Monday, July 7, 2014

Bal'mer BYOB and B BBQ... A good time was had by all.

Yom sheni, 9 Tamuz 5774.

When the world is on fire, nothing is as comforting nor as strangely empowering as surrounding oneself with family.

On Shabbat, we surrounded ourselves with our boys and our girls and our neighbors. There was food and laughter and song and silly, silly games. ("Dani, no one knows why you keep inviting us to play 'Hunger Games.' Of course everyone is going to eliminate you first. Duh. You are the most competitive person on the planet.") For twenty-five or so hours, we didn't think about the Middle East, or about the world.

Today, we gathered our other family, the Four-One-Oh Club, formerly known as Baltimoreans. Most if not all of us are former -- and forever! -- members of Rabbi Menachem and Rebbetzin Bracha Goldberger's Congregation Tiferes Yisroel. Not everyone could make it, but we know your hearts were here with us. There was food. There was laughter. The song was recorded, but was good, nonetheless; and instead of games, we played the game parents and grandparents prefer: catching each other up with what is going on with our amazing children and grandchildren. (How did those little kids suddenly end up parents of six kids???)

Because it's all about the people, here are some of the faces we love. Those who know, know.

Dani had to fight with the Neve Daniel winds while he struggled to make those barbecue grills stay alight. Leave it to the ingenuity of Captain Crunch to solve the problem.
A metal tub used by the Arab workmen for mixing concrete becomes Dani's barbecue windshield, supported by a couple of 30-pound weights. You go, Dani!

Keren Bat Heyn reminds me of one of the great Vermeer paintings in this shot.

Moshe Shaul, making everyone else smile and laugh with his jokes (ALWAYS clean), shares a smile of his own.

Yehudis and Eileen, looking elegant.

Ah, friends. When you love someone, there is such comfort in her presence.

Nechama and Shoshana, so good to see you together in our home!

Yes, we waited too long to feed Nisan...

Son Avi and proud father Alvin

A hug from a kid you watched grow up is good for what ails you.

Tova and Dovid leave smiles wherever they go!

Good to see you again, Moshe! And yes, I'll always be Mrs. E. Don't be scared. That's just the way it is. ;-)

Aaron and Avi would have looked good anyway -- but somehow this shot is just right with the Israeli flag behind them.

Aharon and Feige Rochel ("Just let everyone know that even though Avivah and her family couldn't make it, they are so very grateful for everyone's prayers. And she's doing great!")

Baruch giving me his "Whadaya want from me?" shrug, which comes whenever I aim a camera at him. Just glad to have you here, friend.

Shoshana, Keren, Sandra and Yehudis... how long have we been friends? Ages!

When you invite Jews to a "bring your own beef (or alternative) and beverage barbecue," you get enough food to feed a small army. Which is what happened to the leftovers: they were transported to hungry soldiers. Thanks, Baruch and Avrum!

Joani, somehow I failed to get a shot of you -- but you are there somewhere in Avrum's smile. Thank you so much for joining us!

Hey, Pinchas! Thank you for dropping by and representing your family (some of whom were off dedicating a new community in memory of Eyal zt"l, Gil-ad zt"l, and Naftali zt"l).

A man and his son-in-law

Eileen, Ruti, Sandra, Keren and Feige Rochel

Jerry and Avi
A lovely new friend and fellow writer

Alvin and Avrum

Richard and Moshe Shaul

Richard and Jerry

Brothers and friends and brothers...

Thank you, new friend, for helping to bring back our old friend's smile.

Jerry and Eileen, thank you for inspiring this reunion!
Thank you all for lifting our spirits, for strengthening us with your presence and your love, to get through these trying times. As one of our lovely guests said, "It was nice to spend time with people I understand, people who are all more or less on the same page." In a word: family. May we share better days!

May the time we spent together, listening to each other, sharing with each other, add in some small measure to our cumulative efforts to bring the day when there will be no more sorrow, when there will be only light and joy, gladness and honor... when there will be peace for all human beings.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Joshua Sings for His Bride and to His Mother's Heart

Yom shlishi, 12 Sivan 5774.

Sigh. I miss this man and his dear family. The hardest thing about being in Israel is the people who aren't.

Here is Joshua Eastman (aka Soldier Boy) covering John Legend's "All of Me." He's singing to his beautiful camerawoman, Chana Eastman (aka Executive Girl). I am sure her heart melted as did mine.

I heard this on my smartphone at the bus stop, waiting for a bus to Jerusalem. I started weeping a little, at this fine voice, at the passion behind it, at the missing of him...

And his baby brother Dani (also known as Sports Guy) came and gave me a hug. "He'll come back, Ema. Don't worry. He'll be back."

Then, as I boarded the bus, Josh called me -- a video call from America! -- on my phone. So I'm sitting on the bus, riding into the Holiest City on the planet, visually chatting with my son who is 6,604 miles away...

Thank God for all of these electronic ribbons with which we can keep ourselves tethered to those we hold dear. How did they manage in the pre-technology eras? It must have been heart-crushing.

See you soon, kids. In the meantime, keep singing to and for each other. As you add light to each other's lives, you will light up the world together!

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Day of Little and Larger Miracles

Yom shlishi, 1 Nisan 5774, Rosh Chodesh.

You know those days when you feel as if no matter how hard you try to accomplish the smallest thing, you find yourself smashing into wall after wall after wall, no matter how many twists and turns you make to try to make it all work?

And then there are days that are the opposite, where it seems that God has cleared a path for you, and lit it with neon lights and arrows, so that a complicated task seems effortless. This has been one of those days. Baruch Hashem!

Brief history (my mechutanim were subjected to the long version, so I can spare you):

Years ago, I read a post by Rav Shlomo Aviner about our halachic obligation to do what we can to stay healthy. He ended his argument by saying one should get a bike. I filed that recommendation away for later.

Recently, due to an injury, a surgeon said to me: "Stop doing crunches. They're not good for your condition. Get a bike." So, it's been on my mind. The Dearly Beloved -- ever anxious to spoil me rotten -- said we would get a bike when the "bike man" comes to Neve Daniel, as he does a couple of times a year.

Yesterday, there was an offer on the Efrat chat list that made its way to the Neve Daniel chat list about a really wonderful offer for The Perfect Bike. With the help of friends and new relatives, "Queenie" made it to her new home in Neve Daniel before 11:00 AM. No boring details -- but suffice it to say that her Shimano brakes and Tourney gearing system are more than welcome here... and I could not have afforded her out there in "the real world." And there is nothing better in the world than friends, and family.

This success was after a week of equally wonderful climbs up madraigot (steps) in Hebrew learning. Besides receiving the gift of two lovely chavrutot who understand the art of being "language parents," I heard an inspirational talk by Chris Lonsdale on How to Learn Any Language in Six Months. He practiced on Mandarin Chinese. (Somehow, learning Hebrew sounds easier than learning that.) Go ahead. Let yourself be inspired.

The best thing I got from the video was the permission -- which I've been working on since I saw my children learning Hebrew while I was still stuck in dikduk (grammar) -- to just communicate, without worrying if what I am saying is perfect. Chris helped, with his video -- but Esther and Shira get most of the credit, for being so proud of me for just communicating effectively... even with mistakes. How I am coming to love them!

The biggest miracle of the day? The Dearly Beloved is on Facebook. Technology is visited upon all the Eastmans. Will wonders never cease?

Coach on Facebook. I know -- right???
May you be blessed with an amazing leap of growth -- preferably spiritual, but I'm happy with any mental, emotional, intellectual, communal growth as well -- during this holy month of Nisan. May you be blessed with a real sense of freedom from all the foolish notions with which YOU shackle yourself to keep yourself trapped.

I wish us both blessing and success!

Baruch Hashem!: Blessed is God!
Mechutanim: the parents of my child's spouse (Why don't we have such a word in English, that speaks of the relationship, the kinship, of the inlaws to each other? I have new FAMILY!)
Halachic: relating to Jewish law
Queenie: I know. I'm sorry and embarrassed that as a writer, I didn't give her a more creative name. But I can't help it. She whispered that name to me, the moment I saw her lovely, royal purple self. What can I do?
Chavruta, chavrutot (plural): Jewish study partner - a relationship as complex as a marriage
Nisan: the month in which we celebrate the freedom of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, and which we observe with the eight-day holiday of Pesach (Passover)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

"Getting Old is Hard, But the Alternative is Harder" or: "Why I am Making Myself Sick on Purpose"

Yom shlishi, 23 Adar II 5774.

Don't worry. This photo will make sense later.
Okay, I could have just called this post "Colonoscopy." But then you wouldn't have read it. And I need for at least one person in the neighborhood of 50 to change his or her mind about enduring this necessary degradation, because I have read some alarming statistics. So please forgive the "TMI" post. But our lives depend on it.

Apparently, many people avoid the test because it is distasteful, or because it feels like a violation. And because it's embarrassing.

Yup, that's right. They'd rather die than go through something that is admittedly nasty, but that might extend their time on Earth.

Making myself sick on purpose is much lower on my list of entertainments than, say, cleaning the mold out of every window in my apartment and scrubbing the bathtub after a football game. Nonetheless, I have spent the last two days taking medications to make myself sick-like-dog to -- ahem -- clean out my system prior to the dreaded procedure.

And folks who know me well know that -- despite the state of my apartment -- my sense of personal cleanliness and dignity are amusingly catlike.

The upshot -- heh-heh-heh... everything sounds like a bad pun to me lately, butt I digress. Oh, there I go again --

After I endure this, the doctor will either find something scary (Heaven forbid) and fix it early, when it's easy to fix; or he will give me a pass for Ten Years Without Worry. Either of those options sounds better to me than becoming a statistic.

SATURDAY, March 22, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, but there are ways of reducing your risk.
"Colorectal cancer is largely preventable with early screening and detection," Dr. Anne Lin, assistant professor of general surgery for the University of California, Los Angeles, Health System and David Geffen School of Medicine, said in a UCLA news release.
And from the American Cancer Society:

"Too many people are still dying: 50,310 expected this year, along with 136,830 new cases." 

That's in America. Rates in Israel are also still too high; but the situation is improving.

Early stage diagnosis of the disease has nearly doubled (from 18% to 34%) over the past twenty years, as a result of the increase in compliance with the National Colorectal Cancer Screening Program, jointly initiated by the Israel Cancer Association and the Ministry of Health.

 Mortality rates have dropped by 17% in males and by 11.4% in females.

This statistic is from the Jewish population. The Cancer Society in Israel is still trying to increase involvement by the Arab population in the screening process, as well as in the Hareidi ("ultra-Orthodox") population. In a 2012 article in the Times of Israel regarding reaching out to the Hareidim, Dr. Shlomo Lewkowicz gave further details:

"Lewkowicz said that every day, 10 new cases of rectal or colon cancer are diagnosed in Israel, five of which can prove to be fatal; however, a simple colonoscopy can often detect the cancer before it reaches a life-threatening stage."

Read. Information and recommendations are readily available online. Then -- get over it, and get tested. If I can set aside the super-high readings on my personal Bleccch-O-Meter, so can you.

And for the next few days, please be very gentle with me. My catlike nature is a bit disgruntled. And this sour expression on my face has absolutely nothing to do with you!

A favorite photo of cats apparently lining up for their appointments.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Guest Post: Football: Virgin Isles' Style

Yom sheni, 12 Shevat 5774.

One day, about a year ago, our lives became even better...
Thanks to our dear daughters-in-law, we have inherited some very special family members. This post is penned by Champagne Girl's eloquent father, Nisan "Boss Hawk" Jaffee (whose lovely bride made a cameo appearance in my last post as "my mechutenet." We'll have to give Marietta a nickname soon, as I hope she will appear often here).

Boss Hawk's writing is so good, I look forward to seeing his own blog soon. Enjoy his tale about life in the Virgin Islands -- through modified American football.

The author is Number 41, in the middle row. Champagne Girl gets her beautiful smile from both her parents.

Saint Thomas Synagogue, built in 1833, is the second-oldest synagogue (building) and longest in continuous use now under the American flag. The synagogue, fourth on its site, was built to house a congregation founded in 1796 by Sephardic Jews who had come to the Caribbean Basin to finance trade between Europe and the New World. The congregation reached its zenith in the mid-19th century, declined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the fortunes of the Danish Virgin Islands, and grew again in the late 20th century.
So, on this Friday night, why wasn’t I sitting in one of the mahogany pews, running my toes through the six inches of sand that comprised the floor of the synagogue?  As Tevye would say, “That I can answer in one word...”  FOOTBALL!
My parents and I lived in St. Thomas from 1967 until 1977.  Part of that time, I was in high school, and part away in college.  Nevertheless, I was a St. Thomian, and coming home meant stripping down to my cutoff shorts, going out onto the veranda, cracking open a Heineken (“green lightning”), and blowing my conch shell horn to announce my return. Then onto my motorcycle and off to the beach.
High School choices on St. Thomas were interesting.  There was a Catholic school, an Anglican school, a public high school, and one private non-sectarian institution, named Antilles School.  Given the choice of going to one of the religious schools where chapel was required, going to the “blackboard jungle” public school, or to Antilles, was a no-brainer: Antilles it was to be.
I was in the 10th grade.  Every boy from 9th through 12th grade was on the football team.  There were a total of twelve guys on the team.  Only one of us weighed more than 150 pounds... so that made me the second heaviest guy on the team.
Actually, only the public high school had a sizable football-ready population.  So we played six-man tackle.  Most of us played both defense and offense.  As the smallest school -- with the lightest players -- there was no way we could win by brawn.  It had to be brains.
There's Number 41, with his back shyly to the camera.
Our coach -- also social studies teacher and graphic artist -- was Eric Winter.  Mr. Winter was somewhat over six feet tall, lean and wiry, with a thick close black beard.  He was also a gymnast.  Every man on the team learned how to roll and flip.  I remember him telling us how he was once standing on a porch that collapsed.  He said a shoulder roll saved his life.  That was enough for me.  I perfected the shoulder roll.  (It came in real handy once when we were kicking off.  I was running down field when I was blocked hard and low.  I went into a roll and, to my surprise and delight, I did a complete flip in the air, landed on my feet, and kept on running.  My number was 41.  After the game, a group of little kids ran up to me calling “Forty-one! Forty-one!")
I had never played organized football before.  Growing up in the suburbs of New York City during the era of the Donna Reed Show and My Three Sons, my friends (Jewish, Italian, and Irish) and I played touch football in the street.  During my first practice with the Antilles Hurricanes, Mr. Winter tried me out at middle linebacker.  I made an interception on the first play.  Mr. Winter was impressed.  Later I sat on the tailgate of the Jeep to get a drink from the water cooler.  The tailgate collapsed, and the water crashed to the ground.  Mr. Winter was not so impressed, not to mention the thirsty team members.
Sigh. The nose is fine. But the nickname is great!
 Each one of us had a nickname.  Mine was “The Hawk.  It was a name I gave to myself, in my adolescent self-consciousness about my rather large proboscis.  On my locker was printed, in red letters dripping blood: “Beware the wrath of the Hawk.
Eventually, I was settled into the position of defensive center, based on my massive 150- pound weight.  John Hamber was the assistant coach.  Mr. Hamber was an ex-Navy Seal who ran a scuba diving, snorkeling, and sailing business on the island.  He was massive, in a muscular way.  I think his calves were bigger around than my thighs.  He taught me one thing that was crucial to my position.  I learned from him how to get off the line like a rocket.  Keep your eye on the ball.  As soon as the offensive center barely moves it, you’re off the line.  Don’t waste time standing up.  Stay low, and move fast, and target the quarterback.  Always keep your forward momentum.
There are moments of clarity in a game that come once in a while, like a gift.  It was third down, on the Anglican ten yard line.  They had one more chance to get a first down.  The quarterback was in shotgun position.  At the hike, I was off the line low and fast.  Then I saw it.  The Anglican left end was coming around for the handoff.  I knew it wasn’t a fake.  I just knew it.  The quarterback had his back to me.  Instead of targeting the QB, I tore over to where I knew the left end would be at the moment he received the ball.  I was invisible.  I was a shadow.  I was a blur.   I was their worst nightmare.  I was The Hawk.  Low and fast.  The handoff.  BOOM! 
As he slowly tried to get up and hobble off the field, that left end was incredulous. “Where did he come from ??!!!”
The brothers, now Judean Rebels
There’s more.  And it all came rushing back to me a few weeks ago when I went to Kraft Field to see the Judean Rebels play.  Dovid Eastman, my son-in-law, and his super-star brother Dani play on the Judean Rebels, coached by their father, Avi Eastman (better known to many of you as “Dearly Beloved”).  The unpretentious simplicity of the the  60-yard field. The concrete stands.  The anxious coach stalking the sidelines.  Mrs. Coach sweating it out off to the side unwilling or unable to sit down.  My daughter screaming so it could be heard in Beit Shemesh -- “Dovid Eastman!  Dovid Eastman!  He’s my husband!” 
I got my varsity letter, and I made the All-Island team three years in a row.  Antilles even came in second place one year -- behind undefeated High School -- whose players were 23 years old, weighed 250 pounds, had big teeth, and one eye in the middle of their forehead.  But the skinny kids were able to give ‘em a run for their money by dazzling them with plays that would make Rube Goldberg jealous.
It was an experience I never want to forget.  And the lessons learned are enduring.  Teamwork, strength, confidence, fair play, achdut.  In these days when sports has become so self-serving and commercial, I’m proud to see Avi out there reaming out his team for an unsportsmanlike play.  It warms me to know that there are young men out there learning “the right stuff.
Eventually of course, I ended up back at the synagogue, running my toes through the sand, listening to Torah, and preparing for the touchdowns that HKBH expected of me on and off the field for the rest of my life.
Epilogue: About ten years ago, my wife and I went to St. Thomas for a short vacation.  I heard somehow that Eric Winter - coach, gymnast, artist, teacher - had recently died from ALS (Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease).  I decided to go pay my respects to Mr. Winter’s wife, who was working in one of the shops on Main Street in Charlotte Amalie.  I had the opportunity to tell her how much her husband had meant to me.
While I was there, a St. Thomian saw my tzitzis, and he asked me if I was an “Israelite.  I had to think about it a second.
“Yeah, I guess I am.

Achdut: togetherness, unity
HKBH: one of the many names for God - HaKadosh Baruch Hu (The Holy One, Blessed is He)