June 2007

I thought you would be interested in something that happened to me today (Jerusalem Day in Israel, to commemmorate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967) But first read a little bit:

Born in London and raised in Israel , Shuly Nathan, singer and storyteller, made history with the song 'Jerusalem of Gold'.

At the age of 16 she started playing the guitar, singing and collecting folk songs. During her army service she worked as teacher for illiterate adults in a new border settlement in the south of Israel . During that time she participated in several amateur radio programs.
Writer and composer Naomi Shemer heard one of the programs and Shuly Nathan was asked to appear in the annual Independence Day Song Festival in Jerusalem, not in the actual contest but with an "ornamental song", a request by Jerusalem 's mayor, Teddy Kollek. The song was "Jerusalem of Gold", which mesmerized the audience and overshadowed the whole festival. Shuly was asked to sing it again, and the entire audience stood up and joined in.
Two weeks later the 1967 war broke out and the song became the anthem of the war, a prayer for the reunification of Jerusalem .

OK, so this morning we had an assembly to celebrate Jerusalem Day, at which "Shuly Nathan" would be singing. Great, I thought--never heard of her! But we talked about her in class (and have been singing Jerusalem songs all week.)

So it turns out that the director of the language program (at the request of whom I have now performed three times) knew Shuly and had told her about me. I didn't know this.

So I'm in the front row, and after singing, in her beautiful, natural soprano, several songs to open her show, she introduced the Naomi Shemer song, Chorshat HaEkalyptus (Beside the Jordan is an English title.) Then she asked for me to come up and join her! I said (in Hebrew, I'm proud to say) that I only know the chorus, and she said "come up--I'll sing the verses!" So, of course, I went up, while my fellow travelers applauded, and we sang together--I "doodled" harmony when she was singing and we alternated melody/harmony for the rest. Wow! What a thrill!
After the show, she and I talked, and it turns out she is a member of Hod v'Hadar, the conservative synagogue not two streets away from me in Kfar Saba! She invited me to come, and said she would introduce me around and we'd talk about work for me there!

So we hugged, I sat down, and on with the show.

But then she called me up again to do "Al Kol Eileh" (For All of These)--another by Naomi Shemer, and again for "Oseh Shalom" by Nurit Hirsh (ya-ah-seh shalom only the audience didn't know when to clap, so I did my famous Get-Ready-To-Clap motions, and by the end we all knew it!)

After the show, she and I talked, and it turns out she is a member of Hod v'Hadar, the conservative synagogue not two streets away from me in Kfar Saba! She invited me to come, and said she would introduce me around and we'd talk about work for me there!

So, once again, out of my willingness to stand up and possibly make a fool of myself, came a wonderful experience and more possibilities.

I wish you a day of the same!

Also in June I participated in a celebration of the language schools all over Israel that immigrants attend (me too!) There were about 1400 people there, mostly immigrants from ALL over--Ethiopia, South America, all over Europe, all over the former Soviet Union, even some Asians--you can just imagine the different faces and shapes! As they paraded at the beginning (think Olympics) I wondered what I was doing here.But as the chairman of the event spoke and then sang, himself--to warm and enthusiastic response--I thought, "oh, yes, THAT'S why--they love music here!" (Do any of you remember Bill Moss at Sharon's high school graduation? Well, it was not like that!)

Some of the immigrants spoke of their experiences (in Hebrew) and I sang--2 songs, one in Hebrew and one in Ladino (the Spanish spoken by the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492, and who settled all around the Mediterranean.) A family from Venezuela sang the most amazing, bouncy song, in Hebrew, about dreaming in Spanish! It's something everyone talks about--that once you start dreaming in Hebrew, you "get it"!

The "paid talent" was a late 30-ish young man who also sang--in the intro they talked about his TV and radio experience (still don't know his name but will find out tomorrow.) Anyway, he sang one of the songs that I sang (he arrived after I performed) and when he asked the crowd who knew the song, everyone pointed at me and pushed me up to sing with him--so we had a duet, and I got another round of applause. And my next gig will be a paying one for the municipality of Ra'anana. Really, the woman who runs the language program might as well be my agent! (Well, actually she is!)

This is an amazing place. As hard as things are sometimes, I still think there is a place for me here, though I will have to learn more patience...

May 2007

Thanks to all of you who have written lately, and I look forward to hearing from all of you when you have time!

This week I helped the Partnership 2000 people greet the latest Columbus Jewish Federation Family Mission. We planted more outside the Kfar Saba Stadium, then hd a great meal together. I presented the families with their tree-planting certificates and had a chance to talk to nearly everybody. I knew only a few people but they all knew me! I had great talks with Rhoda and Aaron Edelman, who were with Koleinu on the trip in 2005-2006, and Leah Salis, with whom I studied Hebrew before I came here. And it was a pleasure to get to know a lot of other folks from Columbus.

So, here’s the latest news, not in any particular order:

I got the car loan—I was proud enough of myself to have conducted the telephone interview all in Hebrew, but then getting the loan—wow! (I am still easily amused…)

So next is a job. I get a monthly stipend of support from the government, and today I signed up for 2 more, because I am unemployed at the moment. With the car I will be able to visit synagogues and find my next job.

I'm in the process of applying for status as "musician", which will give me another monthly check, for 2 years. I have to first apply, and then my info is sent to a committee. They decide if they want to meet me for a sort of audition (2 pieces, max. 7 minutes.) To that interview I take all my clippings and my demo CD and resume. At the end they decide if I am or am not a musician. (I am.) We’ll see what happens.

Here there are many (thousands) of choirs, all with different levels of ability, but all of them pay their conductors. The conductors occasionally are composers, but far more often are arrangers. I have done this, with both adult and children's choirs. And I will have a perspective different from the native Israelis. If I can get a part time job at a synagogue and one or 2 choirs I can make a living.

Most people get frustrated very quickly, but I have been lucky. The one thing I was perfectly prepared for when I came was to spend a lot of time and energy on the bureaucracy. I have not had any problems, unlike many of my friends. It's all about my attitude. I have had unheard-of customer service from my bank and cell phone company (people are amazed at my stories!)

I know the place is dangerous. But I live in a place that has been untouched by the violence since the wall was built. Something always could happen (anywhere) but I feel better being here. I am not afraid at all. I am where I want to be, and where I am needed and really appreciated for who I am. I love it here! I always wanted to live in an interesting house or an interesting place—now I am doing both!

The language is the hardest part, but I'm managing that too, improving every day. I'll continue to attend classes until work interferes.

And every time someone wants me to sing, I do.

Last week I attended a Hebrew study session with a group of Spanish speaking immigrants (Israeli citizens for 5-12 years) hosted by the Reform synagogue in Ra'anana. My purpose was to study with them and then when the national Minister for Immigrant Absorption and Mayor of Ra'anana came for a sort of "town meeting" on the subject of immigrants' needs, to sing one song and lead the group in another. OK. I went, but by the time it came to sing we had been studying for 2.5 hours and I for one was tired! So I led the song, skipped the solo, handed my resume to one of the Mayor's staff who wanted it, and went home, feeling that, except for the studying, I had pretty much wasted my time.

But this week I got a call from the municipality office of the Mayor of Ra’anana, the woman to whom I gave the resume. Again the conversation was in Hebrew, and when she asked if I wanted to be paid, I of course said yes! No idea how much (didn't seem polite to ask, and will be more fun just to see.)

Today I went to pick up my payment—and to my surprise got 200 shekels, about $50.00. Not to sing a solo, not for a show—but to lead the group in one song. They could tell that I was a professional, and decided to pay me as such.

So I earned my first money, singing. Just what I had in mind at the beginning of this adventure!

Late April 2007

! It has been several weeks of sadness, memory and meaning, here in HaAretz—The Land.

During the days of Passover I traveled to Jerusalem with a partnership of 15 and 16-year-olds from a Reform synagogue in Los Angeles and a high school in Tel Aviv to Yad Vashem, Israel’s powerful memorial to the victims of what the world calls the Holocaust and we call HaShoah. We had an excellent young tour guide who really knew how to connect the privileged young people with what happened to their people. We could see, on the grounds of the museum, the construction of the stage where the memorial service would be held about 10 days later. Then we walked up Mt. Herzl to the Herzl’s grave and the national cemetery. Where also we could see the preparations for Israel’s Independence Day. So much memory and and hope and pain symbolized on one little hill.

For Yom HaShoah the Hebrew school at the absorption center asked me to sing for the memorial—they wanted the theme from “Life is Beautiful”—not what I would have chosen, but OK! We planned it to coincide with the sirens that sound for 2 minutes as a national memorial. Everything stops then, I mean everything—classes, meetings, people walking on the street. On the streets and freeways, they get out of their cars and stand. Moving all by itself. During our ceremony I led “Eli, Eli” and Hatikva (reserving for myself the upper octave at the end!)

That went well, so they asked me to sing for Yom HaZikaron, when they remember the soldiers who have given their lives for this nation. This year was very solemn because of all of the soldiers lost in the war last year. And particularly for me, as I remembered Pnina Gershoni’s son Noam who was so badly wounded and is only now able to live on his own—also Avi Faintoch’s nephew Alon who was killed. So many people in mourning, and in particular pain because of the political situation now, but more on that another time.

This memorial was attended by several schools, veterans, and Ra’anana citizens, and held outside at a memorial in the city center. We had the sirens again, and laid several wreaths and bunches of flowers. For this ceremony I gave them “Yesh Kochavim” which they don’t know, because no one has set it to music here! And a setting of Psalm 23 in Hebrew. And again Hatikva.

So next is Yom Yerushalayim, for which I am dusting off “Hakotel” and “Yerushalayim” and other non-“Jerusalem of Gold” songs! (I mean, anyone can sing that!) I’ll be doing a duet with a young woman from Uruguay! It’s lovely to be “working” ceremonies again.

The language finally is easier—I am able to converse with Menachem, who manages the aparment building (well, only 3 units and his own home, but still, it is an old building!) and who speaks no English except “OK?” And I’m doing pretty well at the shops when I know what I want, and on the bus. I begin all conversations in Hebrew, and even at people’s homes shift back and forth (when there is a word I don’t know in Hebrew.) People are very nice about it. Recently I changed my official address, paid my city tax, and my water bill, at 3 different offices, and received directions from several others on the way, and managed all of it in Hebrew.

The classes are still hard, and there is a huge disconnect between what we study in class (mostly grammar) and what we need on the street. I suppose this is true for most language classes.

My new home is shaping up nicely—it is in the oldest neighborhood in Kfar Saba, in a 2-story building in a street of the same. There is a Yemenite synagogue at the end of the street, and the neighbors are nearly all Yemenite, mostly elderly. At the junction of my street and Tel Chai is an immense, ancient eucalyptus tree in the middle of the road—two massive main trunks, and a little sign that asks people please to drive around the tree!
On Friday around noon a farmer comes by with his horse and wagon, and whatever he has harvested for us that day, beets one week, onions the next, and last week watermelons!

The houses on my street are old, but my apartment has been completely redone—new kitchen, bathroom, new flooring and electric. Very very nice, and surprising to walk into from the hallway! And Menachem’s wife is an excellent cook who has fed me the most delicious food—kebabs of ground chicken and turkey, rice, tender little steaks when they barbecue, lots of vegetables, pitas, hummus and her hot relish made from equal parts garlic and hot red pepper guaranteed to ruin your breath for the day (but worth it!)

I have a long, nicely proportioned combination kitchen/sitting/dining room, a nice sized bedroom, and the “cheder katan” a little spare room that houses a daybed (for visitors, hint, hint) my music and work files, an ingenious Ikea desk that looks like a cabinet, a rocking chair and a huge TV Ronit Goldberg gave me. Now how to call for cable…?

Best of all, and what really makes my place special is the balcony—the size of a 3-car garage! I’ve started my herb garden, and am still working on a table and chairs so I can entertain and pay back some of the hospitality I have received in the last months! Israel, a new Galron bass who happens to run a plant nursery, has been thinking hard about what to put in two jardinières that I thought were huge, but are too small for most plants because of the intense sun. Last week he said “topiary ficus” but last evening at a Galron show he said “vines that grow quickly and will give you bright red flowers all summer!” Obviously that one gets my vote!

My washing machine is on the balcony (part of it is covered by a tiled roof) and I decided to “go Israeli” and not get a dryer. But the controls of the washing machine look utterly unlike anything I have ever seen, and the manual is in Hebrew! (The pictures do not help!) Once I figured out that the washing cycle is supposed to be 2 hours long (I’m not exaggerating here!) I used my dictionary to figure out the rest! And I hang the things to dry—the sun is so strong that my sheets dried in under an hour!

Thursday it was amazingly hot—I finished my laundry at 6 pm and all of it (I’m talking towels and heavy things like that) was dry at 8:30 pm!! The climate term is "sharav"--hot hot hot and windy. I have air conditioning in one room that I only put on that night for the first time, and it cooled most of the place (well it's not that big!)
But only last week Galron performed outside and froze to death, and today it was gorgeous and clear.Last Saturday night people celebrated Lag b'Omer—the break in counting the days between Passover and Shavuot, that commemorates when the epidemic finally stopped killing Rabbi Akiva’s students, and the persecution under Hadrian of Torah teachers and students, and the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Simeon ben Yochai, who is supposed to have written the Zohar, studied by Kabbalists. During this time of counting, you aren't supposed to move, or shave, or cut your hair or get married, among other things.

On Lag b'Omer you can do all those things, and have the bar mitzvah party, and people set off bonfires--the neighborhood kids comb the area for anything that will burn, every day after school. So I went out after dining at Aliza and Tzvika’s, to see what it was about. And it was amazing! Not your American, controlled, roped-off affair, but a regular Israeli untidiness that upon inspection was mostly families and community groups toasting marshmallows, kebabs, and hot dogs! But the fires—so close together, little kids lighting their own, a scary sight.

I had been warned to close up my house before going out, because the air would be so full of smoke and soot. By 10 pm, I could smell the smoke, so I closed up and put on the air conditioning again. I woke in the middle of the night, went out on the balcony, and it was as if there was a thick fog!

So life here is interesting and new. Next job—buy a car so I can get a job.

Stay in touch—I love to hear from you! I’m looking forward to seeing Gene Shifrin from TBS when he’s here soon, and the summer visitors—Dan, Susie, Stephanie and the other teachers attending Pardes, the family Federation mission, and the Young Partners from P2K!

Early April 2007

Well, it has been an eventful month—here are only a few of my impressions.

First, I LOVED seeing everyone in Columbus—what a pleasure it was to sing for services at TBS and to see so many of my dear friends from the congregation (and other congregations, too!) afterwards. And throughout the week, spending time with Koleinu singers, family members, and others of whom I have thought so often. Thanks to all of you who made special efforts to call, e-mail, and visit with me.

Then to Germany, for the tour with the Galron singers (the choir from Israel I joined, and who have been a family to me since I arrived in Israel.) I never imagined going to Germany at all, much less to sing. But I found myself in Leverkusen (on the Rhine between Cologne and Dusseldorf.) Our first performance was in a small church very close to the Musikschule and our hotel. The Musikschule is run by a young man who has made Jewish music a special study, and through the school has developed a track of study that focuses on klezmer music (mostly instrumental music of Eastern Europe, that came very close to being eradicated during the Holocaust.) The klezmer band is very, very good, featuring a beautiful young woman on violin and a man who plays clarinet, and a very young woman who plays amazing strummy guitar and can make it sound like a balalaika! None of them Jewish, but all of them with the Jewish “soul” like mine! Lovely music performed well, and with style.

Then we took the stage, and did about half of our program, only about an hour. [Background for those of you just joining us: Galron performs without holding music, so I had 2 months—8 rehearsals—to learn the alto parts of 28 songs, all but one in Hebrew, all with some sort of choreography (not complicated, but I still needed to know where to be!) I ended up learning about 75%, and faked the rest. I felt pretty good by the end.] The one song in English was one in which I had the main solo—fun!

The audience was very enthusiastic, clapped along when they were supposed to, and enjoyed it very much. So—first one down!

We performed at the main synagogue in Dusseldorf, and at the cultural center in Wiesbaden, each performance getting better. Between these performances, though was one that I want you to know about.

We traveled to Duisburg, and after an afternoon on a boat touring the largest man-made river-based shipping harbor (in the world? Or in Europe? I don’t know!) We walked up the river to the synagogue. I noticed the razor wire and the enclosed guard booth first. OK. But after, I noticed, close to the river, a brick building—actually the remains of a stairwell, going up 3 stories, with doors and windows bricked up and a tree growing at the very top. Unusual.

Beside this structure was something else—a one-story half building, open on all sides, with some pillars supporting two peaked parts of the roof. More unusual.

Inside the new synagogue the architecture was very modern, disjointed—odd. To get to our dressing rooms we went up stairs, then across a wooden walkway, artistic, OK. But when I walked across it a second time, quickly, and alone, I felt it quiver, then shake. Unnerving.

On the wall of the 2nd floor hallway, between the doorways, were photos. Leftmost was a photo of the Great Synagogue of Duisburg, an interior shot of the bima (place central to the services, and where the Torahs are kept.) Very grand and beautiful, in a 19th century style.

The next photo was an exterior shot of the building, with the dome, an impressive, massive building.

The next photo was a shot of the dome, as it was burning, on Kristallnacht.

(If you don’t know about Kristallnacht, please stop reading this email now and Google it. It will be one of the most important searches you have ever made, and far more important than anything I could write.)

From our dressing room window I could see another stairwell out in the park. And other ruins recognizable from the photos. My mind got going.

This new synagogue was built, with great courage, on the ruins of the old. And as I spent the evening in it, between performing and dressing and leaving, I realized that the new synagogue was also a warning to the people who entered it: Never forget that the potential for evil and danger to us is always present, anywhere.

And yet, as I left the building with my group, off to have some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten (never yet having been to Italy!) I also realized that the synagogue in the ruins is also testimony to the Jewish ability to look to and learn from the past, live in the present, and let the future bring what it may. This is one of the reasons we continue to survive, wherever we are.

I found the Holocaust to hang in the air of Germany. Undiscussed, unacknowledged, but when Jews are present, it is present too. Galron has performed there four times in about 12 years, and one of the veterans told me a story of their first visit. During the last dinner with the planners and the choir, the night before they returned to Israel, the director of the Musikschule, feeling expansive, asked who in the room had family members who were killed in the Holocaust—12 of the 16 choir members raised their hands, and poor Jurgen was shocked, then overcome. He did not understand (who does?)

But nearly my whole family is German, and there were a lot of things I learned about them while I was there—that gave me a context to understand some homey, tiny details I never knew I noticed. One of the waitresses laughed one morning during the excellent breakfast, and my heart caught—somehow my Grandma McGee Fuhrman Ayers was right there in the room with me! When I told the woman about it we wept together. And laughed!

So now I have returned to my new life—and it is finally “home.” Having returned on a Saturday, everything was closed, but I happen to know the only grocery that is in fact open on Shabbat, so I walked there and got my eggs, hummus, Bulgarian cheese, and cabbage for my salad. And walked home among the palm trees, 3-foot-tall snapdragons (seriously!) and counted my blessings yet again.

Next (and soon): My new apartment, what a great country this is, and “people who need people.”

Chag sameach, happy Easter to some of you, happy, safe, healthy, and kosher Pesach to the rest! Photos of Germany soon!

February 2007

“Days in the Life…”

Shalom and greetings from once-sunny-and-lovely, now dark-and-cold Ra’anana Israel! Actually, I think the initial period of cold was more an effect of my mind than the actual temperature, but the hot water bottles (2 of them, covered in Kelly-green felt—very British!) sure made a difference! And we need the rain, though level of the Kineret (Sea of Galilee) has not benefited as much as we would like.

My life has settled into a routine of class, study, homework, learning the music, words and choreography (now don’t laugh at THAT mental picture!) of the music for the Galron choir tour of Germany, and now the music for a second choir I joined, mostly because the music is easy, and I have a chance to work with Jeanne Rabin, a consummate performer, and talented choir director. She has taken this disparate group of novice singers and in 3 months has turned them into a choir on par with Koleinu! So I will learn a lot from her, and she and I have become friends.

Last week I had to go to Jaffo (southern Tel Aviv—yes the ancient port city!) to open my “tik” file at Israeli Customs, because the ship on which my stuff is traveling will come in soon. (My sister Pat and I had a laugh about the reference to “someday, my ship will….!”) Everybody told me “take ALL of your documents, with copies. Take a snack. Take a book. Expect to spend all day, and to be sent from office to office.” OK, so I loaded myself up, caught the 502 bus to Tel Aviv, found the 46 to Jaffo, found the office immediately. Walked in—the place was deserted, except for one very pleasant clerk, who invited me to sit, took passport and ID book, stamped my immigration book, typed into the computer, then looked up, smiled, and said, “OK you are finished!”

“What?” “No, it’s in the computer—we’re finished!” “Em…well, thanks!” And to myself: “wait! What about my snack? Time to study my music?” So off I went on a gorgeous sunny day, to explore this very old place. I sat in a park at the top of the hill that overlooks the ancient port on the Mediterranean and thought of all of the thousands of years of people that lived on the shores, fished the sea, and sailed it in search of commerce and conquest. Explored the amazing flea market—street after street of everything you could possibly think of, from rugs to hookahs, modern kettles to commercial deep fryers, cheap jewelry to old, old silver menorahs and other truly unbelievable Judaica and Islamic artifacts. Coffee stalls, and juice stands, and wonderful little pastries!

(And I made it back again, too!) All by myself! My Israeli friends are divided between “Kol haKavod!” (well done!) and “So do you want a medal or something?” Any time I get on the right bus going the right way without the bus driver yelling at me because I’m slow and tentative; any time I get off the bus and actually walk the correct direction and find my destination right away; any time I transact my business, do a little sight seeing and make it home without incident—I want a medal!

“What Price Your Homeland?”

I could write about a lot of experiences, but one is really standing out to me, both because it affects every single person here, and because of the situation of our troops in Iraq and their families and friends.

Israel’s war during last summer was a terrible thing for this tiny country, this remnant of a people hanging on to this land with everything they have, against the feeling of the entire world. Every person I have talked to was ravaged in some way by the war. Someone close to them was wounded, or killed. The memorial services are still going on—several per week! The Galron choir will perform for one of them next week, in Kfar Saba. Memorial songs are still being written and performed for huge gatherings of mourners. These soldiers, as tragic as their losses are, will never be forgotten, not for a moment, not by one person who knew them or knew of them. We average Americans have no idea what this is like!

As I have listened to the ceremonies, learned the identities of these beautiful, brave young people, looked at memorial websites and done my best to sign the guestbooks in Hebrew, I have been shocked by the realization that the American people have not taken the casualties of the Iraq debacle into their hearts, or minds. American soldiers go, are wounded or die, and are sat with in hospitals and nursing homes, or mourned by a tiny fraction of those who should remember who they were and what were their sacrifices for the American people. In the end, although it is a government that condemns their soldiers to serve and die, whatever the “reason” offered to the public, the soldiers serve us, the people. But we don’t know them, and if we catch a story about them on the evening news, we shake our heads and forget them almost immediately.

The Israeli people know their soldiers, and understand their sacrifices, only too well. These people have suffered, in living memory—they remember the suffering, and the pain this land has absorbed since the state of Israel was established. The suffering continues, and the absorption of pain continues—and the Israeli people show at once a depth I have never known in any others, and an optimism that befits a people who have experienced miracles, big and small.

I want to know these people, to work and live among them, to learn to feel deeply and believe in miracles, to find a way to fit in and serve—these are some of the reasons I am here.

January 2007

So I need to remind myself never to go more than one Shabbat without writing! I’ve had so many experiences, all extremely interesting and many quite foreign to me: a day of touring the Galil valley and the Kineret (Sea of Galilee), erev Shabbat dinner in the home of a Druze family, celebrating their holiday of Chag HaKorban (Day of Sacrifice—only the Druze religion is a secret one, so I never found out the significance of the day. It is also celebrated in Islam as an Eid, but apparently for a different reason.)

Also, learning about the migration and living habits of cormorants (as thousands of them perched and swooped among the trees around and above us. They are quite large birds, and manage to sit quite easily on what appear to be small branches!) This last was with Galron alto Pnina Gershoni and her husband. Their son Noam, who was injured so terribly this summer, was finally released from hospital and is back in his own apartment, though attending physical therapy every day. It is a miracle that he survived and has recovered to the extent he has, so far. But people come from all over the world to Israel’s trauma centers because they are the most advanced in the world (sadly because they have had to be.)

Another lovely Shabbat dinner with Aliza and Tzvika Regev, a wonderful luncheon party with some Galron singers and spouses at Ronit and Razy Goldbergs’s house, and a memorable weekday dinner with Shuka Pinsberg and his wife Ronit. Ronit Pinsberg grew up on a moshav (farm) and is yet another amazing cook! Simple dishes, perfectly cooked, with the best vegetables—one little gem after another. She was disturbed at the thought of me cooking for myself, and sent me home with leftovers from the dinner, soup, grilled chicken breasts, potatoes, avocados, oranges, and sweets. Truly overwhelming hospitality everywhere I go.

But even with the steady and inventive attention from my friends and their friends, and all of your many emails, which I just love getting, some of this experience has been hard.
I am the proverbial “stranger in a strange land.”

My Hebrew improves slowly—even writing and reading as well as I do, to live and get around, you gotta read the signs, and the bank statements, and the phone bills! Translating or just getting the idea of names and contents of shops, signs inside government buildings, and the forms there, and labels in the grocery store (I only buy things that have the picture of their contents on the outside! Fortunately the goat cheese has a goat on it, etc.) And a typical day includes the language classes, entirely in Hebrew, so constantly I am lost just in the homework directions, for example. And up and down four (4—arbah!) flights of stairs 5, 6, 7 times a day!

So one day I was listening to an amazing CD—drummer/singer Shlomo Gronich and the Sheba Choir, made up of Ethiopian children who have made aliyah with their families (sometimes, without) and they sang the African American spiritual “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home, a long way from home.” And I had another of those “what was I thinking?” moments!

And then the phone rang, and it was someone who had heard about me and knew I sing, and did I want to sing with their group on Tuesday nights? “It’s a new group and we’d love to have you!” This is a group that is made up of members of a Reform synagogue in Rosh HaAyin (east of Tel Aviv) but they don’t sing for services (OK—that is weird to me and I will tell you more after I attend services there tonight.) So I said yes, and they picked me up, and I sang with them. Everyone is amazed at how quickly I pick up their music—but I have had to sight read and learn quickly for a long time—good practice!

A “long way from home” but no longer that lonely child.

This week I cooked a dinner for a party my flatmate and I had, to send off one of her best friends who leaves the merkaz next week—somehow with 2 saucepans and one sauté pan, I made a feast (kosher dairy, no less!) of brushetta, risotto with veg. broth from scratch, and the four of us ate nearly everything. New local strawberries with cream for dessert…But cooking for me means being home, so the circle is complete!

So, to Galron (the Koleiniks want to know this!) Finally last Sunday (after 2 rehearsals in which I was overwhelmed and seriously thinking I wouldn’t succeed) we rehearsed only with Gali (she is a firecracker of a gorgeous young woman who choreographs our songs for performance. She also is gentle and encouraging and knew I was really stretching. Somehow with her guidance, I managed to sway, step and sing through 3 hours worth of repertoire. I had all the notes (remember, the alto!) and most of the words at least of what we rehearsed that evening! So I certainly feel better about that!

Because of Aliza and my Galron family my life is so much better than it might have been! I don’t have a car, so people have to shlep me everywhere (when I can’t walk, which I still love to do!) And because I have been here before, I know just enough people to be greeted wherever I go—as if people are waiting for me. It’s the most amazing feeling.

One special experience was attending the Kfar Saba Partnership 2000 Steering Committee meeting—the counterpart to the committee I worked with in Columbus! Aliza drove, and we met at the Chatzav Veteran Art Center (Koleiniks will remember that special place where physically and psychologically wounded soldiers come for art therapy, and prove the magic of the human drive for creativity!) And there were Ilan Jarus, Shai Felber, and Janine Gelley! It was a great pleasure to chat with them and to open the meeting (at Aliza’s insistence, really!) singing “Mi HaIsh” (yes, Aliza on soprano, and me doing my best on alto!) And then to hear the reports about the P2K projects for which I voted funding as a member of the Federation’s Allocation Committee.

Incidentally, here in Israel, if you say you sing, you’d better be prepared to do so! I have given command performances in the language classes (the music teacher was late, and the other class took forever to file into the classroom,) and my teacher said, “Seendy, sing!” So I sang “Tzena, Tzena” and she sang along and clapped, and then started “Kol HaOlam Kulo” which I took up, and she and I at least had a grand old time! Sadly, only one or two of the other students knew them…it is nice to know that the kids at TBS do!

Another time we were “talking”—at the beginning of class, about ourselves and what we do, in Hebrew. I had my Ipod shuffle (thanks, Isaac!) and the teacher asked what I was listening to, and when I said “Sasha Argov” (one of the great Israeli composers/lyricists) she asked what was my favorite song, and then made me sing it! So this week when we learned “moom-cheh” the Hebrew for “expert” she said as a fill-in-the-blank, “Seendy moom-chah b’_______” and the class, in one voice, answered “singing!” I think that bodes well for my future!

And all of my friends, Israeli, Danish, French, Columbian, Uruguayan, etc, etc, have the best time laughing at me, as I prove that I read well, write eloquently, sing passably in Hebrew, and completely fall apart when I have to speak! I am assured that “it will come—how long have you been here, 3-4 months?” and when I say, well, 3 weeks, they laugh even more and tell me that I must have “sahv-lah-noot”—patience!

Well, I cannot tell you everything—who has time to read all of this? But all of you are on my mind, and every day there is something that makes me think of you and how I wish you or your kids could see it with me.

Yallah, yallah—yes, I am new here, and still “high.” But I am always new, right?

End of December 2006

I'm sitting in a café, watching the skies clear (after 2 days of torrential rain here, and snow in Jerusalem and the mountains!) and the people passing. I have completed my first week, and it has been fascinating, fun, scary, COLD, and exactly what I had in mind when I undertook this adventure.

People here are extremely welcoming to new olim, and I have had interesting discussions with so many. Yesterday I was talking to a man who sold me two small table lamps—he said "oh, but it is your first week—you are still a tourist!" And yes, he's right in a way. But as a tourist I never had to light the boiler for 20-30 minutes before I could take a shower! Or open the gas valve before lighting the burner to make some soup. Or squeegee off the bathroom floor because there's no tub or shower stall, just the sink and shower and a floor drain!

And tourists have some sort of heating system! We have a sort of wall heater that we plug in and it cycles on and off, but doesn't make a dent in the freezing air. (I have thought often of the blankets and quilts coming over in my lift!) My flatmate and I each bought (get ready for this!) hot water bottles! Certainly low tech, but quite effective, and a cheap way to thaw one's feet. But I can imagine that this building stays pretty cool in the summer, and I suspect that one summer will make me very happy to be cool in the winter.

No, I don't feel like a tourist! I am starting to be able to get around on the bus—to the nearby towns of Kfar Saba and Hod HaSharon. Next week I must go to Tel Aviv to submit my college diplomas to be validated by the government. They want grade transcripts, but I don't have them, and I don't think 30-year-old transcripts will mean much anyway!

So I will go without them and deal with it anyway. (A tourist wouldn't do that either!)
This week was spent mostly in going from one government office to another. Three of us went with a volunteer who shepherded us through the tasks of getting our identity cards and opening bank accounts, etc. Monday I had an appointment at an office in Kfar Saba—they simply said, take the number 29 bus, and ask the driver to let you off at the "misrad klita"—so I did. Only he told me to get off at the wrong place, and then I had to figure out where I was, and where I had to go, and then get there! I did it, I'm happy to say, and only one hour late—I talked my way in, and by the time I left, the official was shaking my hand and wishing me luck!

Friday night I went to Aliza Regev's home for dinner, and met her husband and two of her sons—a truly lovely evening. Those of you who think I am a good cook…I'm not, compared to Aliza! We started with pumpkin soup with almonds, then had bourre (fish) in a spicy pepper sauce, with salads of roasted sweet red peppers, roasted eggplant and mushrooms in a savory sauce. Then she brought in chicken baked with a confit of sweet onions, a huge green salad, and perfect little latkes! Everything hot and perfectly seasoned. Memorable, memorable. It will be a long time before I summon the courage to cook for her! (Or indeed have pots and pans!)
Saturday evening I went with Aliza and Pnina Gershoni to a concert celebrating another choir's 20-year anniversary. The first half of the program was the choir (not up to Galron, but who is?) and the second was this amazing, gorgeous little man, 70+ years old, with the sweetest, strongest tenor/baritone voice. He opened with the a capella song about the flute in the desert by Sasha Argov—beautiful!

Actually, "yoffe" as we say here! Just a huge amount of energy and showmanship—he played guitar, and led us in singing some traditional Israeli songs (I knew several, and could hum along or harmonize with the rest.) He mimed, he danced, told jokes. We left the theater at midnight—I should have so much energy at that age!

Sunday evening, Shuka Pinchas (Galron tenor) picked me up at the merkaz klita (absorption center) (Shuka lives in Ra'anana) for my first rehearsal with the Galron choir. It was wonderful to see all my friends (and several singers new to the group.) I was adopted right away, and had the phone numbers of 10 people in my book before rehearsal started! And then the rehearsal—everything in Hebrew! We are preparing for a tour of Germany, and I was told I have to sing alto—ALTO! Most of the songs are familiar to me, but I always sang along to the CD on the soprano line! And the music in Hebrew, too! This will be a huge challenge, but imagine the accomplishment! (Oh, and when we get back I go back to soprano and have to learn it all over again—not to mention the choreography!!)

Today I started the ulpan (language) classes—in level Bet middle (sort of low intermediate) where I will have to work very hard. We have a workbook, and are doing a lot of reading to ourselves and in the group, then answering questions verbally and in writing. I'm glad to have started, and will be gladder after a week or two and I figure out what I'm doing.
Tomorrow I go with Ronit Goldberg (Galron sop.) and her husband to Kineret ("Sea of Galilee")—on the way we will tour the Galil (the valley)—finally I get to see something!And Saturday Pnina Gershoni (Galron alto) and her husband will take me to a nature preserve and to a Druze village for shopping.

My flatmate is very nice, and from Sweden. She has been in the flat for a month, and did some modest but meaningful decorating—the place would have been very bare indeed (and I think quite depressing) without her efforts. (When Shuka showed up at my door, he was shocked to think of me there—it's more of a barracks than a "home." But it is my home for now, and I'm content. There are lots of families here—I cannot imagine making this move with an infant or toddler. But most of these people are coming from places where life is or has become extremely difficult for Jews. This is especially true in South America and France. So the merkaz is a lively place filled with the cacophony of many people trying to communicate in languages not their own, of kids blowing off steam in the sheltered courtyards, of new friends calling to each other.

A friend from Chile has a roommate who was the organist for his synagogue in Argentina! So we all got out our laptops and started sharing music—so interesting to hear trends in Jewish music from all over the place. Since I have made a study of traditional Israeli music that is not generally known outside here, I'm able to expose them to lots that they have never heard before. I think it gives us all a sense of the culture of the people we have joined. And I have borrowed CDs from Galron friends, to learn even more. Am making a particular study of Ehud Manor…