Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Gatekeepers and being welcomed

Today in the middle of Hebrew class, I started to think about my life here and my aliyah experience. A momentary space-out in the midst of an introduction to a new verb form, unfortunately. For the first year, things were difficult. Logistically difficult, that is. Getting bank accounts, registering with the health system, the types of things that require standing in long lines in government offices. The rest of that time was a slideshow of new and interesting experiences: ulpan, traveling throughout the country, learning how to drive amongst Israeli drivers, grocery shopping at the shuk, and making new friends.

I'm now in the middle of my second year in Israel. The newness has worn away, and I feel that despite my stumbling in the language, I am here standing on two feet and ready to move forward and to give back to Israeli society. What I'd really like to do is make a living on my own, to create, and to build something in Israel that will provide for more than just myself. To build a business that does good for the world.

Four years ago I started a business in San Francisco. It's an ecommerce business, a fairly simple buy low-sell high model with a socially conscious slant. In Israel, this particular type of business requires a license. Last week, I put together everything I needed to attain the license - bank account information, letters of recommendation, a letter from my lawyer, a letter from my accountant, my resume, a cover letter, copies of every form of identification I've ever had, my soul. When I arrived to submit my application, despite having been welcomed to the government office in the past, I was greeted with apparent disdain. Perhaps they heard that my business was small, much smaller than the other hundred-year-old businesses under their authority. Perhaps they're not used to young women starting businesses. Perhaps they're just not friendly, afraid I could create more work for them. I could continue to guess, but it's useless.

Rather than detail the whole of my experience, suffice it to say that it was demoralizing and demotivating. The inspiration dripped out from me as I wandered slowly to my car in the midday summer heat. My application had been rejected by a young office worker who needed additional documentation. Documentation that would be impossible for a startup to attain without significant funding. An hour drive in traffic to get there, 60 shekels for parking, and an hour drive back home.

So where do I go from here? I feel lost and a bit stuck. Do I continue to move forward, to attempt to get everything together so that I can get this license, be under the scrutiny of an unkind government office, and pay ungodly amounts of money just to maintain the license. Do I hire someone in the US to run the business from there, while I manage from here? Or do I change completely? Start something new, something more creative but related to what I was doing. Something that doesn't require a tremendous amount of oversight and out-of-pocket expenses to get started.

It's very hard to make a decision like this when it's tied so closely to me. It's a concept I've spent the last few years perfecting, building a client base, creating lasting relationships with wonderful organizations that are doing amazing things for the world. It's a business that I have built from the ground up that I'm very proud of - even if we aren't selling a million dollars worth of product every year ... yet! It may very well be the only concrete thing, aside from my daughter, that I've created and placed in the world.

So back to my thoughts in class. I'm new to this country, but I am a proud citizen. I want to give back much more than I take. Like learning Hebrew, nothing comes so easy here. It seems to take time, plenty of persistence, and the ability to weather embarrassment. But, someday, I plan to be fluent and established here. And when that day comes, I want to be someone that others can approach, who can inspire and help others achieve their dreams here. And perhaps this little bit of kindness and welcoming that I bring to the world will trickle down and affect the other gatekeepers of opportunity.

A lofty couple of goals and a lack of direction today. I spaced back into class and tried to participate. The teacher asked, 'what other verbs can you think of in this format?' I raised my hand and answered incorrectly. The teacher wrote my verb on the board, turned to the class, said the verb, turned back around and wrote a big 'X' over it. The exed-out verb remained there on the board for the rest of class. Yet another shaming, but I can take it. And if I can learn from this, then I will learn from the rest. Someday I will be fluent. Someday I will give back even more.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Har Ha Tayasim | The Pilot's Mountain

For my birthday this past Sunday, we decided to take a hike. We had no idea where to go, and unlike San Francisco where I'd just log onto bahiker.com and find a suitable hike, we had nothing to go by but a trail map of the Jerusalem Forest. So, we found a park in the forest that looked nice, and went. The park was called Har Ha Tayasim, which means "The Pilot's Mountain." We also decided we have to write down where we hike so that we and others can enjoy an English language online guide to nice hikes in Israel.

The mountain is located a thirty minute drive outside of Jerusalem, just past Kibbutz Tsuba on 395. The ride is gorgeous, with sweeping views and cliffs on either side. At the mountain, you can first drive over to a lookout that has an incredible view of the Jerusalem forest and surrounding area, and a nice tree to sit under for a picnic lunch.

There is a groomed park area with walkways made out of Jerusalem stone, a few benches, some shade, and a memorial to the fallen pilots in the War of Independence. We had lunch on the benches in the park because the clean ground was perfect for a baby crawling at our feet.

From the park, you can descend into the valley below via two different trails. One, the blue trail, leads you along a winding dirt road. The other, the black trail, leads you on a steep, narrow path directly down the mountain. Both end up at the base where there is an ancient, well-kept spring and ruins of an overlooking stone home. The area by the spring has flat, grassy fields - another good place for a rest or a picnic.

We took the black trail, and it was really fun. Be forewarned that there is a lot of climbing up and down rock faces. We joked that the trail was a 4.8 in climber's terms. We did it with a baby on our back, so it's not that difficult, but be prepared with the right type of shoes. The blue trail is much easier, but doesn't have the shade and the surrounding greenery that you get on the black trail. Not sure exactly how long the trail was because it went straight down, but probably about a mile down and a mile back up. It took us about a little over an hour round trip.

Next time we hike, I'll remember to take some photos.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Last minute oatmeal cookies

We host a shiur in our home on Wednesday nights at 8:30pm. Everyone sits on the couches surrounding a coffee table where I usually put out an assortment of snacks - dried fruits, nuts, and always some type of freshly baked good. Today I spent most of my usual time in the kitchen reorganizing and putting the non-Pesach dishes back in their ordinary places. No time for baking, until the very last minute ...

Exactly 15 minutes before the shiur, I decided to make oatmeal cookies despite the fact that we were missing pretty much every key ingredient in all the oatmeal recipes I found online in those last few seconds. Butter, flour, eggs, baking powder, to name a few of my missing ingredients. I figured worst-case scenario they'd turn out like granola. So, I pulled out the ingredients we had, and decided I'd just wing it. Surprisingly, they were delicious. And also ... egg-free, sugar-free, nut-free, gluten-free.

3.5 cups thick cut oats (chopped in food processor for 60 seconds)
2 tablespoons silan (date honey - could also substitute real honey)
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp hazelnut oil (other oils work too)
6 oz raw applesauce
1 cup raisins
1/4 tsp xantham gum

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix the oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and vanilla together. Then add silan, oil, applesauce and xantham gum. Add more oil if necessary to get a flaky consistency. Add the raisins. Stir to combine. Roll about a tablespoon of dough between hands and place in muffin tins or on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 mins.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


It wasn't until I moved to Israel that I realized why the Jewish new year is in the fall. Israel, like California, dries up during the hot, rainless summer. The hills turn brown, the plants wither into mangled, leafless bushes, and the earth is grey and dusty. When September comes along, the weather dips just enough to grace the High Holidays with comfortable weather. The cool night wind clears the skies, and makes a dinner outside on the porch finally doable. It's the time of year that inspires us to rummage through our closets for cardigan sweaters and light jackets.

One month after Rosh Hashanah, just as we say the prayer for rain, like heavenly clockwork, the sky opens up and releases its first downfall. The first rains of the year are cool rains that make the steam rise from the heat-locked pavement and the hills pop green grass. The mangled bushes begin to sprout while the small, imported oak trees that line city streets finally decide to drop their yellow-brown leaves onto wet sidewalks. The oak leaves are our only sign of a traditional autumn.

Meanwhile in the States, you know how it goes, the maple trees turn all sorts of beautiful colors while smoke rises from chimneys gracing neighborhoods with that yummy, burnt fragrance. So many leaves fall in so many colors that raking them from the yard becomes an exercise in organizing a Jackson Pollack. The pumpkin picking, the hay rides, the chilly fingers, the steam that billows from your mouth, these are the things that I crave every year when November rolls around. A craving that is rarely satisfied.

I love fall, or at least I love what I remember of fall. Every year my body waits for it to come, and it never does. Living in California and the Middle East will do that to you. The space that was once autumn felt suddenly filled when I had Eliana. With the baby and a wonderful husband, I finally felt complete. In the days after her birth, I considered pushing to name her Stav, which means autumn in Hebrew. She was born in August, and is a peaches-and-cream spring-colored baby. Obviously, the completeness that her existence gave me had nothing to do with fall. Stav is still a pretty name, though.

Instead of reclaiming autumn with my daughter's name, I've resorted to reclaiming autumn with flavors. In California I made roasted kabocha squash and pumpkin curries, in Israel I've turned toward butternut squash. Roasted, pureed, mashed, stuffed, stuffed into other things, stewed, and stir-fried, butternut squash has become my silkier, sweeter replacement for that quintessential fall gourde - the pumpkin. From October through December, at least one dish of every meal I eat is a bright, firey, delicious orange color. Autumn on a plate.

On the Friday afternoon before Thanksgiving this year, I cut a butternut squash in half, scooped out the seeds, placed the sides face down on a cooking sheet in a 400 degree oven. I cooked it until the skin bubbled and crackled. I stuffed it with a mixture of millet, sauteed zucchini, apple, fennel, a touch of honey and a few spices. I finished it off with a sprinkling of breadcrumbs and pumpkin seeds, and placed it back in the warm oven so that we could eat it a few hours later for Shabbat dinner.

Eliana had been outside of herself for the whole afternoon, crying and carrying on. We wrapped her up tightly and placed her feisty little body into the bassinette, preparing to take her to synagogue with us just up the street. I put on a black pencil skirt, a tan cardigan, a light belted jacket and a pair of smart, knee length black boots, and we started up the street with our baby girl finally calming down in her stroller. The autumn sky at sunset in Jerusalem is a white-gold color with orange and pink streaks, and the sky that particular evening was perfectly exemplary of its royal evening flush.

About a quarter mile up the road, next to a large construction site, Eliana's eyes finally became heavy, and as peace settled upon our family, we smiled at one another. Another week coming to a peaceful end. At just that very moment, our peace was disrupted.

The sirens began to blast. The eery wail warned us to take cover. Something coming within 60 seconds. Something from the sky. wwwaaaaAAAAAAAaaaaa wwwwaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaa.

For the last five days, hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza at places like Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and other coastal cities. Sirens constantly blared in those cities, but in far away, inland Jerusalem, the sirens never went off except for annual drills and for Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In that moment, knowing that something was about to fall from the sky, I remembered East Coast thunderstorms. A sudden clap of thunder, forewarning that lightning was coming closer, where it would hit, nobody knew. I was terrified of thunderstorms, and as soon as I heard thunder, ran for cover in our cool, dark basement.

That evening in November, my instincts took hold of me and in my cute black boots, began to book it back to our apartment. My husband grabbed my arm and pulled us by a pile of bricks from the construction site. He positioned Eliana's stroller just behind us, her eyes facing the sky, and we waited. Her stroller no longer moving, she began to cry.

Five, four, three, two, one. BOOM BOOM fffwwwoooooooossssshhhhhhhhhhh. Alllaaaahhhhhhuu Aqbar!!!!!

The rockets were perfectly timed to land just before the Muslim call to prayer. Jerusalem is surrounded by minarets outfitted with loudspeakers and bright green lights. As the cacophony of the dozens of muezzins took over the airspace, we stood up from our corner behind the bricks, and hastened back to the apartment with a hysterical baby. No synagogue tonight.

That night, over stuffed butternut squash, we guessed where the rockets landed, and where they could have possibly been fired from. No ambulance sirens was a good sign not to be nervous, and the conversation quickly turned away from the war. As always, a peaceful Shabbat followed.

The next night we learned that the rockets had, in fact, been fired from Gaza. They landed in an open space next to an Arab village in the West Bank, near Jerusalem.

War was always something that happened far away. Something I could ignore while I paid more attention to things a little closer to home - what I was going to eat at the next meal, whether or not I was going to the gym that day, what my friends were posting on Facebook. Now that Operation Pillar of Defense is long over, the civil war in Syria continues on with dozens of casualties every single day. War is in my backyard, and all my Facebook friends are posting about Stanford winning the Rose Bowl and their New Years resolutions.

If it's close to me, it's close to you. Let's make a new type of resolution this year. Let's resolve to be aware of what's going on in the world and to advocate peace. Peace between each other, and peace between people we don't even know. It's what most of us want anyway, right? Who really wants to wage war but a few power-hungry bureaucrats. The rest of us are the same - dreaming of autumn, spending time with our families, and enjoying the company of one another during our little bits of time on earth.