment, which would be an attractive option since I know her, and I'd finally have a place to put a couch. But whether she could do it depends on other factors in her own life, so I'm waiting from her for an answer.

Anxiety, anxiety, anxiety.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Taxi Story

Since the Jewish Week still hasn't fixed their website, and some readers are traveling to Israel and have requested my taxi article, I'm posting most of the text here. (I'm leaving off the first few paragraphs -- the "lede" -- since they don't contain practical info, and the JW edited it -- which was fine, by the way -- part of the job and they did it well, so I don't mind.)

I want to thank the Jewish Week for hiring me to write this story. They've been a client of mine for a long time, and they are really terrific to work for: the editors are reasonable, when they change my stories they don't muck anything up, and, though they don't pay a fortune, they do pay promptly.

Anyhow, here it is, the main body of "Cab Fair?":

The first step to avoid being ripped-off is to know your rights as a passenger. According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, drivers are required by law to turn on the meter – which starts at 9.50 NIS and increases at increments of .30 NIS – for all intra-city rides. For rides between cities, the passenger may choose between the meter or a flat fee as indicated on the driver’s “mechiron,” a standardized price list.

There are indeed extra charges sometimes. Prices rise by 25 percent between 9 pm and 5:30 am. Telephoning for door-to-door service (as opposed to hailing a cab) incurs a fee of 3.60 NIS. The presence of a third passenger over the age of 5 costs 3.3 NIS; a suitcase is 3 NIS. Travel on Highway 6, a toll road, involves an extra charge of 11 NIS, and having the driver wait for you at any point costs 60 NIS per hour.

In reality, many drivers will attempt to establish a flat fee rather than use the meter even for intra-city rides, a practice generally accepted in Israeli culture, and often advantageous to the passenger if traffic is heavy. In both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the fare from the Central Bus Station to any other point in the city is normally, at most, 45-50 NIS. A driver asking for 80 NIS is certainly trying to cheat you, but paying 30 NIS for a ride of a few miles during rush hour is a good deal.

However, since tourists are often unfamiliar with what constitutes a reasonable fare from point A to point B, drivers themselves advised that visitors insist that drivers follow the law. Any higher cost incurred because of traffic, they said, more than pays for the peace of mind which comes from knowing one is not being cheated.

“Always, always take the meter,” said Asher, a driver for Kartel Taxi in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Aviv. “If the driver refuses to cooperate with you, take their registration number and details and report them to the Ministry. They can be fined thousands of shekels.” Ayal Ben Ovadia, manager of the Bar-Ilan cab company in Jerusalem, added that one should never ride with a driver who claims the meter is broken. “Get out of the car, take down the details, and report him,” Ovadia said.

Playing hardball was overwhelmingly the first advice from new immigrants, who often confront the challenges of being unfamiliar with Israeli culture and having an American accent.

“If they ever really try to rip me off, I just wait for another taxi or call for one,” said Carrie Lee Teicher, a Barnard graduate who is now a student at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University. “At any hour of the day in Tel Aviv a taxi is no more than a 5 minute wait or a 3 minute walk away.” Vicki Peskin, a law student, tells drivers “no way, I’m not paying that. Don’t think just because I’m American you can rip me off.”

Another immigrant, who wished to be unnamed for privacy, suggested that tourists always carry a pen and a little notebook, and start writing down medallion numbers if a driver refuses to use the meter. “When he says ‘what are you doing,’ you say ‘I’m going to report you to the Taxi regulators.’ That should get him to turn the meter on.”

Problems can be avoided by using a driver who is recommended by friends. “Find a driver you trust and stick with him,” Cohen said. It is possible to arrange for a driver to take you around wherever you wish for the entire day, for a price you agree upon privately.

If you hail or call for a cab, the driver might attempt to pick up other passengers along the way; this is a common practice in Israel, but if you insist on remaining alone in the taxi the driver must abide by your request. Additionally, by law drivers may not smoke while passengers are in the taxi, and they are required to turn the radio on or off at your request.

Have a complaint about a driver? Send the cab’s medallion number or the number appearing on the side of the car; the driver’s name or his description; the date, time, and location of the event; names of witnesses; and the printed receipt to the Office of the Public Complaints Commissioner at whichever of the following offices is closest to the event’s location:

Tel Aviv and Central Region: P.O. Box 57659, Tel Aviv, 61574. Telephone: (03) 565-1799

Jerusalem and Southern Region: Clal Building, 97 Jaffa Street, Jerusalem 94342 Telephone: (02) 622-8550

Haifa and the Northern Region: 121 Jaffa Street, Haifa, 35252 Telephone: (04) 853-6711.

Also, here is a sidebar I wrote to go with the story. I have absolutely no idea whether it was printed in the Jewish Week or not. Even if they had space for it and decided to run it, the sidebars often don't show up online. :-( But here it is for your convenience:


By train: Over 60 trains operate on the line from Be’er Sheva in the south, through Ben Gurion Airport, and on to points north: Tel Aviv, Haifa, Akko, and Nahariya. Though not recommended for travel between the airport and Jerusalem, the train is a comfortable and inexpensive alternative to buses or taxis. The trip to Tel Aviv costs 12 NIS and takes about 10 minutes; the trip all the way up the coast to Nahariya is 46.5 NIS and takes 2 hours.

By bus: Egged Bus Line offers service between major urban centers and Airport City. Bus #5 operates between Airport City and the terminals. Egged Customer Service: (03) 694-8888 or

By cab: The taxi stand outside the airport terminals is usually busy and moves quickly. The standard price between the airport and Jerusalem is 190 NIS during the day. One can get to Tel Aviv for 120 NIS, or to Haifa for 450 NIS, with Hadar Lod (03) 971-1103. For points further north, call Amal Taxi at (04) 866-2324.

By van service to/from Jerusalem: For 45 NIS, one can arrange for a door-to-door van service, shared with other passengers, by calling Nesher at (02) 625-7227. Nesher also operates a stand immediately outside the airport’s arrivals terminal. The van provides a better time-cost value than a private taxi or the bus, but beware: The wait for a van at the terminal may be up to 20 minutes, while the drivers argue. The drivers are also known to yell at passengers. In a written response to criticisms against them, Nesher told the Jewish Week that such events are the exception rather than the rule, and asked that any passenger with a complaint call them so that they can investigate the matter and deal with the driver appropriately.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Don't get taken for a ride

My latest article for The Jewish Week (Israel Travel supplement), on the taxi regulations in Israel, and how not to be cheated by a driver here. It actually has a lot of information which I personally found very useful. I hope you will, too.

BTW, there is a small error in the story -- my mistake, not the paper's. There is a small extra charge if there are more than 2 passengers and the 3rd passenger is over the age of 5, not under the age of 5.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

And so begin the new adventures

Yesterday I went to see an apartment. I had seen it listed on It is in a building I've seen before, one in a great location for me, and though not very pretty, at least tolerable. I thought the woman with whom I arranged the meeting was an agent, but it turned out to be the owner herself.

Up four flights of stairs -- 71 steps total -- and a little bit of a wait to be let in because the owner, whom I'll call Y, had mixed up the day of my visit. Her husband is home, and lets me in.

The first thing I notice is that the walls look dirty. The second thing I notice is a cat who runs by my feet. And then another cat. And, oh, there is a third cat!

"You have lots of cats, I see," says I.

"Yes, at last count we officially have 20 of them," says he.

20. cats.

20 housecats.

They were everywhere. What was supposed to be the Master Bedroom was instead dedicated to cats. There were about 5 cats sunning themselves on the windowsill, and a mean orange tabby with one eye missing sitting atop an old filing cabinet. On the floor: A few pieces of rusty furniture, several litter boxes, and a couple of kitty beds.

The place reeked.

In the second, smaller bedroom: a double bed on which were lounging about 8 cats.

"The apartment belongs to my wife," says the man. "She has been living here for 22 years. We just got married a few months ago, and with all my stuff she feels it's too crowded."

Decent, recently renovated (but filthy) bathroom and (cleaner) kitchen. Clearly while I was waiting outside the man has mopped with bleach.

Kitty urine and bleach odors. I wanted to gag.

"And here is the view on the northern side," says he. (Yes, please, the window, think I. I need air!) The living room couch has several cats lying on it. While we talk, one of them eyes me steadily and with suspicion.

I imagine the apartment without the cats, without the fur-laden furniture, without the smell, and realize that other than the 71 steps, this place would be ideal for me. It is spacious and has light and air coming from two directions. And it is just a few blocks from Emek Refaim Street.

But there are visible signs of cat urine in the walls. And signs, too, that the entire floor would need to be replaced.

"We had a buyer," says he, "but my wife didn't like the payment terms they were offering. They wanted to spread out the payment over too much time. We've had many offers, but the offers are ridiculously low. People will really try to get away with anything."

Alarm bells.

They are selling with no agent, they do not realize how filthy the place is, and then they reject the understandably low offers. And they jerked around a buyer. Just what I need.

"Thank you, I'll think about it," says I.

At home, I speak with two realtors about other matters, and mention the apartment I had just seen.

"Oh, you saw Y's place," they both say.

"How much is Y asking for today?" asks one.

Asks Chayyei Sarah: "Do you think Y is really committed to selling, or is she ambivalent?"

"She's definitely ambivalent," says the realtor. "Her mother gave her the apartment and she is very, very emotionally attached to it. But who knows? She just got married a few months ago, so maybe now she'll really try to sell it."

I am thinking: I will keep looking. In a few days, if I see nothing better, I will make an offer, something low enough so that I can still afford to pay to replace the floors and bleach all the walls, and see what happens. In Israel, making an offer is not a commitment.

And also, I am thinking: This story gives me hope.

Because if a woman with 20 housecats can find a man to marry her and move in with her, then there is hope for Chayyei Sarah.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dear Jerusalem Post: Leave me the hell alone

When I first made aliyah, I subscribed to The Jerusalem Post. Later, when I got a temporary gig as a reporter for Haaretz English Edition, I got a free subscription from them, so I was getting two newspapers delivered every morning for about a year.

I found that the JPost's unwillingness to admit that Israel can ever do anything wrong vis-a-vis the Palestinians provided a useful counterpoint to Ha'aretz's unwillingness to admit that Israel can ever do anything right at all.

I also found that I wasn't reading the papers. Oh, I was getting news all right. I check online news sources -- including and, among many others -- every day. But I don't have a table which is conducive to spreading out a newspaper and enjoying it (or not) over coffee. And often I was just too busy to do anything but skim the headlines. The papers were piling up, taking up space and necessitating many trips to recycling, and I wasn't actually reading them often enough to make it worthwhile. So I cancelled both subscriptions, and have been a dedicated consumer of online news sources ever since.

Almost immediately, I started getting regular calls from both papers, trying to goad me to re-subscribe. It was getting annoying. At first I explained to the telemarketers why I was not interested. Then, I started simply saying "I'm not interested" and hanging up. Finally, after about two years, the calls from Haaretz stopped when I pointed out that if I wasn't interested in receiving the paper when I was getting it for free, why would I be interested in a subscription at 75% off? Thank God, I haven't heard from them since.

But the JPost keeps calling. I'd say I get a call from them every few weeks. Every time, I tell them "Take me off your list. If I want the paper, I'll call YOU." But the calls keep coming.

My Thanksgiving dinner was interrupted by a telemarketer for the Jerusalem Post. I immediately said "I'm not interested in buying anything," and he immediately says "I'm not trying to sell you anything." I said "you have 10 seconds," during which it became clear, of course, that he is trying to get me to buy a subscription again.

This morning, another call. I told the guy "you can stop calling me. I do not want the paper. It does not matter why. I've told your people why. Take me off your list." And hung up.

Ten seconds later he calls again. He actually had the gall to ask me how I am. I said "what do you want?" He says "you used to subscribe, right?" I said, switching to English, "Look, I'm going to say this in English, because the JPost is an English paper so I assume you speak English. I want you to stop calling me. Take me off your list."

And then I heard him speaking quietly to someone else. He wasn't even listening to me! So I said "You aren't listening, okay," and hung up.

Dear JPost, consider this your warning: If you ever call me again asking me to re-subscribe, I will, bli neder, put a permanent banner on my blog telling everyone how much I hate you, and it will include information about how badly you treat your writers. Because, you know, I'm a professional journalist, and I know people who have worked for you, and so I know how much your paper sucks on many, many levels. It will also explain that a subscription to your paper is like a black hole: once you get in, you can never get out.

I will post it on the listserves frequented by new English-speaking Olim, and if they won't post it, I'll email to everyone I know, asking them to forward to all their friends never, ever to subscribe to your paper.

So, do the smart thing: go through your call list and take off anyone whose first name is Sarah.

Hoping never to hear from you ever again, ever,


PS About 30 minutes after I posted this, they called AGAIN. Someone named Oz. He calls and says "is this Sarah?" I said "yes," and he says "hold on a minute" and starts talking to someone else. Again. I asked his name. He said "hold on a minute" AGAIN. I said "you called me, so if you want to talk, then talk. I'm not hanging on." I told him this is my third call from the Post in one day, and I've had enough. I read him this blog post. He still didn't get it. He still kept asking me questions as if nothing was wrong and this was all normal. He said "I'm not asking you to re-subscribe, I just want to tell you about our benefits! You can get the Jerusalem Post delivered every morning, right to your doorstep!" Is he paid to act like a moron, or does it come naturally?

Finally I said "Just take me off your *&^%$ list." He said "Oh, Sarah, it's a holiday, there is no reason to use language like that."

I hung up and sent an email to their subscription department, demanding in writing to be taken off the list.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sarah Beth called it (Apartment Update)

This morning, my lawyer sends their lawyer a draft of the contract, incorporating all changes which they had requested yesterday and which were acceptable to us, and saying that "my client will not agree to any further changes to this contract."

He calls her and says "Oh, you know that clause which says that at the second payment, if the seller does not provide certain documents, that x numbers of shekels will go into a joint account, until she provides them? The joint account which I suggested? I decided that we don't really need that after all. I'll be here when the payments are made. You can just put the money into trust with me. Why bother with a joint account?"

My lawyer says, as any person who is not an idiot would say, "no. Joint account or this is over."

They sent her a fax saying that they cannot agree to our terms and will not sell me the apartment.


Last night, I called Sarah Beth to complain about the proceedings, about all the times that the seller and her lawyer asked for changes, and more changes, and more changes to the contract -- and then said that I keep asking for more changes and she's sick of me dragging things out (as I've said before, I really hate hypocrisy, and it was this that annoyed me at least as much as her repeatedly changing her mind about things we'd agreed upon).

Sarah Beth said "she's never going to sell. She's clearly ambivalent and looking for reasons to back out. And if you do sell to her, you'll just keep having problems."

I was hoping that Sarah Beth was wrong, because after all, we were so close to the end, and Thursday is the last possible day we could sign (because the seller's lawyer goes abroad for a month on Sunday), and we were really closing in on the end.

But, she called it.

But she was right!

I've already called my original real estate agent and asked her to start looking again for apartments to show me. I want to find something before prices go up even further. With the dollar down, apartment prices have risen significantly just in the 2 months that I've been dealing with these other jerks.

Total cost of dealing with the jerks:
Lawyer fee, appraiser, engineer: about $1500
Lost work time: about $2000
Difference between what I would have paid for my somewhere-out-there apartment 2 months ago, and what I'll have to pay if I find it now: as yet unknown.

Payback: Well, I learned a lot about myself.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Update for Tuesday

I am finding that the words "take it or leave it" have enormous impact.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Update for Monday

As soon as they heard the words "give us x, y, and z or we're ending the negotiations," the documents and (seriously standard) concessions we needed (like, a signed copy of the property title) started coming in.

Of course, they also asked that a major clause be changed in their favor, but it was about an issue regarding which I've already decided that, if worst comes to worst and they screw me on that issue, then the apartment is still worth it (even though it would be really obnoxious on their part and they'd someday languish in the fiery pit of hell for it.)

We don't have everything yet that we need, but things are moving in a more positive direction.

More tomorrow.

Sunday, December 02, 2007


This morning, my lawyer sent a fax to the seller's lawyer saying, in essence:

A) The comments you gave us to the last draft indicate that you weren't actually looking at the last draft, but at some previous draft

B) If you don't give us certain basic information and documents we've been asking for, to put in the contract [ie, things as basic as a street address for the lawyer - not just a PO Box] then we'll have no choice but to not sign a contract with you.

Haven't heard anything since.

There are only two ways that I might still be buying this apartment:

1- If this lawyer suddenly changes his tune and provides all the necessary information and paperwork, I'll move forward

2- If the seller changes to a new lawyer, I'll move forward.

Frankly, I don't think either of those things will happen.

But we'll see.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Recipe for BubbyT

A commenter named BubbyT asked for the recipe for the soup I served on Thanksgiving. Unfortunately I cannot find an email address associated with her blog, so here it is for all of you to enjoy. I adapted it from a recipe I found at Enjoy it!

Chayyei Sarah's Zucchini Soup

In a large frying pan, sautee together in canola oil (or some other vegetable oil)

2 chopped onions (I used 3 small ones)

3-4 small white potatoes, peeled and diced

8 zucchini (I used kishuim), chopped -- don't worry if you can't get it all into the pan. Just sautee as much as you can, and the rest you'll add directly to the hot water later.

½ tspn dried basil

½ tspn dried rosemary

¼ tspn dried thyme

¼ tspn ground white pepper (I wasn't so fond of this and might not use it next time)

In a large separate pot, bring 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil. It’s OK to add some water, but not too much – maybe just another 2 cups or so, maximum.

Add the zucchini mixture (and any un-sauteed zucchini that you couldn't fit in the pan before). Reduce heat and simmer at least 15 minutes. (I simmered for 45 minutes and it was A-OK.)

Use a hand blender to puree the soup. Add 1 cup pareve cream and bring just to a boil, but don’t boil it. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce.

Season with salt to taste.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Not happening today, either.

Now we're planning for Monday.



Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Still not mine

Regarding my purchase of an apartment, the contract still is not finished.

In the last two days, I've dealt with:

  • A seller's lawyer who does not respond to faxes, emails, or phone messages from my lawyer
  • A seller who decides in the 11th hour to look more closely at the contract that her lawyer has hammered out over the course of weeks, and request major changes
  • A real estate agent with whom I never signed a contract demanding money from me, when for the last 2 months he's been lying and yelling to everyone involved and creating a huge mess and making everyone tired. He has called so many times in the last couple of days to yell at me (he also has yelled in the past at my lawyer, my appraiser, my mortgage broker, and the seller -- his own client), that it crossed my mind to find out whether Israel has such a thing as restraining orders.
  • My own feelings of exhaustion and "being sick of all this" and hardly caring any more about the apartment itself, just finishing these stupid contract negotiations.

At the moment, and with God's help -- because I need it -- we're scheduled to do the signing tomorrow.

On a brighter note, my friend Rivka K. is in Israel on business, and we had dinner last night. She is so amazing. I wish I could see her more than once or twice a year.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

The turkey is in the oven, the side dishes are all baked, and I am taking a rest before washing all the dishes and welcoming my guests.

I have much to be thankful for, as, God willing, I'll be signing a contract on Tuesday for the purchase of a new apartment. And of course, I'm thankful for my wonderful parents who are helping make that happen, and to my sister for being a great sister, and to my friends, and to my blog readers.

My guests include Beth and Simcha, and Lisa S., and a lovely British couple who often have me over for Shabbat meals. As far as I know this is their first Thanksgiving feast, though I am not sure - I'll have to ask them.

On the menu:

- creamy zucchini soup
-turkey with sides of whole carrot and onion
-sweet potato kugel
-cranberry sauce
-for dessert: apple crisp


Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Well, the lawyers are working on the final version of the contract, and if it pleases the will of the Almighty God, I'll be signing it in a few days, and will be on my way to being a homeowner!

Not exactly a homeowner, since the way things work in Israel is that the buyer pays in installments over a few months. In my case there will be about 8 months between the down payment and when I move in. Not my preference but that's how things work.

Of course, this gives all of you, my faithful and beloved readers, plenty of time to click that "Donate" button there on the right and help me furnish this lovely space which, without your help, will remain very very open for a long, long time. Seriously, my possessions, other than kitchen items, consist of: a bed, a desk, several bookshelves. That is it. No closets, no couch, no table. We are looking at many, many months of living with a salon furnished with bean bags. Which is much better than living in a rented studio, but still . . . . Please help!

In other news, I haven't mentioned that I've been sick for about two weeks. It started with dizziness and loss of appetite for a few days, then became a fever and congestion with several days of eating nothing but soup (I lost 6 pounds in 5 days), and is now winding down as a persistent cough. Not conducive to productivity, I must say. I have a few clients about to kill me.

Finally, I'm so excited about Thursday! As is my custom, I am hosting a traditional Thanksgiving meal for couples who often host me on Shabbat but for various reasons cannot usually come to me, and have pulled out all the stops. The Turkey is ordered and the shopping list, which will include all-otzar-bet-din-no-heter-mechira sweet potatos, carrots, zucchini, onions, apples (which don't yet have a shmittah issue) and cranberry sauce (which is imported), is all written and ready to go. Thanksgiving and Otzar Bet Din: Two great things that taste great together!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Missing Teenager - May be in Monsey, Brooklyn, or Richmond

Have you seen this girl?

From her page on

DOB: Jul 13, 1991
Missing: Oct 30, 2007
Height: 5'2" (157 cm)
Eyes: Blue
Race: White
Age Now: 16
Sex: Female
Weight: 130 lbs (59 kg)
Hair: Blonde
Missing From:
United States
Shana may travel to Richmond, Virginia, or to Brooklyn or Monsey, New York. Her ears are pierced.

National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
1-800-843-5678 (1-800-THE-LOST)

From an announcement about it in the NCSY alumni e-mail newsletter:

An Alumnus writes: I have a friend in Richmond, Va. that ran away last week. I have been asked to get this email out to as many people as possible. Her name is Shana Colby and she's 16 years old, blonde, and blue eyed. There are a lot of theories that she may have gone to New York and the hope is that especially with the everyone-knows-everyone factor in the Jewish world that someone will know someone who has information.

We think she may be in danger and whatever anyone can do to help the situation would be appreciated. So if you guys could forward this email to as many people as you think would help that would be great (especially those of you in the metro-politan day schools).

Note: If you decide to send an email around about this girl, please include, high up in your email, the date you wrote it, and request that anyone receiving it NOT forward it anymore after, say, a month without at least checking first at that she's still missing.

I don't know what the story is here, but if there is any possibility that she's in danger, it's worth it to create hype.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Not a happy day.

I have the flu. :-(

And, yesterday -- or two days ago? I can't keep track, I've been sleeping my fever away -- I brought an engineer to look at the new apartment before I sign any contracts.

He found two important structural problems. Both can be fixed, but the question is: who will pay for it? And when? and if we include in the contract that the seller must fix it, what happens if she doesn't? Or what happens if it's not fixed well?

I'm not looking for advice -- thank God, I've got a fantastic lawyer and several home-owner friends who are helping to keep me sane -- but it's all such a nightmare, especially since the seller has been really difficult this whole time.

But I really want the apartment, if these things get fixed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tell me again . . . ?

So, Hamas, the party that was elected into power in the PA, kills some of their own fellow Palestinians at a Fatah rally, and we're supposed to establish peaceful relations with them how?

What exactly is supposed to happen in Annapolis? I'm so confused.

Why not just give up the pretending and admit there won't be peace for a while? Let Hamas do their thing, and say "we'll get back to you guys in a few years, if you've gotten your act together."

This whole cycle of empty peace-making promises -- every few months, a new meeting, every few months, nothing happens -- just causes fatigue and even deeper cynicism than before.

Let's give it a rest. Maybe we'll pick it up again after the next PA election, OK?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Deep Thoughts by Sarah

If there are two things that really bother me, it's intellectual dishonesty, and hypocrisy.

I have always worked hard on being straightforward, accepting the truth, doing as I say and saying as I do.

But lately I've come to admit to myself that there are a great many things about which I am, indeed, hypocritical.

Which means that I'm a hypocrite about hating hypocrisy.

That is so "meta."

Don't worry, I'm not upset or anything. I'm not beating myself up. I made this observation in more of a laughing-at-myself sort of way. This is not meant to be heavy, have no concerns.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Apartment Hunting - UPDATE!

I've found an apartment! I hesitate to write about it now, because I haven't signed the contract for it, and in Israel, until one has signed the contract, the seller can pull out of the deal at will. So it's not a done deal. But we've been "in the process" for a while now . . . the seller has been a bit difficult and we had several obstacles to overcome in the negotiating process . . . I have a fantastic lawyer and a fantastic mortgage broker . . . and we're at the stage when the contract is almost finished, and I'm bringing in an engineer to look over the building structure, and I'm calling the neighbors to introduce myself (and see if any of them are crazy).

It's a very cute, renovated, 2-bedroom! It's the perfect size for one person living by herself who wants a home office as well as a bedroom, and the salon is just big enough that I can host Shabbat meals in the manner to which I was accustomed before making aliyah. (I've been living in a studio for the past four years!)

It's located in a very nice neighborhood called San Simon, down the street from a large synagogue and a 10-minute walk from a reasonably-priced supermarket and the post office. There is also a well-stocked grocery store across the street, and it is exactly a 25-minute walk to the corner of Emek Refaim Street and Rachel Imeinu. Yes, I timed it.

The only down side (other than having to walk an extra 15 minutes to my favorite hangouts, but I guess I'll live) is that it is a 4th-floor walkup. Between 4 flights of stairs and the extra 15 minutes in the walk to Emek, I'll be getting into really good shape.

Of course, the silver lining is that I have a nice view, and since I'm on the top floor I won't have to worry about who might be stomping around upstairs. Also, the Va'ad Bayit (building committee, which organizes care for common spaces) is arranging for everyone to build balconies onto their apartments, b'H within the next 2 years. It is an extra cost, but not a high one since the whole building is doing it, and I'll be able to have a succah! And a balcony with a nice view! Barbecue at my place!

And then, if the stars align correctly, perhaps they'll add an elevator.

Meanwhile, I'm so excited about the idea of having my very own place. With a salon. And an office. No more working and hosting in my bedroom!

There is, though, the issue of furniture. Once I pay for the apartment, and the broker, and the lawyer, and the mortgage broker, and the purchase tax, and the mover, and the painter (the only renovation I'm doing right now; I can't afford more and anyway the apartment, though not exactly the way I'd like it, is perfectly acceptable the way it is) . . . there's precious little left over for furnishings.

I'll need, immediately, a closet and a kitchen table, neither of which I currently own (my current place has a built-in closet, and my desk doubles as a table). And, to fully use all my new space, I'll need another closet, another bed, a sofa, coffee table, and a couple of chairs, a small dining table, and some sort of closet for coats and boots.

Did you realize that my birthday passed on August 18, and I neglected to post my annual birthday wish list? And, you know, chanukah is coming!

So I'm making a brazen request -- or, to put a more positive spin on it, giving you a chance to help with a mitzvah of yishuv ha'aretz? -- to please help me furnish my new apartment! See, on the right, I've created a "donate" button through PayPal. It's easy and fun, and of course I'll be using the new stuff to host lots of company, including visitors from abroad.

Please help me buy a couch!

Love, Sarah

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Bother, Father, Hill, Heel

What American accent do you have? (Best version so far)


You're not Northern, Southern, or Western, you're just plain -American-. Your national identity is more important than your local identity, because you don't really have a local identity. You might be from the region in that map, which is defined by this kind of accent, but you could easily not be. Or maybe you just moved around a lot growing up.

Personality Test Results

Click Here to Take This Quiz
Brought to you by quizzes and personality tests.

I took this quiz months ago, and the result was, correctly, that I'm from the Boston area but not from Boston itself. Apparently they've tweaked the quiz because this is my new result.

Not a shocking result, since most people who find out I'm from metro-Boston say "but you don't have a Boston accent." Having parents from outside the area, and going to school with people who, almost to the person, also have parents from outside the area, is not conducive to developing a local accent.

(Hat tip: Treppenwitz)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

My Letter to the New York Times

A couple of weeks ago, the Times' Real Estate section published a story about an American couple who bought a luxury apartment in Jerusalem and had it decorated by a New York designer.

The day the article came out, I sent in the following letter. Since, at this point, they clearly have no plans of publishing it, I'm sharing it with you here.

Interestingly, shortly after I sent this letter, a local Hebrew paper published a 3-page feature article on this very topic. It made me feel so "in the moment."

When Leo and Myrna Zisman’s daughter suggested buying a vacation home in Israel, they thought “Why not?” (“With Art and Color, a Home to Mirror Jerusalem,” October 24, 2007.)

Here is why not: The American demand for Jerusalem vacation homes is pricing out
those of us who live, work, and vote here. And, it is depressing to live next to
an apartment – or several apartments – that are dark for most of the year.

To Americans with money to kick around and a love for Israel, I suggest alternatives: buy Jerusalem real estate and rent it out to Israelis, so the property will be inhabited year-round; come on more vacations and patronize Israeli hotels, restaurants, taxis, and stores; start a free loan society to help Israelis buy homes in Jerusalem; or move here permanently, and turn your New York home into the vacation home. We’d certainly love to have you here!


Thursday, November 01, 2007

My story published "All over the place"

Yesterday I added a new feather to my proverbial career cap, covering a story for a wire service.

It's not an emu feather, but close enough.

I attended the ceremonies to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Battle for Beersheba, which I'd first read about on, and covered the day's pageantry for the Australian Associated Press. For the connection between the story and emu feathers, you can read my story here, or get more of the historical details over at Trep.

I'm told that my work is now "popping up all over the place," though usually without my name attached. If you see it in your paper and it says "source: AAP," then that's me! Yay!

I also submitted several photos which the AAP is using (and paying extra for! Yay!)

You can see my pictures here. They are numbers AAP 810-814, and AAP 822. Considering that I'm using a high-end layperson camera rather than the $2,000 - $5,000 cameras the "real" photographers were using, I think I did OK.

And here's an extra just for readers of my blog:

Michael Ramsay of Carnoustie, Scotland explains the concept of a clan tartan to Be'er Sheva residents Eliza Frankel, 15, and her sister Deanne, 9. Behind them: Members of the Australian Light Horse Association.

It was a fun day. I want to thank the AAP for paying me to attend the events, and David von Treppenwitz for supplying me with information, several rides within and from Be'er Sheva, his internet connection, and dinner. It turned out to be an 18-hour day, and his help made it easier.

If you see my story in your local paper, please provide a link in the comments. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Public Etiquette Reminder to Marrieds and New Parents

Just a little public service announcement, to keep us all as thoughtful and sensitive as possible . . .

This has been said before by people better than I, but it bears repeating:

Never say anything to a single person that you wouldn't say to an infertile couple.

It's a pretty easy rule of thumb to follow, really.

If you wouldn't say "soon by you" (say, at a bris) to a couple who has been married for 8 years and hasn't had any children, then you may want to think twice before saying "soon by you" to a single person at an engagement party or a wedding. If you wouldn't say "may we hear happy news from you soon" to a woman who has been undergoing invasive fertility treatments, then avoid saying it to a person who has been dating for a long time.

Obviously, if you are tempted to say one of these phrases, then you mean really well and sincerely want this single person to be happy. But actually -- you may not realize this-- many, many singles find these phrases, if not outright painful, then annoying at best.

How about just saying "all the best to you" or "may Hashem bless you with only sweet things"? These are very kind, generic sentiments which, when said sincerely, mark you as a nice and friendly person, without drawing unfortunate and unwanted attention to the single person's state of singlehood.

In the interest of lifting us all up to higher levels of sensitivity, I would like to add an example that is not much discussed: the mass emailed birth story.

Let me explain what I'm not talking about.

Birth announcements are great. A formal card or an email which announces the birth is clearly something that you would send, even to people struggling with infertility (if they are close to you), because, after all, the fact that you had a baby is important news to anyone who cares about you.

For example, the following sort of text is, I would guess, always welcome:

"I'm pleased to announce that my wife Rachel gave birth on Monday night at 4:30 am to a beautiful little boy. All went well, thank God, and mother and baby are fine (if more than a little tired). Rachel and the baby are expected to come home this afternoon, and the naming will take place tomorrow morning at Congregation Shomea Tefilla. Details about the bris are forthcoming. May we all share happy occasions. All the best, Josh Cohen."

From this short email we know a lot of information, either stated or implied: that the baby has arrived, it is a boy, it is healthy, and that Rachel Cohen has had a normal birth -- that is, an extremely tiring and probably very painful experience which resulted, miraculously, in the emergence of a precious new human being. We know that the couple was up all night. We know that the father has survived the experience and is very happy and has lived to write this email. We know that Rachel and Avraham consider us to be close enough friends that they want to keep us informed of this very important event in their lives, and that they will continue to inform us of events that have communal import, such as the bris.

In other words, we know all that we really need to know, and perhaps then some. All the important points are included. Anything that is really our business, and which keeps us feeling emotionally close to the couple, is included in those five lines.

If, God forbid, something had gone wrong, I think it would be appropriate to indicate such, perhaps like this:

"The baby is doing fine. Unfortunately, Rachel had some complications and will remain in the hospital for a few more days, but we expect that we'll all be reunited at home next week. Her mom is in town helping out, so we're doing OK on the food end (thanks to everyone who offered to cook), but we could use some babysitting help for our older kids in the early afternoons if anyone is available."

This announcement is a good one because, in my opinion, it is safe to assume that those who care about the couple at any level will want to know how the mom is really doing and why she's not coming home yet, and how they can help. Those who are very, very close to the couple might feel comfortable calling to find out details about what happened . . . and those who are squeamish or not quite that close to the couple can send best wishes (or offer to help, without finding out details of what is going on).

The key is to share news, without making anyone feel that you are divulging Too Much Information . . .

. . . and without making any of your friends who are struggling to have children, or who are in their 30's or 40's and unmarried and therefore do not have a chance to have children, know that you are so incredibly happy about the new baby, floating so high in the mists of rapture and exhaustion and physical trauma and wonder and stress and complete disbelief that this tiny little person is your responsibility, and did I mention exhaustion? and awe? and stress? that you have forgotten that they are unable to experience those feelings themselves, and might be feeling sad about that.

Here is what I am talking about. I don't know why anyone writes mass emails such as the following, but when they do, I really, really hope they do not include infertile couples on their recipient list:
Mild contractions started on Saturday right after kiddush. My mom had arrived on Friday, just in time. The pains got stronger and slightly more frequent on Sunday, but I was feeling pretty good and we actually went shopping. Water broke and we decided to go to the hospital on Monday at 5 pm . . . this was the name of our nurse . . . and our midwife arrived at 6:30 . . . and I didn't get any drugs, though by midnight I was sorely tempted. . . hard labor lasted for 3 hours, I started pushing at 4 am . . . he came out slick and crying and beautiful and the midwife said it was the most peaceful birth she'd ever attended . . .

I have a therapist friend who encourages new mothers to write down their birth stories. It helps the mom process this profound event, and of course it is really nice, down the road, to have the details that otherwise one might forget over time. The story is a treasured and precious memory to write down, and to hold on to.

Giving birth is a big deal. Writing down the story is a healthy and helpful thing to do for the family, and perhaps for any extremely close friends who really want to hear the entire event from beginning to end.

And . . . if you are ever tempted to send this sort of text out in a mass email, please be very careful when creating the recipient list, and ask yourself "for whom is this too much information?"

It's so easy, when you have so much going on, to just choose all your friends from the address book and press "send" . . . and for very understandable reasons you are in a haze right now . . . and you are, indeed, safe in assuming that any normal person would be happy for you, because who wouldn't be? . . . so how impressive and amazing and gracious would it be if, in the most profound moment of your life, you take a moment to consider the feelings of others? No one expects this of you, but it would indeed be extremely gracious.

Remember, if you would not say it to an infertile couple, don't say it to a single person who is, oh, say, 35 years old and might seriously never have children unless something changes soon, and who might not feel comfortable knowing how many minutes you were pushing. (I'm just sayin'.)

Oh, and mazal tov on the new baby! May he/she quickly learn to sleep through the night, and may he/she grow up to Torah and good deeds . . . and chuppah, please God.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Brother/Sister, can you spare some space in your suitcase?

If you live in the States, and are coming to Jerusalem in the next few weeks, and would kindly help a poor blogger by allowing me to have an order of catalogue clothing sent to you so you can bring me new clothes in your suitcase (it's 4 skirts and 4 shirts) please let me know in the comments or email me at chayyeisarah at yahoo dot com.

I'd of course come to you to pick them up at any Jerusalem location convenient for you.

Tizku l'mitzvot.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Muppets Take Rosh Hashanah *** NOW WITH UPDATE***

I can't catch all the lyrics, but I think they are a little, em, less appropriate than what is normally included in "Happy New Year" wishes. But, heck, they are in Hebrew, mostly, so they sound holy.

The point is, Shana tova. Mana mana.

Hee hee.

(Hat tip: Lisa A.)


OK, after watching this video waaaay too many times, here is a partial translation, the best I can do:

Shanah Tova ("Have a good year") x3

I wish you a year that is good and restful
You should merit to (live) another year
You should merit girls and eight something

Shanah Tova x3

something something girls
at least two
and with one of them I will go out to drink
uh-huh, yeah

Shana Tova x3

something something something
something something your sisters
that you should not go out into the street
two something hashish

Shana Tova x3

English rap verse

Shana Tova x3 and then to fadeout (or exit, in this case)

As you can see, my Hebrew is improving very slowly. Still, it's better than I could have done 4 years ago.

Shana tova. :-)

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Baruch Dayan HaEmet" and "Urgh"

For the last several years, I've been reading a fantasy epic by Robert Jordan called "The Wheel of Time." At 11 books and counting (not including the prequel or other complementary works), the story has thousands of characters, countless tiny subplots, and a rich world with multiple countries and cultures, several different kinds of wizards/witches with different codes, good guys who sometimes act bad, good guys who turn out to be bad guys, and good guys who seem to be acting for some crazy agenda of their own. The characters are drawn so richly that I swear I would recognize any of them if I passed them on the street.

For a long time, fans have been after the author to finish the story, as it truly was becoming too unwieldy (more than twice the length of the Harry Potter series) and it was coming time to wrap it up. Jordan promised that he'd finish in one more book, and millions of people around the world looked forward to the climactic battle between good and evil.

Then Jordan got sick. Very sick. He kept a blog letting fans know how he is doing, and in between the bad days when he could hardly function, he kept working on the book. He knew how important this series is to his fans, and it seemed that the task of finishing was helping to keep him alive.

Yesterday, he died.

I have to admit that I'm very impressed by the level of maturity among the commenters at his blog. His fans have expressed sadness at his death, admiration of his character, and sympathy for his wife and other family members.

This is all true and appropriate, and I share it. Jordan was an extraordinarily imaginative and talented man, and the way he approached his illness was inspiring.

And, also, I am really really upset that now we'll never know how the story ends. Yes, I know this is selfish and all, but I think that I speak for thousands of others -- who are more tactful than I am -- when I say that I am so, so, so upset that now there is no chance for a proper denoument. It's as if Return of the Jedi ended just at the scene when Luke leaves Endor to go meet up with Darth Vader, and then the credits roll. What a tease!

What makes it even worse is the idea -- nay, the surity -- that dozens or hundreds of fans will write mediocre "fan fiction" endings. Ooog. I can't bear it.

I'm thinking about lovingly wrapping up all my Wheel of Time books and putting them safely into storage, since just seeing them on my shelves raises feelings of frustration.

Rest in Peace, Robert Jordan. You were a good man.

And to anyone else who writes epic fantasies: Always write an outline and put it somewhere under lock and key, in case you die!

UPDATE: According to Jordan's blog, before he died he gave a 2 1/2 hour verbal account of the entire rest of the story to two of his family members. I hope this is true and that they took good notes.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My latest story

Rosh Hashanah, spent at the home of very special friends, was terrific.

Here's my latest story for the Israel Travel supplement of The Jewish Week.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Single on Rosh Hashanah


Every. single. word of this essay resonated with me.


Monday, August 27, 2007

"When Harry Meets Hebrew"

My latest feature story for the World Jewish Digest is finally online!

It is about the difficulties faced by Gili Bar-Hillel, whose job is to translate the Harry Potter books from English to Hebrew. The story includes examples of challenges created by differences in syntax, cultural and religious differences between Brits and Israelis, and challenges for translator generally.

As you can imagine, I had an incredibly good time researching this story. Bar-Hillel was very nice, and I had the good fortune of finding a graduate translation student who is writing her thesis on the Hebrew Harry Potter books! I love being a freelance writer and having the freedom to pitch stories about my hobbies!

The link is here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Inspiring New Blog

My friend RivkA (accent on the "a") has cancer, and she is writing about her treatment, feelings, and hopes at her new blog, "Coffee and Chemo." Check it out.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Too Little, but not Too Late

At least a few months before the Israeli disengagement from Gaza, I read a newspaper report -- in Haaretz, I believe -- about a special government report which had been presented to the Knesset. Everyone was worried that a disengagement might lead to an Israeli civil war, and the report was basically tips to the government of how to do a disengagement the most peaceful way, if they were going to do it. I remember clearly that the number one most important point was that the settlers who were being moved should be treated as heroes, that political leaders from across the political spectrum should laud the settlers for their commitment to Israel, for their Zionist ideals, for having been willing to live in a harsh security situation because of their commitment to the land and to the State. The public message should be, the report said, that although the settler movement in Gaza was no longer deemed to be in Israel's best interests, the people themselves were heroes who had made great sacrifices for the country and should be acknowledged as such.

As anyone can tell, this message went unheeded by most of the Israeli left and the media outlets that represent them. But some of us were paying attention. Though I supported the disengagement as a political and military necessity, I always said that the 9,000 Jews who would be forced to move should be treated well and given generous compensation packages, that the government should work with them to ensure that they can find new places to live, or rebuild their communities elsewhere, as quickly as possible.

This, too, has not happened. Though I don't have the statistics at my fingertips, many of the settlers of Gush Katif are still unemployed, not because they don't wish to work but because the promises they received that they could start farming elsewhere have not been fulfilled. Many of them are still living in sub-par temporary housing and are being given the runaround by the government, who won't let them break ground on permanent homes.

One of these communities is that of Shirat Hayam. They had been promised by Ariel Sharon himself that they could all move, together, to a new location in the Jordan Valley called Maskiot. Now, I personally think it is ridiculous on the government's part to promise that they could move to another location over the Green Line, in the West Bank. However, if this is what they were promised, I think it's in everyone's best interests, especially that of the Left, to show that when the government promises something, they deliver. Instead, the government has been giving the community of Shirat Hayam/ Maskiot the runaround.

Two years after the disengagement, the people of Shirat Hayam are still living in caravans in a community called Chemdat, which is near Maskiot. I don't have any knowledge of the relationship between the Chemdat hosts and their Shirat Hayam guests, but a friend who is familiar with the community told me that the Chemdat infrastructure was built to support one small community of 30 families. And now, suddenly, the community doubled as Chemdat "absorbed" the displaced persons of Gush Katif.

The Jordan Vally is extremely hot, and this doubled community has been praying together every Saturday in a caravan, packed like sardines. Did I mention that the Jordan Valley is scorchingly hot?

My friend Aviva is raising money to purchase an additional caravan before Rosh Hashanah, so that the people of Shirat Hayam can say the High Holy Day prayers together as a community, with somewhat more comfort both for themselves and for the people of Chemdat. After the holidays, the caravan will be used as a community center, and it will be moved to Maskiot once the people are finally allowed to move there.

A caravan costs $33,000, way more than the people of Maskiot/Chemdat can afford, but not so much if a lot of people each give a little. I urge you to consider showing your support for the displaced community of Shirat Hayam. Even if, like me, you supported the disengagement, even if, like me, you think that the whole idea of moving Jews into Gush Katif was misguided from the beginning . . . well, these are good people who moved there in good faith, with the blessings of the State of Israel. They are Jews who have been bounced around by our own government, who were promised homes and are still living in caravans and praying in a shule that is too small for them by half. As the Day of Judgement approaches, the least we can do is help ease their suffering -- not to mention that of the community of Chemdat-- from the heat and from the impermanence of their living quarters.

If you would like to help purchase a caravan for them (or get information about helping to build other future infrastructure in Maskiot, such as a mikvah and a permanent synagogue building), click here.

From the States, you can send a (tax deductible) check, made out to AFNCI, to Rabbi M. Strasberg, 179-10 73rd Avenue, Flushing, New York 11366, including a note stating that the donations are to be allocated to Shirat-Hayam-Maskiot.

Or, call Avivah Harbater at
050-874-3484 (Israeli number) or 1-516-515-95-92 (American number; rings in Israel). Tell her Chayyei Sarah sent you!

Best wishes to everyone in finding a comfortable seat for the long Rosh Hashanah prayers, and may your own community's davening be meaningful and answered!

(hat tip: Jameel, Jameel guesblogging for Dov Bear, and Avivah Harbader)
Bagruyot Redux

I've got a new article out in the Jewish Week's Education supplement. It's an explanatory article about the Israeli matriculation exams known as "bagruyot." The purpose of the story is to help American Jews understand this Israeli rite of passage, and to provide introductory information to people who are considering aliyah. You can check it out here. Have fun.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

A Wee Bit Star-Struck

New Nokia cell phone, to replace the dying phone I've been using for four years . . . 1140 NIS

New skirt for Yom Tov . . . . 179 NIS

Stopping at Tal Bagels on the way home to get an ice-coffee . . . 15 NIS

Recognizing Hillel Neuer at Tal Bagels, taking the chance to thank him in person for attempting to give the UN Human Rights Council a reality check, and finding out that he reads my blog . . . . priceless

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I say it's my birthday!

(And it's your birthday too, yeah!)

Yesterday I turned 35. The actual day was pretty boring: I stayed home reading an Agatha Christie novel. But on Friday, Yael took me to a very nice beach at Nitzanim, and I relaxed on the white sand. Then for Shabbat dinner, Chava and Mark invited me over and served several of my favorite foods: chopped liver (yes, I love chopped liver. Maybe I just always need iron?), awesome chicken, awesome cooked vegetables with rosemary, potato kugel (food for the soul), and -- thanks to Mark -- a Black Forest birthday cake! mmmmm!

Also, the possibility of good news: I put in a verbal offer on an apartment! Now, it's too early to get too excited. The owner may want to negotiate, I may not be able to get a mortgage that supports this offer, an engineer might tell me the building is falling apart and not to buy there, etc etc. Nothing is legally binding until I sign a contract, and there are about 800 things that could go wrong between now and then. However, it's a start! I saw an apartment that I really liked and am prepared to buy it if all goes well in the process. So, please pray that if I'm meant to live in this apartment that the owner accepts the offer, that my bank supports me, and that all goes smoothly.

A belated birthday wish list will go up soon! It's never too late to buy presents for Chayyei Sarah!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Go Forth and Book-ify

Like pretty much anyone who writes professionally, I've long dreamed of writing a book, specifically non-fiction. The problem was that I didn't have a topic. When I lived in New York I had an idea for a coffee-table book, but the research would have been very Manhattan-specific so I abandoned the idea when I made aliyah.

About a year ago, I was contacted by a literary agent, who said that she'd read an article I'd written in a Jewish magazine, and she felt that I "have a book in" me. How flattering is that? She said that whenever I think of a topic I'm passionate about, I would definitely be welcome to contact her. That was so cool. But where was the topic? Writing a book is a tremendous time commitment, and for all but about 6 authors in the world it is not a big money-making proposition. Whatever topic I chose, it would have to be something I'd be willing to research, write, and think about for a period of years. Not so easy.

But lately, it occurred to me that certain articles I've written could be expanded into a book. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. The topic is something I find inherently interesting. Even if I never sold a single copy, which would be disappointing (and expensive), I'd still be happy that I'd done the research, for my own edification.

Then, two weeks ago, I met Fern Reiss, author of The Publishing Game series, at a party. She's in Israel for a year or two. We spoke at length and I decided to go to one of her seminars, the first half of which I attended tonight. We discussed the pros and cons of using an agent vs. self-publishing, how to pitch an idea to an agent, and various marketing information. In addition to learning that, in my case, self-publishing is probably a more lucrative and sensible way to go, I determined that my idea . . .

a) is on a topic about which nothing has been published for several years
b) has a huge potential market , which furthermore is very active, with conventions and chat rooms and other places where I could sell a book outside traditional venues like bookstores and libraries. There is even a product which would lend itself logically to being bundled with such a book.
d) lends itself easily to updating the book every couple of years and issuing new editions
e) would itself serve as a credential for me to write, after the book comes out, for magazines in a related market which I've been trying to break into for a long time.
f) is easily researched from where I live

Obviously more research (about agents, self-publishing, my topic, and possible competitors) is required, but I think I can now say that my plan, definitely, is to make a plan. Meaning, I'm going to do this research and tweak my ideas , and if over the next weeks and months all continues to look logical, I'll go ahead and start the process of making a book!

Wow, I can't believe I'm at the point where I could finally write that. Life sure is full of exciting twists and turns.
A few things

1. I really hope the miners in Utah are still alive and that they will be rescued. The whole idea of mining scares me stiff, as does the idea of being trapped in the dark for 6 days. ::shudder::

2. Many people in the blogging world (or, more specifically, their commenters) have been calling on Orthodox bloggers to address the points that Noah Feldman made in his NY Times article (sorry to bring it up again). They point out, correctly, that whether Maimo cropped any photos or not, and even if the school chose the photo that didn't have Noah in it simply because it was the best photo, it doesn't mean that Feldman's other points/examples are incorrect. In the name of intellectual honesty, they say, we should be talking about the issues he raises: exclusion of the intermarried; the valuing (or not) of non-Jewish lives as something inherently important; incidences of religious fanaticism which produced, he believes, Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein. Did I miss anything?

It is true, these are all important issues to discuss. However, I disagree that I or any other Orthodox blogger should feel obligated to address them just because Noah brought them up. See, when these issues are brought up by someone who is asking respectfully, or innocently, or with genuine curiosity, or out of confusion, or with a sincere desire to hear an answer that sits well with him, then hey - let's talk issues!

But Noah is, and always has been, what one commenter on another blog called "the wolf in the classroom." If his essay was just about feeling excluded as an intermarried person, I might be more inclined to address it. But if he's going to compare tefillin to pain-inducing ritual objects of the Opus Dei, if he's going to talk about intermarriage and Baruch Goldstein in the same breath, then you know what? I don't have to respond to his points.

The bottom line -- and I've given this a lot of thought -- is that I do not want Noah Feldman to be part of my community, and so I really don't give a damn what his issues are. I know, I know. He's a Jew and so in some broad sense I'm supposed to hope that he reconciles himself with all the problems he currently sees in Orthodox Judaism, and start coming to shule and fulfilling all the mitzvot he possibly can, given that his wife and kids are not Jewish.

But I don't want him in my shule. Not because he's intermarried -- for all I care, an intermarried man is welcome to an aliyah -- actually, I wouldn't be surprised if an intermarried guy would get an aliyah in my shule -- but because he's a pompous . . . . ugh, I can't say it! He's pompous, OK, and I don't like him. If my shule were full of people who were intra-married but had his personality, I wouldn't go there. It would not be my community. Actually, I do know shules like that, and guess what? I avoid them. You know why? Because when I think about "my community," my standards are higher than simply demanding intramarriage and keeping Shabbat and other basic requirements of the Orthodox lifestyle. For me to want someone to be in my community, I also want them to be nice company, friendly, able to connect with me and with others.

So, no, I'm not addressing his points, and accept any consequences that might come from that. What could he do, anyway? Print an article in the New York Times maligning my faith?


3. What does it mean to be part of the Orthodox community? I am thinking of a friend of mine, whom I'll call Q because that is, actually, my nickname for her (hi, Q!), who is certainly part of MY community. Several of her close friends are Orthodox, including me. When I lived in New York, we often had Shabbat meals together at my place or at the home of other Orthodox friends. She came to shule with me once or twice. She knows all the Shabbat niggunim and why I'll drink milk from the local supermarket but our Cholov Yisrael friend wouldn't. I've slept over at her apartment when I needed a place to crash in New York, and we make sure to talk on the phone every few weeks despite her incredibly busy schedule. I quote her all the time, because she's really funny. She's not Orthodox at all, but I think she has an Orthodox community. There is a circle of Orthodox people who care about her just as deeply as she cares about us.

This happened because she is no more prejudiced against us than we are against her - and because we are very cool Orthodox people. Not all Orthodox circles are made up of warm folk. Some of them are full of people like . . . well, pompous you-know-whats. But coldness cuts both ways.

Orthodox people at a synagogue should realize that the new family standing in the corner -- the one that is maybe a one-parent family, or not observant, or is poor, or not white -- might be there for more than just prayer. They might want to make an emotional connection with others, with these people they are praying next to. And they won't keep coming to pray if they don't make an emotional connection.

By the same token, I find that often non-Orthodox Jews cast aspersions at the Orthodox because we "aren't welcoming." Well, when was the last time they were genuinely friendly to an Orthodox person? Instead of waiting for an invitation, how about calling them and saying "I'd like to get to know you. I know you can't eat in my house . . . but it's summer, and there's a nice park nearby. How about we bring bagels and blankets next Sunday and let our kids run around?" I love Q not just because she's funny and listens to my shtick, but because when she came to shule with me once, I left her to get a drink and came back to find that she was in an animated conversation with someone else. She can take care of herself. She made herself part of the scene.

I know, I know. There are going to be commenters -- with genuinely sad stories -- about how they tried everything and the folk at their local Orthodox synagogue never wanted to be friendly. And that is wrong and very sad. It's unfortunate that something like, say, Talmudic scholarship does not by definition inculcate good social skills. It's one of the reasons I am very careful about which shule I go to (or, rather, which shule I would go to if I made it to shule more often) and am extremely picky about my friends. It is true that being Orthodox does not, by definition, mean that one is warm or responds well to friendly overtures. It is also true that being Orthodox does not mean, by definition, that a person is insular or cold or unfriendly.

AND I'd bet that most of the people who walk around talking about the Orthodox as "those people" (as in "those people are so insular" and "those people are so racist" and "those people care only about themselves") have never done much to actually talk to "those people." To act toward "those people" the way they want "those people" to act to them. It might be no harder for them to be friendly to you as it is for you to be friendly to them. So let's not all be hypocritical here.

The Chayyei hath spoken.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm responds to Noah Feldman

. . . in The Forward. Here's the link.

Yes, I'm well aware that lately my blog has been all-Feldman, all the time.

As a former math teacher (at Maimonides) once said, "when Sarah takes umbrage, she takes it to Burma." Feldman's article struck a personal note with me because I'm not only Modern Orthodox, I also attended the very school which he complains about. It's a small school, and I, personally, never had any problems with it other than the enormous workload and extremely high academic standards - the same standards that helped catapault Feldman to Harvard and Oxford and NYU and back to Harvard. The New York Times article was a very public perversion of a shared experience which I see and live and believe completely differently.

And, as was feared when the article first came out, it is indeed sparking suspicion among non-Jews against their Jewish co-workers. Just what we needed. Just what we needed.


Well, on that lovely note . . . have a Shabbat shalom and/or wonderful weekend!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Orthodox Paradox" is actually "Ooopsidux Negligent Reportingdox"?

Last night I went to a very nice party to celebrate the occasion of my friend's father achieving rabbinical ordination. At the party happened to be a high-ranking administrator of Maimonides, the alma mater of myself and of Noah Feldman, and I asked him whether the school plans to issue a response of some kind to Feldman's article. He said "no," and I agreed that was probably the best plan on their part. He mentioned that some Orthodox rabbis in Boston had been approached by colleagues and asked "do you really believe this? That the only reason to save a non-Jewish life is to protect the Jewish community?" We chatted a while more about how my parents and sister are doing, where I've published recently, etc, and then I wandered away to get some cheese and crackers.

Later, I was thinking that I'd like to give him some feedback, as an alumna, to the effect that while I do think that Feldman's article is disingenuous in many ways, I do think it was silly of the school to crop him and his (non-Jewish) then-fiancee out of a reunion photo. After all, no one can realistically expect that ANY school will produce alumni who are 100 percent faithful to the ideals of the school. If I'd received that newsletter and saw that one of the alumni was engaged to a woman of Asian descent, I would have perhaps paused long enough to wonder whether she was a convert, a child of converts, or not Jewish . . . and I would have felt a mixture of amusement and bemusement at the thought of someone bringing a non-Jewish fiancee to a Maimo reunion . . . and then I would have turned the page and thought about something else. I seriously have better things to do than wonder whether this woman is Jewish or not, or question the personal life of an alumnus two years ahead of me, someone of whom I can't say I was ever particularly fond.

And I certainly wouldn't think that his intermarrying reflects on the school any more or less than do the incredible achievements within and for the Jewish community of Maimo's many hundreds of other graduates. I don't think any reasonable person would. So why crop him out?

But this administrator was busy talking with other guests, and I never had a chance to take him aside and voice my opinion.

Now I'm glad I didn't waste his time, because, assuming this article in The Jewish Week has the story straight, the entire lede to Feldman's article was moot. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, many, many graduates' photos didn't make it into the newsletter, because the photographer couldn't get the entire group into the frame. About a dozen other people -- all Jews -- didn't make it into the picture either.

And most damning - for The New York Times, of which you all know I am generally a fan - the photographer who took the reunion photos claims that he offered the photos to The New York Times to run with the story, but the Times opted not to run the picture when it became clear that the problem wasn't Feldman's Asian girlfriend, it was the logistics of fitting 60 people into a photo that would look good in the newsletter.

I can wrap my mind around the idea that Feldman misunderstood the events leading to him being left out of the newsletter. I can wrap my mind around the idea that he and the photographer had a misunderstanding.

But I cannot wrap my mind around the Magazine editor at The New York Times neglecting to go back to Feldman and asking him to re-write his story with a different lede, one that reflects reality.

Of course, now who knows what really happened and who misunderstood whom?

I cannot wait to see the Letters section of the New York Times Sunday Magazine 3 days from now.

This story is like Wonderland, it just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another note or three about "Orthodox Paradox"

Regarding Noah Feldman's "Orthodox Paradox" article, which I addressed in my last post:

a) I'm sorry I called him an a**hole. That is an ad hominem attack, completely useless and peurile. I didn't receive any complaints about it, but I myself feel that it was beneath my dignity to use that particular word.

b) I have been quite disturbed by much of the response in the blog world (more specifically, in the comments to blogs), in which Jews across the Orthodox spectrum have basically proven that Feldman is correct: we ARE a bunch a racist, close-minded jerks. People! Argue his piece on its merits!

c) Case in point: vulgar arguments to the effect that Feldman was so overcome by sexual desire for a "shiksa" that he couldn't control his impulse to leave Orthodoxy behind, is sick. First of all, it ignores the fact that Feldman's wife is not only beautiful, she is also incredibly intelligent and accomplished in her own right. She's a person. And the word "shiksa" is a really nasty way to refer to a being who was created b'tzelem elokim, just as we were. It's one thing to note that in marrying out of the faith, Feldman has performed the supreme no-no of Orthodox Judaism, and therefore can't expect much pride from the school. It's another to make personal attacks about his wife and children, who have done nothing wrong themselves.

d) I haven't seen it noted elsewhere, so I guess I have to be the one to say it. Regarding the story about the rabbi who said that one should only break Shabbat to save the life of a non-Jew if doing so will avoid harmful relations between Jews and non-Jews (that is, not because the life of a non-Jew is inherently as valuable as the life of a Jew):

Feldman himself notes that we are a community in which actions are more important than belief, and that we don't go around asking each other what we truly believe, because we might not want to know the true answers to that question. In practice, there is probably not a single Jewish doctor alive, anywhere, who wouldn't, in practice, gladly break Shabbat to save the life of a non-Jew. Any non-Jew. In Israel, there are religious doctors who regularly break Shabbat to save the lives of Palestinians.

But let's talk about beliefs. The passages in the Talmud to which Feldman refers suggest that the life of a Jew is inherently more valuable than that of a non-Jew. Now, certainly, we all can agree that, though some things have stayed the same, much has changed since the Talmud was written. A lot has changed. The very way that people relate to God has changed. The freedoms with which Jews live in the Western world has changed dramatically, though we hold our breath for that to change again. We all can understand why, in a world in which Jews were a persecuted minority, in which the non-Jews around them did not assign any inherent value to Jewish lives, that the Jewish leaders would declare that the lives of the persecuting majority are important only insofar as they help maintain some peace and quiet for the Jews.

Does it matter that things are no longer quite that way? One of the hallmarks of Orthodoxy is that, in most areas, we don't think that any sort of change really matters: Torah is Torah, Judaism is Judaism, halacha is halacha, and everything else can change all it wants, but we still won't light fires on Saturday or eat a cheeseburger.

But a matter such as under what circumstances one can break Shabbat to save a life is not discussed in a vaccuum. The fact that many, if not most, rabbis today do encourage doctors to save lives -- any lives -- on Shabbat is indicative of where this discussion has moved in the last couple thousand years.

However, there is still practice, and belief. And so I ask you to take a moment to think: do you, in your heart of hearts, believe that the life of a Jew is inherently more worthy of saving than the life of a non-Jew?

If your answer is "no," if deep down you believe that, for all that our religion and history and mandate is special, Jews have no more inherent value in the eyes of God than anyone else, then please be honest to yourself and admit that, much as you may respect this particular Talmudic teaching, you have chosen, in your heart, to dismiss it as out of touch with reality - that you think it is wrong.

And if your answer is "yes," if you think that Jews are, by definition, born with a different spiritual makeup that makes our lives inherently more precious, regardless of how warm and just and tolerant and connected to God the non-Jew in question may be, then please be honest with yourself and acknowledge that you are racist. If you want to justify your racism with Talmudic discussions, or with the realities of Jewish history, or whatever, go ahead. But be honest: if the only reason you'd save a non-Jewish life on Shabbat is to help the Jewish community, then you might be a good doctor, and you might be treating everyone equally in practice, but in your heart you are racist. Just be honest about that.