Monday, November 27, 2017

Angel, Breaking with Just a Smile

9 Kislev 5778.

Yesterday, my eldest grandchild turned 18.

I have lived long enough to have a third generation reach adulthood. It boggles the mind.

This is a love song to my Lily, whose existence is a miracle, even more than every child is a miracle, whose birth brought closer hearts separated by misfortune, bad choices, gulfs of continents and seas and cultures.

Lily, you make everyone who meets you smile. You have brought out the best in people who may have remained ordinary, and brought out the magic in people who are trying their best to save the world, one child at a time.

You're in the process of making a little brother an even better and finer and more sensitive super-hero than he would have been without you. (No doubt, the baby brother will gain from these lessons as well.)
You have caused two excellent people to become monumental, in my eyes, in their binding together a nest to hold you and your brothers. Even when that nest got tested by your teenagerness, which you surprisingly couldn't avoid. Like getting wrinkles and pimples at the same time, one would have thought you would be immune, but no.

None of us knows how much light you have to add to this tragic little world, nor for how long.

But your distant grandmother wishes for you and for all of us who love you that your light will shine and continue to refine all of us.

Thank you for coming into my life, little person, little hummer of ancient songs. I love you.

"...Darling Lily, is an angel from Heaven
Come to see us a little while
Stage door Johnnies wait for her
Our voices encore her
They just adore her style

Darling Lily, doesn't dream of the heart
She keeps on breaking with just a smile..."

from the song by Henry Mancini

Friday, November 24, 2017

Sigd: Hearts Facing Jerusalem

Yom Chamishi, 5 Kislev 5778.

"Remember, I pray Thee, the word that Thou didst command Thy servant Moshe, saying, If you transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations: but if you turn to Me, and keep My commandments, and do them; though your outcasts be at the utmost parts of heaven, from there will I gather them, and I will bring them to the place which I have chosen to set My name there."  
-- Nehemiah 8-9

Imagine spending generations reading these words, and believing that the prophet Nehemiah was speaking directly to you and your people! And then finally coming home, on "the wings of eagles," to "Yerusalem"...

Fascinated with a story I heard about the first Ethiopians to "come Home" to Zion, I have wanted to experience the Ethiopian holy day, Sigd, for most of the decade that I've lived in Israel. Work, weather, and my general shyness prevented it, until last Thursday.

The OU Israel Center arranged a morning tour of various sites integral to the exploration of Sigd, which means "prostration" in Ge'ez, the holy language of both Jews and non-Jews in Ethiopia. Our very competent and entertaining young guide was David Bratspis. ("Go ahead. Just get right into the pronunciation. Don't hide from it: brats' piss.") His self-effacing humor and factual research made him easy to like and respect immediately; and his presentation throughout the day didn't disappoint.

Our first stop was the cemetery on Har Herzl, where David introduced us to the memorial commemorating the loss of more than 4,000 Ethiopians who died en route and in Sudan on their way to the Holy Land in the 1980s and early 1990s. They succumbed to famine and disease; but they also were robbed, raped, and murdered by people they trusted as guides. Happily, many thousand Ethiopians -- also known as Beta Yisrael -- were rescued during the airlifts (designated Operations Moses, Joshua, and Solomon) from 1984 through 1991.

Representations of Ehtiopian tukulim (huts)

Sitting at the monument, we listened raptly to David as he told us the history of Ethiopian Jewry, facts about the three key languages among the people, and details about their dwellings (a thatched, conical hut called a tukul), and their practices, many of which were decidedly Jewish in nature.

the names of those who perished

David reminded us that it might be more appropriate to call this day (29 Cheshvan, fifty days after Yom Kippur) "Yom Sigd" rather than "Chag Sigd," as it is a holy day of commemoration, and half-fast, and a very solemn day of blessings and prayers. David pointed out that Sigd became an official holiday in 2008.
After our educational visit to the Har Herzl memorial, we re-boarded our bus to head for the Tayelet, a promenade located in Talpiot, and the highest point in Jerusalem. Their holy leaders, called kessim, chose the Tayelet to continue the practice of a mass pilgrimage to the highest available point, and gazing toward Zion.

David showed us an example of the Orit (pictured), the sacred text of Ethiopian Jews.
From the Tayelet, they worshipers can see the Temple Mount and the Old City of Jerusalem. The Ethiopian practice is to join with their kessim, rabbis, to recite prayers, to read from their holy book called the Orit.

At least this is the practice of some. "What proof do we have that the Ethiopian Jews are authentically Jewish? Some of them (mostly Amharic speakers) hold by going to the Tayelet, to continue the old practices; and some of them (the Tigrinya speakers) wouldn't be caught dead there, and go instead to the Kotel." After we all had a good laugh at the classic joke (two Jews, three opinions), David told us that many Tigrim do join the observance on the Tayelet. But his humor served to remind us that these Jews are part of our family, something we continued to learn and feel throughout the day.

At the Tayelet, we were "turned loose" to walk around, take photos, make conversation. I met lovely people who were more than willing to talk about the day, about their families, about their profound love of Israel.

Some of the ladies were shy at first to be photographed; but after I explained that I write a blog to share what is lovely about living in Israel, they were interested. Once I expressed my happiness in being able to participate in this holy day, they were eager to talk. We discussed how special it is to share traditions, and the joy they feel bringing up their children in the Israel their parents only dreamed of.
Only kessim sit under the umbrellas; so if you see an umbrella in the crowd, you know there is an Ethiopian rabbi there.

We received many blessings from these holy people.

A young soldier was proud to protect all of us as we mingled on the Tayelet.

After this visit, we moved to the Kotel, to say the afternoon prayers with our Ethiopian hosts, who then broke the fast over traditional sourdough flatbread called injera, with which they were very generous. They were also very generous with their brachot. I collected abundant blessings from more than one kes for my sons and their families.

"Will you pass on the observance of Sigd to your children?" The boys were sure. The girl was just shy, as is usual with most girls everywhere.

I saw her standing under an umbrella. "Is your husband a kes?" I asked her. She seemed surprised that I knew the significance. (Score another one for David, our informative tour guide.) "My father is a kes," she answered. After the breaking of the fast, she took the microphone, and made a short speech to the assembled crowd (which I sadly did not understand). She was the first to offer me some injera, even before she took for herself.

Kessim of both groups of Ethiopians davened and broke the fast side by side. We can all learn from each other, I think, about getting along.

I hope to participate again in Yom Sigd, less as a curious observer and more as a fellow olah, as well as in the many and varied cultural customs of my wonderful Jewish Nation. As my dear and wise Mama, a"h, always said, "Why do people fight about their differences? Wouldn't it be better to celebrate our rainbow of colors and all of our different ways of viewing the world?"

The mounds represent the mountains met during their trek to the Holy Land.
Ethiopian Jewry officially recognized by the Rabbinate
You can contact David on Facebook about arranging a tour at David Bratspis Tour Educator.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dancing Visions

29 Tishrei 5778, posted in Cheshvan.

Not a painting of Bryna Kitay, zt"l.  Her dance was sweeter.
It is a beautiful wedding. The bride is, appropriately, breathtakingly beautiful. She reminds me of her mother when I met her, who also took my breath away (and still does). Not merely because God has given her a good face, but because there is authenticity behind her eyes. Her daughter shares that intense and real beauty. (And her father is an accomplished businessman, who at simchas plays the perfect image of the sad/happy clown, still acrobatic over the years.)

The guests touch my heart: they are friends of twenty years and more from the town that reared my sons and their parents in the Jewish faith.

There is so much for which to be grateful tonight.

As I listen to the soulful strains of Im Eshkacheich Yirushalayim -- If I forget Jerusalem -- with closed eyes...

Bryna Leah (aka Beverly) Kitay, a"h, appears in the center of the room. Now I must digress...

I am not a terribly spiritual person. I have had exactly two spiritual dreams in my life. And prior to this experience, I have had exactly two "visions." Only one is relevant to this story:

Many years ago, I was at a Simchat Torah celebration at Congregation Tiferes Yisroel. Rabbi Goldberger was dancing with the Torah, as he did by TY tradition, alone with the Torah, before the group dancing began. The dance was very ritualized, as Rabbi G preserved memory with motion. Details such as a raised hand, a bend of the waist, everything was an echo of a dance of the past. It was told to me that each careful step added to the design of the Ineffable Name of Hashem...

We all knew the steps and the motions, and that they were handed down from Rabbi Goldberger's rebbe.

I closed my eyes...

Suddenly I could see, very clearly, Rabbi Ben Tzion Chaim Shloime Meshulam Zusia Twerski, zt"l,  dancing with Rabbi Menachem Goldberger in the center of the room.

I had never met Rabbi Goldberger's rebbe. I only knew him from photographs. But in that one isolated moment, I felt that I saw him and felt his presence... and that "vision" has stayed with me all these years. There was so much love in that room that evening: the rebbe for one of his dearest talmidim, Rabbi Goldberger for his kehilla and family, our love for him and his remarkable bride, also a talmida of the Rav. The experience has typified for me what it is to be part of a mesorah, a tradition.

Suddenly, at this moment at this wedding, my third vision becomes a new spiritual thread in the tapestry of my Jewish journey.

In Baltimore, at any significant spiritual event, Bryna Kitay could be seen, in her quaint matching hat and suit jacket over a long skirt, arms raised to Heaven, dancing to and for God. Her eyes would be closed, and her expression was one of such sublime peace and openness. The kallah's mother reminds me that Bryna was always the first person in the center of any circle dance, later joined by the ladies around her. "She taught me what circle dancing is about. There's the part about joyous circling with loved ones. And then there's inviting Gd into the dance: bringing down His energy and light into the circle." Bryna left the world in 2016, around the same time of year as this recent TY wedding. I always imagine her dancing in Shemayim for God...

So here I am, at this wedding of these beautiful young people, surrounded by friends who define my family's Jewish roots... and there is Bryna Kitay in the center of the room, eyes closed, arms raised to Shemayim, dancing only for Hashem. Somehow, her presence here adds a layer of shefa and bracha to this marriage of two souls. My heart dances. I long to dance with her, to get her acknowledgment of my presence, but I know this is foolish. Bryna Leah never danced with anyone else except her One-and-Only Partner, in all the years I knew her. If she touched you during the dance, you are blessed. She only had eyes for Him.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

So I Guess this is the Bris?

26 Cheshvan 5778.

It's a bit late, but the "baby" had to spend a little more time in the ICU than expected.

With gratitude to God and lots of really wonderful humans, I am happy to announce the birth of the book, and its subsequent transfer from the safety of the incubator to global distribution. L'chayim!

You still get the best deal by ordering from Lulu Publishing.* This is helpful if you live in the States, or have friends traveling to you in the near future.

Happily, little "Big Whine"** is now available from other vendors.

If you live in Israel, New Zealand (Hi, Kiwi!), Northern Ireland (Hi, Valerie!) or the rest of the UK, my personal favorite book seller is Book Depository. They deliver directly to Israel, and their service is timely and professional. (We once received a book that was mangled. I sent photos. They sent a new book in record time. Can you say "customer service"?)

And, of course, there is trusty ol' Amazon, and Amazon UK, and Amazon Spain (I know, right?), and Amazon Saturn...

(If you see the book available elsewhere, please feel free to share in the comments section below.)

Next item on my personal bucket list: to see From Big Whine to Big Grapes (perhaps in time for Chanukah?) in the window of my favorite book store on the planet. (Feel free to click on the link to let Michael and Shira Pomeranz know you're interested.)

When we popped the cork on the champagne in my writing class, a brief conversation ensued.

Sarina (teacher, friend, mentor extraordinaire): I love that sound. It's the sound of celebration.
Ruti (a somewhat mouthy and by sport a contradictory student): Yeah, that's the traditional approach. I think of it as the sound of the next project.
Sarina (ever encouraging): I like that. Write it down.
Ruti (occasionally compliant): Yes, Ma'am.

If you like the book and feel inclined, please write a review at Amazon and/or at Lulu. Nothing sells a book like the kindness of strangers, and friends!

*If you have a book inside you and would love advice about self-publishing through Lulu Publishers, I would be very happy to talk with you. #sharingiscaring

**Nearly every kid has a nickname, right? We love you, BW!!! Make us proud, kid.