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.