Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's Hard to be a Jew

Last Shabbat, i.e. yesterday, Wife2B and I spent a day in my old home-suburb of Pisgat Ze'ev.  We went to my old shul, Pisgat Moriah, to hear a very gripping announcement.  On the seventh day of Pesach, one of the congregants, a mild-mannered 51 year-old father of four boys had suffered from a heart attack on the seventh day of Pesach.  He had been up late studying, when he felt something tickle in his chest.  His wife offered to give him a ride to the hospital, but he said to call the ambulance.  By the time paramedics arrived, he had expired. 


I had not known him personally, but he always carried himself with great dignity, and stood out in the crowd.  When his name was mentioned, I immediately knew about whom they were speaking.  As I later learned, he and his wife had met at age two and grown up together in Uruguay prior to his making aliyah to Israel.  After aliyah, he had continued in his intense Torah study, and maintained contact with his former congregation back in Uruguay, answering whatever questions in halachah or spirituality might arise in the community.


The body is considered muktzeh, an object which can not be touched on Shabbat, so after attempts to resuscitate him failed, he could not be removed from the house until after Shabbat (although I have heard conflicting opinions on this matter.)  So the family had to wait with their deceased father in the house.


Even worse, his youngest son's Bar Mitzvah was scheduled for Shabbat two days later.  The family is now sitting shiva, the mourning period of intense bereavement following the death of an immediate family member, but all mourning is suspended on Shabbat.  For the boy to have not read the Torah at his Bar Mitzvah would have been a sign of mourning, and is expressly forbidden due to this suspension of mourning practices.  He was called up to the Torah and read beautifully, with great clarity and precision.  But he didn't smile.  It was an impossible situation, but it happened.


It's said that anyone who feels they are suffering from the burdens of life needs to understand that Hashem (God) provides him with exactly his measure of suffering.  We look out at others and assume that the smiling exterior of our friends belies inner tranquility, but in reality, none of us could handle the burdens of any other.  Sometimes it seems like just a nice thing to tell ourselves, but once in a while I get a peek behind the veil into the real burdens of another, and realize the truth of this.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pesach Cleaning

Pesach cleaning is usually a drag. The concept of destroying every last chometz (leaven) particle from the house prior to the Pesach (Passover) holiday is symbolic of destroying the puffiness, or haughtiness in our own egos. At least that's what we're told to make us feel better about getting on our hands and knees scrubbing for hours at a stretch.

My own cleaning usually goes long into the night before Pesach. But this year, S., my wife2B, came over and lent me a helping hand. She's small and versatile, and can get to spots I could never reach...

Like on the countertops.

At one point, I came back to find a hand protruding from my fridge.

Looked in side, to find...


So, we finished at 11PM (a reasonable hour.) Then, the search for chometz began. This usually involves the children searching the house for ten little bits of chometz wrapped in paper. There is a little bracha (blessing) you say at the beginning of the search, and the children run through the house with candles finding them one by one. At the end, all of the chometz is nullified, and the next morning it is burned. Of course, Judaism doesn't really account for the older single living alone, like me. Traditionally people stayed home until bar mitzvah, and for some yeshivah, and then they were married and making more children right away.

For the past decade, I've been forced to go through this ridiculous ritual where I hide the chometz from myself, then say the bracha, then find it right away. Eventually it turned into this wrote recitation:

1. Throw the chometz bits on the table.
2. "Barucha blah blah.."
3. Find the chometz on the table.
4. "Barucha blah blah..."
5. Throw them on the fire the next morning.

Of course, this year, I had S. to hide it from me, and we did a little "warmer colder" game. It was the first time I have actually smiled during my Pesach cleaning and chometz destructon since, well, forever.

Friday, April 03, 2009

I'm Engaged!

Having dated 73 girls since I made aliyah two and a half years ago, I thought I had it down. Ten minutes before a date, I hit the shower. Five minutes 'till, I slipped into the already-pressed "dating shirt" and "dating slacks" hanging in the closet. Two minutes to date-time, a quick shot of peppermint schnapps to make my breath fresher, my jokes funnier, and the girl prettier. Sixty seconds till date time I was out the door. Crossing the street, I slipped into Cafe Hillel, my first-date location of choice, at just the right second.

Afterward, the shirt and slacks went back on the hangar, and I waited. The girls usually dumped me after the first date or two. Maybe one in ten was gracious enough to give me three before yanking the plug. Some weeks I went out with three girls in a row. Date, dump, date, dump, date, dump, it became regular. Like a beating heart. Why, oh why, couldn't I find someone with whom I could just be?

But after my third date with S., when she actually agreed to a fourth, I knew something was up. Of course, it wasn't like what you see in the movies, the sort of love at first sight. I had my doubts and fears, but I also felt like on some level this person on the other side of my slice of pizza was quietly absorbing one small piece of my soul at a time. It wasn't the intellect, though she's quite bright, and it wasn't the looks, though she drew my eye. It was something else.

Of course, I would sometimes seize up and panic, but I had made a decision that I would never again end a relationship without talking the matter through. And while I felt a growing interest in her, I could never quite perceive whether she was in the same place I was. On the phone with her after our eighth date, uncharted territory for me having never made it past the fifth date, I finally spoke. "I just feel," I told her, "like every date is still our first date. I'm never comfortable. Maybe that's why I'm 30 and still single, but I don't know if I can handle this."

"Love," she responded, "isn't' something you fall into. It's something you grow into. We have the same values, the same ideas."
Well, yes. She was learning full-time at a seminary across the street from the yeshiva where I had studied.
"I can't stop you from going, and it's your decision. But you'll always wonder what could have been." Then I heard her quietly sniffling.

If she felt that strongly, I decided we should go out again. We went to the shuk (outdoor market) at night, looking for a special garment for someone in my family. Unfortunately, most of the stores were closed, so we only checked a few, and later wandered about in boredom. The date was mediocre, but the creeping fear I had was returning. After the date I tossed and turned trying to sleep. Why hadn't I had the guts to end the relationship when the time was right? Perhaps I should do it by email. I began composing a letter. Then next day I was perfecting the touches of a letter which would, as gently as possible, let her down. The phone rang.

"Hi, this is S."
"Oh, uh, hi. How are you?"
"I'm good. I just wanted to wish you a Shabbat Shalom (good sabbath) and let you know that I went back to the shuk. I went back to all the stores that were closed last night in order to find that garment for you."
Wow. In two and a half years, after all the eight dozen girls I had dated talking about their law degrees and their traveling experiences, themselves, themselves, themselves, nobody had ever done a thing like that.
"Uh. Thanks. Shabbat Shalom."

I deleted the letter I had been writing. During that Shabbat, I went to some singles events I had signed up for, and standing there watching all the girls yack on and on about themselves, all I could think of was, "Where's my S.?"

After that, I got really interested, and so did she. As our dates progressed, we found that we were just getting over with the dinner or bowling in order to get to the best part, the end. I would bring her back to her apartment, where on our early dates I used to just say, "I had a good time and I'll call you tomorrow," sat back and wandered through hours and hours of conversation. Or we would lean back and silently watch the clouds pass by. I had finally found someone with whom I could just be. Finally, I decided to tell her, "I want you to know that the fear I had earlier is gone. I feel very confident about us and I think we're moving in a good direction." The look of relief in her face was immediate.

I began introducing her to my Israeli family. We even Skyped my family back in the states. After thirty or so dates, I was ready to propose. On Monday, I brought her up to Kever Shmuel, the grave of Samuel the Prophet, which overlooks Jerusalem, for a lunch.

I gave her a small gift, and wrapped inside was a scroll, reading, "Marry Me?"

She said yes. After the flurry of phonecalls to friends and relatives, we finally called it a night at 12 AM.

The next day, she and I were discussing our plans. In the course of the discussion, I began discussing an issue which we had discussed while we were dating. At the time, I hadn't grasped the depth of this issue, but after having discussed it further, I realized that we have to figure out how we are going to approach it before we can set an official date and make the rest of the arrangements.

But I won't let that distract me from the good news: I'm engaged to a great girl! Who would have thought it possible? Halleluyah!