Sheleg Al Iri-Snow on My Town

I watched the news on TV and internet, and when I knew it was snowing in Jerusalem and the North, I grabbed my keys and my camera, hopped in the car, and went there! Drove through pelting rain, hail, fierce winds, up into the mountains, absolutely SURE that I wouldn't see any snow. But as I rounded the last curve to Ein Kerem, I could see white!

But I wanted to see it on the Old City, so into town I went. The snow had been about 4 inches thick, but by the time I got there was turning to heavy slush. Messy, and the roads were bad even by Columbus standards, but I made it, and on the way caught a few pictures. Made my way to the Goldman Promenade, to see what I could of the old city and the mosques.

I'm generally a bad photographer, but I have some good software, and I think the results were pretty good!

Shabbat shalom!

Things are progressing at Beit Daniel. I am now singing parts of every Friday evening service, and attending Saturday morning and Musaf services regularly, learning the "flow" of the services.

It has been a little frustrating, because I have had trouble connecting with the rabbi about my services, and I like to KNOW what I am doing (even though I seldom do!)

I had been trying to confirm my next solo service, unsuccessfully for 2 weeks. And last week I still had not heard from them, but I dressed and put on a good attitude and went for the choir "audition" for the rabbi and cantor. For the service itself, I was prepared to do MiChamocha and Hashkiveinu (a new one I have been working on for weeks.) But I didn't know if they wanted me to do them or what!

I have this vision of myself at that person--the one nobody really wants but who nobody has the guts to tell them. But still I go.

The choir was good, rabbi and cantor very happy. After, I talked to the rabbi--he hadn't received any of my messages!!! He asked me to be patient and that we would continue to do parts of the service for a while--so OK!! Then I talked to the cantor about the service later that evening, he said my choices were fine, and that I should be prepared to step in because he was sick! I said, "sure!!" (But you simply cannot imagine how terrified I became at that moment!)

But the cantor did fine, the old performance adrenalin that has served me so well served him too! So at the appropriate time I went up and did the one Nick and I did the whole last year I was at TBS. I did it the other service, too, and it was new, but people got it by the end. But that was months ago, and I didn't know if they would sing. But they did!! And smiled, and then I chazzaned the last part of MiCham. and went into the new Hashkiveinu...they loved that too! I got ready to go back to my seat, but the cantor said, "Hey--do VeShamru, too!" So I said "sure!," and everybody had a chuckle, we sang, and then I was done! Whew...

After the service, lots of strokes. I guess I really am on the team. I really can't express how terrifying this is. All the people from my past who told me I couldn't do the things I wanted to do are still in my head. The fact that I converted, that I don't know anything, that I have no business even trying this...it's all there, never goes away. I know there is no "lightening bolt" but still I wait for it!

This morning I arrived a little late, walked into the sanctuary, and the rabbi and cantor were talking with a guy who had his back to me. I greeted people, then went to my usual seat. The guy came to sit behind me--it was Doug Cotler! For those who don't know him, he is a soloist at a big synagogue in California, a prolific composer of beautiful Jewish music, such as "Listen" and "Standing on the Shoulders" and many more. I performed with him (with the choir) when he came to Temple Beth Shalom a number of years ago. So I stood up and said, "Doug?" and we started talking. His congregation is here on a trip, and there they were to see a Reform service here.

He taught the congregation "Amar Rabbi Akiva" which I haven't sung in too long. ( I will use it as an opening song sometime soon!) I had the second aliyah, and Doug's whole group came up to do the next! All in all it was a lovely morning, and I talked to everyone during the kiddush, met the rabbi, posed for pictures (feeling a little like Forrest Gump!)

I had a taste of what it will be like at Beit Daniel--a "mecca" for Reform congregations from the US and the rest of the world. Who knows who else I will see?

Festival Sovev Kineret

Several weeks ago I went, with Pnina Gershoni, to a festival of Israeli music held at the bottom tip of the Kineret (Sea of Galilee.) Attendance was open only to members of Mila, the Israeli society of choirs, choral groups, and a professional organization for conductors. I had been hearing about festivals like this one, but had no idea what it would be like. For about $250 we got 2 nights at a very nice kibbutz guest house, breakfast and dinner for 2 days, and entrance to the festival events. The first night we were treated to a concert by HaKol Over Chabibi, an amazing singing group backed by an incredibly talented band that could have stood on its own. Before the concert we found Aliza, and a whisper went through the crowd "There's sachlab!!" and a general rush to get some. It's a thinnish hot pudding made from milk and powdered vanilla orchid root. Sprinkle the top with grated coconut and chopped peanuts, and eat with a spoon. It was good, but I'll have to have more to understand why everyone was so excited!

The next day there were sessions where different choirs performed (all "amateurs" performing Israeli music arranged by their conductors.) Some ok, some not so much. You could see the influence the conductor had over the quality of the singing and the arrangements. (Pnina, Aliza and I thought Galron should have been there--we would have blown them all away!) (If we do say so ourselves!)

A presentation about Rachel Shapiro and Leah Goldberg (2 extremely prolific poets whose work has become the "Israeli songbook") featuring Dafna Zahavi (David's daughter) and Gabi Argov (Sasha's daughter-in-law and pianist for Koleinu when we were here) and another concert in the evening.

Basically it was an intensive 2 days of music! I knew about 30% of the songs, had at least heard another 30%--not bad for a newcomer, I think!

After the fest Pnina and I, Aliza and her husband Tzvika, and Avi Faintoch (Director of Mila and of Galron) and his daughter Gal had a little tour on the way home. First we climbed and climbed this huge mountain, bare of trees, until we got to the top--Kochav HaYarden, the ruins of a Crusader fortress with a view of the whole valley, clear across to Jordan! It's a national park, where they run a bird sanctuary especially devoted to griffin vultures. I got a very good picture of a pair.

Then to Beit Shean, a settlement first occupied in the 5th millenium B.C.E. Later it was a seat of government for the Egyptians, and was where the bodies of Saul and his sons were displayed after the battle at Mt. Gilboa. Throughout the centuries it was conquered and destroyed by invaders. Its citizens changed with the ages, too, going from Jewish to Egyptian, Assyrian and back to Jewish. When the Romans took over, pagans, Jews, and Samaritans lived together, and great public buildings went up, including an immense amphitheater. The whole place was mostly destroyed by a huge earthquake in 749 C.E.

They have been excavating since the 1920s--it truly is an amazing place.

Then lunch in an Arab village near Mt. Tabor--at least 20 different salads, wonderful breads, a leg of veal that had been boned and then stuffed with savory rice; a pie stuffed with kabobs and vegetables; thin, tiny lamb chops; the best falafel I have had yet. Needless to say I didn't need dinner that night!

My Other Favorite Subject

Music and food...my favorite subjects! The vegetables here are simply divine, and I have started experimenting. We eat a LOT of salad here, but we don't limit them to just lettuce. So here is a recipe I recently developed. Fennel is mostly water with vitamins and minerals, so you can eat a lot of it without guilt! And eating 5 to 7 walnuts a day reduces your risk of heart disease, increases good cholesterol and decreases the bad.

לבראות "LiVrioot"- to your health!

Yummy Fennel Salad
6-8 small servings

2 large bulbs fennel
4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons fresh zahtar (hyssop) or marjoram, or chopped parsley
3/4 cup California walnuts

(1) In a medium saucepan, heat 3 cups water to boiling. While the water heats, wash the fennel bulbs, cut off any green parts. Cut bulbs into quarters and remove the cores. Slice the fennel, and put into the boiling water for 5 minutes (no more!), then remove and drain well.

(2) While the fennel is still hot, place it in a non-reactive container, add the lemon juice and olive oil, and mix thoroughly. Add salt and pepper (don’t skimp) and the zahtar, and mix again. Can be made ahead to this point; refrigerate.

(3) Chop the walnuts very coarsely, place into a shallow skillet over medium heat, and toast, stirring very often, until nuts are crisp and golden brown. Do not leave them while toasting—they will burn very easily.

(4) Before serving, toss the toasted walnuts with the fennel, taste again and add more salt and pepper if needed. Can be served cold or at room temperature, but I always eat one serving while it is warm!