It didn’t start out that way, my being all alone, that is. Au contraire, mes amis. The weekend before my Barbara’s departure saw our apartment bulging at the seams with friends and family. First to arrive were The Levines, Barbara and Richard. They showed up on Thurs. June 17, timing their visit, as they often do, to coincide with a folk music performance somewhere near us (or at least nearer to us than to them). They had originally planned to head back on Sun. to their little house on top of the mountain, but then they were invited to a wedding in these parts the following Tues. eve., so that they would stay with us until Wed. It just happened that Natania and Gil (with Liel is tow) announced their intentions to accept our hospitality for the same Shabbat, which would make seven of us in our apartment. As you will see, that was just the beginning of the fun.
When you were in Israel in 1980, did you write any articles about your trip? You were there for five weeks, after all. I’ll bet Israel was very different then, and it would be fun to compare and contrast what you experienced then and what we can see today. Well, no and yes. Forty years ago, there were writers publishing books about their travels, but nobody was doing what we’re doing today. There were no platforms like WordPress to create blogs, there was no internet to send out these articles, and since only a handful of obsessives even had a computer to get the articles – had they been written – there would have been almost no one to read them.
There are times when someone asks you something, and you wonder whether it’s only because the person can’t think of anything better to say at that moment. At least five times during the pandemic, I was asked if I was ‘doing any plays.’ Umm, we’re all in lockdown; you can count the number of current theatrical productions on the fingernail of one finger – and that’s on a good day. We can’t even sit down for a cup of coffee and you’re talking about filling a theater. So no.
Once we got past reminding my interlocutor of the state of the COVID world, and to head off any further questions on the topic, I usually went through the motions of reminding one and all that, after being in the chorus of about a dozen productions with Encore!, I had announced my retirement once and for all before I wore out my welcome with the company. I tried in different ways to explain what I meant by that remark, but what I can say now is that I don’t want to be like Albert Pujols.
Sometime way back at the dawn of the current century, there was a man who had a lack in his life. He wanted to make a single cup of coffee that truly pleased his palate, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not find a way. He could have made a whole pot of coffee, and that would have been fine, but he only wanted one exceptionable cup. There was always something wrong, and that upset him. But Alan Adler did not spend his days moaning and groaning about his problem. Being an inventor, he did what he did best; he figured out how to solve his problem. He invented the AeroPress, and the world became a better place. His creation was elegant, and it was simple. At least, in his own mind, it was simple. Take a plastic tube into which you pour a scoopful of coffee (the scoop comes with it); pour in hot water up to a marked level; insert a second tube, which acts as a plunger, into the first tube and press down, expelling the brew into a cup, a mug, or a carafe of some kind – your choice. (Trust me; this article will make a lot more sense if you look at the video linked above.) As I said, simple. In fact, it couldn’t be simpler. Except for one fatal flaw; there are few thing in life so simplified that they can’t be re-complicated.
There is the idea that I should say something about the recent catastrophe up north, but I have nothing really to add to what has already been opined by others. Therefore, I will continue with my regularly scheduled programming.
(All together now: Tradition…….. tradition) We all have get-togethers with people we know that tend to recur year after year, which we look forward to with some anticipation. We might not think of them as EVENTS, but they certainly are traditions. For quite a while, our friends The Levines, Richard and Barbara, have graced us with their presence over various chol hamoeds, Pesach and Sukkot, and we always look forward to their arrival with a certain amount of joy. This year would be special, both after a year of COVID enforced absence and because we weren’t sure that Richard would be up to making the drive down from their mountain top up in the Galil. The two of them traditionally get low marks for able-bodiness, but recently Richard has fallen, if not on hard times, then certainly on hard pavements. Now both of them use metal canes to get around.
When does it start, and when does it end? That’s the kind of question that makes sense to ask on many different situations, occasions, and opportunities. What I have in mind at this moment is fairly specific, to wit, the timing of the holiday seasons here in The Land. (I specify in The Land, because here all of us at least share the same calendar, and when someone says acharei hahagim, we all agree on which hagim are being discussed, even if we don’t all observe them in the same way.) The fall season begins with Rosh Hashana and lasts through Shemini Adzeret. Easy. Some more mystical types might go back to the day after Tisha B’Av or the first day of Elul for Opening Day, but we’ll let that pass.
Because we planned our relocation to the Holy Land two years in advance, we had all the time in the world to get our financial matters straightened out before we left our Old New Jersey Home. Meaning, we got ourselves Capitol One Credit Cards, perfectly usable while living out of the U.S.A. Meaning, we were sitting in an oak-paneled room considering some additional life insurance, also something we needed to purchase then and there. Our friend Sal can explain what kind of policy this is; he’s tried with me, and it’s in one ear and out well, you know. What we were told (see below) is that at the age of eighty, I would stop paying premiums. And at the age of 100, they would give me the face value of the policy, should I still be alive. I want you to STOP now and take a minute to figure out my response when I was told this bit of information. That’s right: I asked where I would have to go to collect my money. (Wouldn’t you?)
Back then when I was still a spring chicken, the number eighty was an abstract number, having nothing to do with an actual age attainable if I just kept remembering to wake up every morning (that’s the trick!) – which activity I have performed flawlessly to date. And then, one day at a time, I was inching closer and closer to that milestone.
A few months ago, I decided that I might do well to rehearse for the big day. I’m going to be eighty; I’m going to be eighty; I’m going to be eighty. OK, I think I’ve got it down pat; just in time, because on March 15, I was one day away.
A few days before then, Barbara and I went to Natania and Gil’s apartment for a little party, celebrating my birthday and Liel’s. She would turn seven the next day, and even with COVID restrictions, there would be a party for her with a few of her nearest and dearest – outdoors, weather permitting. May I just add something you probably know already: turning seven is a bigger deal in the mind of the beholder than turning eighty.
And yes, my big day came, and what was I going to do to celebrate? I woke up on March 16 (I did it again!), and sure enough, it’s as if the calendar had flipped overnight, and I had reached the milestone. Actually, I didn’t wake up on my own, I was woken up by the insistent, not so dulcet tones of my alarm clock, reminding me that I had been again roped into showing up at the 7:45 minyan. That being over and breakfast having been partaken of, I was ready for my next activity, which was…. what else? making a pot of my justly acclaimed kitchen sink soup, the last one before Pesach. (Doesn’t everyone make a pot of soup on one’s birthday?) That started, a phone call to Artzenu to order another carton of free-range chicken pieces completed, my spaces sufficiently straightened up to allow the young lady who would be coming to clean our apartment to function, it was time to join Barbara on our next exciting project, joining the throngs heading to the supermarket for Pesach shopping – or at least, the pre-mad dash version, to be followed the following week by the actual mad dash version, to be followed several days later by the absolute-last-minute-down-to-the-wire version. Maybe, just maybe, if both Barbara and I make it to the centennial mark, we’ll get our holiday shopping under control. Fifteen cans of tuna fish; is that enough? We have six kinds of jelly in our cart; should we put some of it back? So-and-so is coming over for a meal; last year he insisted that mushrooms are kitniyot. Should we get some anyway? Every year we make an effort to spend less on frivolous items over Pesach, and every year we wind up spending more. At least this year, we received a cash infusion from the nice Americans to defray the cost.
We completed our shopping, returning home with our shopping cart filled to the brim, plus two of the large blue Ikea bags stuffed full of goodies. You’d think we’d have enough sense to take a cab back or even wait for the bus; but no, we shlepped it all up the hill – which has gotten longer every year we’ve been here. Reheat the soup for lunch, take my daily nap, and it was time to call my brother. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but every year his birthday comes out on the same day as mine. So, Happy Birthday, Frank.
I had to be careful; I didn’t want it to seem as if I was rubbing it in. He was staring out the window in rustic Massachusetts at the foot or so of snow still remaining. Should I have mentioned that on this momentous day it was shirt-sleeve weather where we were? Why not? Let him man up! While I was at it, why not mention the provision over here that if you’re eighty, you can walk up to the front of any line, anywhere, anytime, to get served? Now there’s no way I’m going to do that; nor would my brother. But I look around at some of these poor souls with their canes, their walkers, their wheelchairs and their aides. The thing is, as I remarked to Frank, lots of these folks grew up with barely a morsel to eat and/or running and hiding from some very nasty people (some with guns) – while we were called away our game of hide-and-seek or ringalevio by the dinner bell. No wonder we are both more physically fit – even with Frank’s serious health issues – than a lot of our contemporaries. For us, eighty is the new seventy, maybe even the new sixty, and it’s something to consider and be grateful for, and I hope I’m up to remembering that part as well.
As part of my on-going efforts at tikkun olam, and to celebrate his birthday from afar, I sent my brother a Baratza Encore coffee grinder from Kitchen Outfitters, a small store in Acton, MA. (No, I do not use Amazon.) To up the ante a little, I sent him links to articles about the best specialty coffee roasters in Massachusetts and NYC. It goes without saying that he loves his Baratza, a significant step up from the little blade grinder he was using. As far as where to get his beans, he reminded me (as if I didn’t know) that when they are in The City, he’s walking distance to Zabars and Fairways, so he doesn’t need any other vendors.
Well, yes and no. A question I’ve seen maybe a dozen times on Jerusalem oriented Facebook groups is some variation of Where can I get the best coffee in Jerusalem? I always feel compelled to add my own two cents. There are many cafés and a number of smaller places where you can purchase perfectly respectable coffee, but if you want the best coffee bar none,…. (my long-time readers know the answer). The point being, as I rhapsodized to my fraternal twin, is that, with a little effort and no extra expense, anyone (anyone!) can acquire N.Y.C.’s version of the b.c.b.n. So why not go for it? Why not deal with small business types who love what they’re doing, who are concerned about ethical sourcing of the beans, who are connected to the actual growers of the beans in far-away places? Plus, you may get to meet the most interesting people sitting at the counter of a real coffee hangout in NYC, the way I do at Power Coffeeworks. So there’s that.
I had to cut short the conversation. We were to meet two friends and head down to what I refer to as The Puddle, to Caffit, the same venue where we had the party for Natania and Gil the day after they were married. These friends, because of on-going health concerns, had missed that affair. In fact, they had not been to any restaurant for over a year. So they were really excited by the offer. Should we get dressed up; should we wear our Shabbat clothes? Not really necessary, not on my account.
The meal was fine; we chatted amiably. And then the conversation got a little iffy. They mentioned another couple we know who had just returned from an involuntary COVID-related stay in The States. According to these recent returnees, You can’t imagine what it’s like there these days. You can’t say anything. (anything????) And then, You have to be really careful what you say.
Isn’t that a good thing, I replied, being careful what we say? There’s this whole cottage industry in Judaism about not speaking lashon hara, hurtful speech. (The other cottage industry being the one against sinat hinam, unwarranted hatred of one’s fellow, both of which are often honored in the breach by the religious establishment here in The Land.) Shouldn’t we all put brain in gear before engaging mouth, as the sign says? Does it require so much imagination to understand what upsets the other guy/gal – especially when we insist that they give us the same courtesy? Well, I had them there. We may all violate the injunction against lashon hara, but no one I know is going to go on record in favor of such nasty language. (And yes, I know that political correctness can be taken too far, but that’s another story for another time.)
And so, all was well in Birthday Land. I am now counting down to eighty-one, one day at a time, remembering punctiliously to wake up each morning, with a smile on my face and a Thank You to our Creator, doing my best to having a great day.
Just so you don’t think everything is hunky-dory: Barbara called up the nice folks at Brighthouse Life Insurance, who had taken over the policy from MetLife, the original insurers. What about stopping our premiums now that Fred has turned 80? Oh no, said the young lady on the phone, that’s not what the policy says. (Or as they say in this part of the world, Ein devar k’ze (there’s no such thing); you have to keep paying every month. Hmm, we’re going to have to look at our policy again and maybe bring in the big guns. But that will have to wait until after Pesach. That’s part of the joy of the Chagim here in The Land; you have a built-in excuse to put off doing stuff – until. Several weeks later and guess what? For better or worse, ‘until’ has arrived. Which might be in a lead-in to another article, one which will arrive sooner or later if you are patient and keep a smile on your face.
Those of you who spend time watching TV series know full well that new episodes often begin with snippets from the last one to serve as reminders as to what happened previously – just in case you happened to miss that show, or your real life was so exciting that you couldn’t remember. My last print excursion, It’s Snow Use, ended with Barbara and me about to head into Jerusalem on a Sunday for a much-delayed trip to Frank, our hair person. As a firm believer in praemonitus, praemunitus (in the vernacular, forewarned is forearmed), I was bringing along with me my virtual anti-B.S. shovel, just in case our tonsorialist had been over-dosing on the latest hoo-hah from his favorite invariably unreliable news source.
‘Inordinately fussy.’ I accept that derogatory description with a certain degree of pride. I – in fact we – are concerned enough about how we look to ride the bus into Jerusalem, take the light rail, get on another bus, and walk ten minutes down Rehov Aza to where Frank, our hair handler, lives to get our haircuts. (Maybe it’s because I still have most of the hair on my head, whereas some of you don’t.) As with a lot of other things, our haircutting schedule has been seriously disrupted, thanks to COVID. However, what passes for our government once again blew the all-clear signal, and we were scheduled to make the trip on Wed. Feb. 17, weeks (months?) later than we ordinarily would have. But on Tuesday, I had to call and reschedule. This time, it was the weather. Snow predicted for Jerusalem. A little snow, a major snafu.
A little while ago, I had a reasonably mild disagreement on Facebook with Bruce, an old buddy from Teaneck, who arrived in The Land about a year before we showed up. He had posted the following message: ‘Whenever a child learns critical thinking, somewhere a conspiracy theory dies.’ While I heartily agree with the sentiment, I had to demur. If it were only that simple. I replied that there was also a therapeutic component that needed to be addressed. Lots of people with impressive educational backgrounds have found their way down the rabbit hole. Yes, he answered, but they didn’t learn critical thinking. You know what: I’m right, and he’s right. Let me begin with why I’m right. (It’s my article, after all!)