God’s sculpture garden, that’s what it’s been called, which is an imaginative and somewhat fanciful way of describing the results of wind and water erosion. There are rock formations similar to what is found at Timna in the American west (think of the landscapes in the westerns you watched in your youth), but no one thought to associate anything in Arizona with King Solomon. Of course, the second king of Israel had nothing to do with the copper mines found all the way in the south of Israel. Maybe the pharaohs; maybe even before the pharaohs. The best guess by the archaeologists digging and rummaging around the area is that there was mining going on starting some 6,000 years ago, which, when you think about it, is peanuts in geological time. How many eons before that was this entire area, what is now the Negev, at the bottom of an ocean? So what’s a few thousand years between friends?
We all knew that some of the group would be spending Tues. at Petra; what I didn’t imagine was that it would be most of our contingent. The rest of us were scheduled to participate in the four activities that I wrote about in the first post: a bike ride, a watercolor workshop, a tour of the off-grid village, and something called ‘Desert Montage,’ an opportunity to dip a figurative toe in making collages – which, as you may remember, was what I chose. Except…
Usually when you arrive at a kibbutz where you’ll be staying for a few days, they’ll hand you your room key, show you where the dining hall is, and that’s it. After that, you’re on your own to figure out where to go. There was one place we stayed at on one of these study trips where it took us from when we arrived Monday to checkout time on Thurs. to figure out the quickest way to get back to our cabins from the dining hall, that’s how convoluted the route was. Not so at Ketura, which made it kind of special. Once we got off the bus and located our luggage, we were introduced to Dar (pronounced ‘Dar’ in English and ‘Darrrr’ in Hebrew), who was there to make certain we were properly looked after. (As I found out, she was from the wilds of Ramat Gan, did graduate work in Florida and South Dakota (?), and returned ‘home’ to The Land, although a different part of it.) Our quarters were a minute or two away from the building that served as a reception area and a gift shop. When it was time to go to and from the dining hall, which was a five-minute walk, or anywhere else on the kibbutz – also a five-minute walk – there was a golf cart and a young driver eager to make certain we wouldn’t get lost or run out of energy.
Some things, you can bet the mortgage are going to happen one after another – the way night follows day and day follows night. If the AACI has scheduled another study trip (#184), you KNOW it going to leave from in front of the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem promptly at 8AM, and the first stop will of necessity be the Elvis Diner outside of Abu Gosh, where members of the group can buy coffee in Elvis mugs and take advantage of the rest rooms.
It was there that I sidled up to our tour guide and inquired if he knew Barbara and Richard Levine. What kind of a question is that? Why would Bill Slott, who lives in a kibbutz 50 kilometers from Eilat, know our friends, who, as everyone knows, live atop a mountain in the Galil? Because of his shirt, that’s why.
They’re giving us a choice!That’s sure nice of the folks at Kibbutz Ketura, especially since we are not supposed to show up there for another three weeks. Here are the options for the activities on that Tuesday morning: 1) a bike ride around the kibbutz premises; 2) a watercolor workshop; 3) a tour of their ‘off-grid village’; 4) a desert ‘montage’. Well then, what would I – and the others – choose? Decisions, decisions…
It’s just another of my crazy ideas, a success-ometer, a device to measure when someone has succeeded mightily or has failed miserably in something we have done. Some of the events that could be measured are the obvious ones: marriages, careers, and the like. But I’m more interested in activities that seem less monumental, perhaps ones that are far-distant memories that still remain with us, because, as we all are aware, it’s hard to escape one’s childhood.
I am invited to join a group bike ride around the kibbutz premises. As a teenager, many of my friends would head off to Saxon Woods Park in Westchester County, while I remained behind. For whatever reasons, I never learned to ride a bicycle, so I could not pedal off with the rest. (Very low score on the success-ometer.) To this day, I remember my sense of failure, my feeling of incompetence. Why can’t I do what everyone else is doing? So, no, let others cycle through ‘Ketura’s fields and orchards on the way to the Jordanian border’; I’ll take a pass.
Then there’s the watercolor workshop. P.S/J.H.S.80 was a real school, with activities that have long since gone by the wayside in today’s curricula. Of course, we had Art as a subject, meaning we got to play with watercolors – not the easiest medium for a child to work with. We were instructed to use the watercolors the ‘right’ way, make a thin wash and apply that to the inexpensive paper we were given. Many of kids figured out pretty quick that if you did the opposite, use as little water as possible so the texture of the paint was like glue, it was a lot easier to work with. Those of us who foolishly followed the teacher’s instructions wound up with a big mess, while the others….. (Another score in the red zone of the success-ometer.) Let’s pass on this as well.
A tour of the off-grid village, one of the interesting activities on Kibbutz Ketura. I’m not sure what that’s about, but a definite maybe. However…….. there’s Desert Montage. ‘The essential principal of montage is the arrangement of cut shapes, words, images or materials on an esthetic or conceptual theme.’ Collage, as a thing, was ‘invented’ by the Cubists – Picasso and Braque – more than a century ago. The German artist Kurt Schwitters created quite a stir with his Merz. More to the point, my late sister, Marilyn June, did a number of works, some of which I have, that could qualify in that category. I’ve never had the opportunity to try my hand at taking disparate objects and creating something anew. It would be perfect for someone like me, with a lot of visual imagination but limited dexterity. The best thing is that there was never anything recorded on the success-ometer; I get to start from scratch. That’s what I’ll do; let me at ‘em!
Back at the home front
Of course, we wouldn’t get started for another three weeks. Lots of time for other things to happen on the home front. First, The Levines finally made their way down from the up-north mountain top, just in time for Thanksgiving, which we don’t usually celebrate here in The Land because ‘nobody’ else is doing it. But Artzenu, where I get my free-range chickens, was hawking their free-range turkeys for those ‘somebodies’ who do want. So let’s do it right with all the trimmings, including Richard Levine’s you-ain’t-seen-nuthin’-yet stuffing. And let’s invite a bunch of other friends to partake, because four of us cannot do justice to a 6.5 kg bird. Beside chowing down on a holiday fowl, we usually go someplace exciting when our friends are with us, but Richard was having, let’s call it intestinal issues, so we weren’t going too far afield. A lot of chatting and pontification, but no wineries. Still, good company is worth a lot. Maybe a whole lot.
The Shabbat after that was the big bar mitzvah shindig for friend Ezra’s son, Boaz. Lots of preparation for that, some of which involved the Casden household. I assumed the role of resident spirits consultant and part-time bartender at the Fri. night post-dinner get-together and the kiddush Shabbat morning, (after the let’s-have-our-own-minyan at a shul none of us ever go to, but they’ll let us use their space for a nominal fee) to make sure that the edict of ‘drink responsibly’ was followed meticulously, that no one got to hog a bottle, and no young whippersnappers got within shouting distance of anything remotely alcoholic. We also rolled out four bottles of Power Coffeeworks’ best cold brew, because what’s the point of a kiddush without coffee – I ask you.
There was also the matter of home hospitality. When someone invites their nearest and not-so-nearest to spend a Shabbat with them, those doing the inviting invariably call upon friendly locals to provide mattresses and even (gasp!) victuals to those invitees arriving from afar. And are there any locals friendlier than the Casdens? Obviously, Natania, Gil, and Liel (daughter, son-in-law, and step-grand-daughter, if you haven’t been keeping score) would be provided for, but we were more than happy to welcome our former neighbors, The Hesslers, who were making the journey up from the sands of Beersheba for the occasion. Doing the math, we would have six guests staying with us, all of whom would be seated around our table for Fri. night dinner. But first, a whole bunch of Hurwitzes and other worthies would assemble at our place for a minyan for Fri. night davening. I ‘m sure you get the point: lots of people, lots of goings-on.
And lots of clean-up and laundry to do on Sunday after everyone had returned to their own home-sweet-home. Normally, that would not be a matter of concern. Take our time; we have all day. What’s a few loads of laundry between a man and wife? But now that we’re done, it’s time to pack. Tomorrow would be the big day. Off to Ketura. Would I get the chance to practice my skills at making a collage? The bus is full; no more seats. But anyone can join us, assuming you don’t mind traveling virtually. See you soon!
Jumpin’ Jehosaphat, he’s back! I walked into Power Coffeeworks last Thursday morning, and there was Brandon, at his post merrily roasting along. Because of the holiday schedule, he had not been there for over a month at the time that I usually show up. While even getting their sublime version of an iced latte with oat milk is sufficient reason to be on the premises, having a chat with the proprietor makes it even more worthwhile. I wasted no time in catching up with the latest news and views coffee-wise. How are the plans going, I inquired?
As of the summer, Brandon had an investor. They were going to move the coffee roaster out of the Agrippas location – something that the municipality was pushing him to do – and move it to a location near Efrat. They would do it up right, having a coffee bar, maybe even a rooftop garden, the whole nine yards. But then reality reared its ugly face. The investor went bankrupt, and Brandon was left, if not with egg on his face, then with unroasted beans in the hopper. He would have to devise a plan C, or is it D?
You can’t blame him for being a tad discouraged. He had worked hard to build up his business, and then came COVID. Post-COVID and he was ready for the next big step when the ladder got yanked from under his legs. At least you’re still in business, I reminded him, unlike a lot of other business owners.
You may be familiar with this dictum. That’s how Mies van der Rohe explained his conception of modern architecture, and the expression has come to mean more than just how buildings are suposed to look today. There is, however, an alternative and opposing suggestion, something to the effect that More is not enough. Among the practitioners of this disturbing premise are the Hakafot Sheni crowd. These are the folks who, after the Simchat Torah part of Shemini Adzeret is over in the synagogues of their choice, gather that evening in places like our local schoolyard to continued cavorting with Torah scrolls, making merry well into the night. (If only Torah scrolls could talk, they might be crying out in agony, You’re supposed to be reading from me, not shlepping me around the block. All you’re doing is making me dizzy.) The sensible people I know here in The Land are of a different opinion: ENOUGH ALREADY, all the while being grateful that we are NOT back in The Exile, where we would have been looking ahead, with dread and apprehension, to still another day of the holiday.
Instead, as the hours remaining on the last day trickled down to a precious few, I began contemplating our return to our humdrum routine. Our laundry baskets were overflowing and needed to be dealt with, medical appointments needed to be made or kept, and various persons needed to be enlisted for tasks we wouldn’t or couldn’t do ourselves; to wit, Brian, who will take down our sukkah, and Yaron, who will inspect our oven, which did a swoon last Fri. morning.
Not with a bang, but a whimper
All the while, I have been considering why the entire Sukkot experience seems to end, not with a bang but a whimper. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Yeah, the Torah references the First Day of the Seventh Month, when we’re supposed to blow the shofar, and the Eighth Day, when we’re supposed to afflict ourselves, but the main attractions seem to be the three Pilgrimage Festivals. And pride of place seems to be Sukkot, otherwise known as The Hag, the Time of Our Joy. That’s when, in the days of our ancestors, all the crops had been harvested and folks had time to relax, all the while giving thanks to our Creator for a bountiful crop, and, BTW, can You please send us some rain, otherwise…
Somehow the emphasis has shifted, and the First Day in Tishrei (times two) and the Eighth Day have become THE DAYS, meaning one has the option of spending quantity time in shul, and the seven or eight days of Sukkot, a week later, seem, in the minds of many, to be somewhat of an anti-climax – even here in The Land, where people are officially off from work at the beginning and the end, and the weather is usually propitious. Few of us have harvested anything of note, and, thanks to Mekorot, the national water carrier, we are no longer deathly afraid of a drought – thank God. Plus, the main activity, arriving by foot with your sacrifice to the area where the Temple used to stand, is no longer an option – although, traffic being what it is, you might get there faster by hoofing it. Anyway, the event’s raison d’être seems to have faded away, like morning dew.
Still, we would do our best to be as joyful as possible, given the constraints of modern life. When we first arrived in The Land, we were able to sign up for tiyulim that would take us to places we would otherwise be unable to visit, thus allowing us to ‘walk the land,’ at least in spirit. These days? Nada. We were on our own to sit in our sukkah with friends or sit in their sukkah, but mostly these are the same wonderful friends we would see the rest of the year. Our biggest disappointment was not being able to hook up with Barbara and Richard Levine. A Levine-less chol hamoed, what fun is that?
Evolution and the Jewish home
The most exciting thing that happened to me, although not in a good way, occurred in The Shuk. (Where else?) But before I went there, I needed to enjoy my get-me-up-and-running iced latte with oak milk at Power Coffeeworks, where I was privy to the following conversation.
The woman next to me at the counter was talking on the phone. She soon became very agitated, slamming her fist on the counter, repeating, JUST SAY NO; JUST SAY NO. It turns out she was talking to hubby, who was home with the kids. The older ones wanted to join their friends at the local mall, but hubby felt that the girls were spending too much time just hanging out. Of course, he hadn’t told them not to go, which infuriated wifey. If he doesn’t want them to go, tell them not to. To her it was as simple as that. I told her I sympathized, but that she could not possibly win, as she was trying to buck thousands of years of human evolution and the delegation of responsibility in the Jewish home. It’s the mother’s role to be the meanie, and the father’s job to be the wimp. That’s just the way it is. What I didn’t say was the second part, which is the hormonal change that comes over a mother when she becomes a grandma. This I know from first-hand experience. The same woman (someone I love), who would refuse her own daughter a cookie at the bakery, was now suggesting to her grandson that they have ice cream instead of lunch. I could have mentioned this second part, but that might have muddied the waters, which is the last thing you want to do in a coffee shop.
‘Pilgrims’ we don’t need
After a few stops along the way, I headed across the street to the shuk in search of green beans (the vegetables, not the raw coffee) which I procure from a stall on one of the small alleyways that connect the two main ‘streets.’ Suddenly, they were coming my way, a most unwelcome group of ‘pilgrims.’ When I had alighted from the light rail to start my shuk adventure, I had espied a band of Likudniks assembled at the entrance to the shuk on Rehov Yaffo, not surprising as our election is almost upon us. As I told Barbara, ‘I even spotted the guy who lives down the street from us.’ ‘How do you know it’s him?’ she asked. ‘Because I saw his car parked there.’
I’ve always wondered about this strange dude, and what he’s trying to accomplish by covering every inch of his vehicle with Likud banners, posters, and bumper stickers. Does he think I’ll be impressed, that he’s giving me reasons to vote for his candidate? Maybe he’s demonstrating to one and all that he is a Big Shot, that he’s angling for the 65th slot on the party list for the next election? As long as he doesn’t bother me, I won’t bother him. He is entitled to his views on the body politic, just as I am. But now they’re coming at me, dozens of them yelling ‘Rak (only) Bibi.’
I have a BIG problem with this approach. With the obvious exception of Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the political class here, there, and around the world can be divided into three distinct groups, 1) those that can be replaced, 2) those who should be replaced, and 3) those who MUST be replaced. (Depending on your political persuasion, you are free to decide in which of these categories your least favorites belong.) To assume that your candidate is the ONLY ONE who can save the world indicates a staggering lack of imagination that might be contagious. It’s at least dangerous come election time.
The shuk is always congested mid-day Thursday, but now it was the Thursday before Shemini Adzeret and the shuk was wall to wall people shopping for Shabbat and the hag. Not a good time for anybody to bring their shock troops marching through. I understand it’s a time-honored tradition for Likud and other similar parties to stage election rallies between the fish mongers and the strawberry hawkers in Machane Yehuda. After all, that’s their home base, their loyal constituency. Just not on my dime. I’m there for green beans and herring, and don’t get in my way – whatever your point of view.
Which they did; get in my way, that is. When they were a foot away from me, the whole bunch of them, yelling ‘Rak Bibi’ in my ear, I lost it. (No I did not misplace my cold brew coffee or anything else I had purchased; for example, leaving a shopping bag on the bus.) I simply exercised my God-given prerogative as a duly certified Curmudgeon Emeritus to give them what-for as elegantly (or not) as I choose. X@&^#$!>>> YOU; X@&^#$!>>> YOU. (Warning: do not attempt this ploy unless you are duly accredited. Otherwise, bad things might happen.) My attempt at a protest didn’t change the world; it won’t change the election results; it didn’t even stop this horde from continuing to galumph through the shuk. Still, it felt good; it really did. And that’s worth something. I don’t have a car covered with election propaganda to put on display. (We don’t even have a car.) But my lungs are unimpaired, and I’m prepared to use them when provoked.
My sense of serenity restored, my dignity intact, I left the shuk, boarded the light rail and then the bus, and returned to our sukkah, where harmony and good fellowship are on display – regardless of your political affiliation – and where we were sheltered – for at least eight days – from the follies and indignities of the world.
One of my long-time readers, one who keeps asking me when I’m going to publish a book (I shudder at the thought), recently described my efforts as ‘delightful, engaging, amusing, hilarious and entertaining, albeit of little real consequence.’ I’ve been thinking about his description for a considerable length of time. One question that popped into my usually over-stimulated brain is how do we measure the consequentiality of any activity or event; after all there’s no metrics known to our species to perform said task.
As I wander around The Land, one of the way I amuse myself is to read the slogans and quotations on people’s shirts. Usually, it’s young girls or women who walk around with logos written in English, and I often wonder if they have any idea what the words mean. In some cases, I’m pretty sure not, particularly when the messages being worn by eight-year-olds are clearly salacious. There are some occasions, however, when adults are wearing something that makes for interesting reading. I’ve even posted a couple of witty sayings on my Facebook page. One day, when I was walking up Rehov Yaffo to the shuk, I spotted the following emblazoned on the shirt of a Filipino caretaker (although I’m not sure what I have is an exact quote): 90% of my brain is composed of song lyrics.
You have to know your way around these parts. You take a left; you go a spell; then you make a right; when you get to the stop sign, turn left again…. All of it on winding roads with no street signs anywhere. I guess you could use Waze, but Frank and Abby don’t; they seem to know where they ‘re going. Anyway, with Abby at the helm, we made the forty-five-minute journey to Tanglewood.
In New York, on a typical evening in season, thousands of people make their way to the various venues at Lincoln Center. They arrive by subway, by bus, even by taxi, with only a few out-of-towners parking their cars in the relatively small underground facility. Not so in Lenox MA. Everyone is coming by car, meaning you need a small army of local police and volunteers to direct the traffic. The first huge parking area we came to already capacitied-out. We were sent a mile or so off to another huge area. We might still be looking for a place to park, but our collective age seems to have earned us some special treatment. With a wave of the hand, one of the traffic directors motioned us to an area where we could park, near the entrance to the performance. There has to be some benefit to being old; the rest of it, feh!