Published: August 16th 2011August 13th 2011
Frisbie in our front yard
Wednesday, August 10th, marked one week that we had been in our new home. In the afternoon we met with the Goldfarb family - “Anglo-Saxons” (native English speakers) with kids at Yehuda HaLevi School which the boys will be attending. The dad’s originally from New York and the mom grew up in the U.S, Sweden and Israel. I came away feeling a little more comfortable about placing our boys in YH. About 10% of the families in YH are Anglo-Saxons, and the school, according to the Goldfarbs, does a reasonably good job at accommodating the needs of families in our situation who come for a year or longer with kids who start with minimal Hebrew. Class sizes are around 30, which is relatively small. The average is in the high 30s.
Aimee here: Actually, I felt slightly terrified after talking to the Goldfarb’s about Yehuda Halevi, and school in Israel in general. They told us that the school has kids from a wide swath of Jerusalem, including many families who are poor and less educated. Not that I’m a snob, but I feel that they are going to be in a very different cultural place from where
A: Here's the deal. You pay, I eat.
we’ve come. It’s one thing to be in Israel surrounded by people who are more less just like us, another to be surrounded by people from a very different world in all respects. The Goldfarb’s warned us to be on top of any bullying that arises, and told us how a more subtle form of bullying can happen at the school (and all Israeli schools) that can start by one kid accidentally bumping into another. Yikes!
Back to Fred: The Goldfarbs also told us about the local “composting station,” which we walked by on our way home from their place. It’s yard about 20 by 40 meters in size enclosed in a chain link fence containing a gaggle or chickens, turkeys, geese, and goats. There’s a sign posted inviting people to feed the animals – with fruit and vegetable scraps and egg shells, but no fish or meat. The boys learned the way to and from this local “farm yard” – it’s about 3 minutes walk from our apartment - and, so far, have happily ran off with our composting to feed their new four legged and feathered friends. This composting is on the boys’ “chore chart” which Aimee
I'll just have one ... of all of these
drew up for them. Under Aimee’s system the boys earn points for doing chores. Once they boys earn a specified number of points they can cash in for prizes – little plastic smurfs for Ezra, and “apps” (applications) for Adin’s DSI (video game).
Thursday, August 11th, I met for breakfast with Ilan Rubin, a long time resident of Jerusalem who immigrated to Israel from Toronto in the early 1970s. Ilan is the older brother of friend and former colleague from the Crown in Vancouver, Wendy Rubin. We had previously met for breakfast in May when Ilan was passing through Vancouver. Ilan, well connected in many areas in Jerusalem and Israel, has been kind enough to guide me with ideas and suggestions of how to spend my time here productively and meaningfully. Ilan’s first priority for our breakfast meeting – teach me how to use a basic cell phone. Which he says is essential to survive and flourish in this country. (Israel has more operating cell phones than the population of the country) What Ilan did not realize, however, is that part of the reason I’ve avoided cell phones so far, is that I’m a complete retard when it comes
The Yeshiva's in the back
to that kind of technology. A reality that was only reinforced by Ilan’s encouragement that it was all incredibly “simple.” I mean, if it’s all so simple and I can’t get it, then what does that make me? …. You’ve got it. Retarded! Hopefully I’ll do better with lesson number two when Ilan and his wife Cynthia host us for supper on Tuesday evening at their home in the Giva Tsorfateet - “French Hill” - neighourhood in Jerusalem.
Thursday afternoon we did our Shabbat shopping at Jerusalem’s massive outdoor “shuk” (market) - Mahane Yehuda. Best produce at best prices in the city. Once rough and gritty in its entirety, Mahane Yehuda is now slowly being infiltrated by a number of trendy cafes. The change became apparent to me when I went looking to buy a shwarma at one of the several famous shwarma places on Agrippas Street on the edge of the shuk, which are deservedly known as the best in the city. In the past - most recently less then two years ago - I always popped in for a shwarma when shopping in Mahane Yehuda. Now … all gone. I had to cross over to the far
Time for some healthy food
side of the street to the one remaining place in the area. Still excellent, but having to cross the street just didn’t feel the same.
Among the new places in the shuk is an establishment called “Fishen Chips” (as opposed to Fish and Chips). Where we treated the boys to what was, unexpectedly, the best fish and chips I’ve ever finished the leftovers of. Though they loved their fishen chips, the boys got most excited about the numerous candy stores in the shuk which feature a vast array of penny candy.
From the shuk we drove to the home of Esti and Yoram, my sister-in-law Neri’s cousins who live in Karmei Yosef (the “Vineyards of Joseph”) village located about half way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Though intended as a short visit to deliver a gift of high-end sport sunglasses from my brother Aron to Esti and Yoram who are extreme athletes (Esti has been written up as an elite triathlete for her age group) we ended up staying late into the evening as a result of the extreme hospitality of Esti and Yoram. The boys enjoyed their time watching Harry Potter dubbed (meduvav) in Hebrew, while the
This is really nuts
rest of us sat out on the terrace, wrapped in the silence of Karmei Yosef. All we could hear was the sounds of quietly clicking insects.
As the clock ticked towards midnight we had to drag ourselves away from Karmei Yosef, and they boys away from Harry, to get back to Jerusalem before midnight when I was scheduled to start the graveyard shift – baking challahs at a local bakery hidden in a lane behind Emek Rephaim called “Magdanit Pe’er.” “What!!!!!?????”
It began the previous Friday morning on the way back from my run with Rosie, when I popped into the bakery, which I knew from prior visits, and which Aimee had discovered when in Jerusalem 11 years ago. I immediately liked it; it’s a warm, family run place, that exudes authenticity, and without any of the slickness that characterizes some establishments on the Emek. Since it’s located in a back lane, invisible from the street, it receives absolutely no walk-in business. Only customers who know of its existence through word-of-mouth come in. … So back to last Friday - while paying for the sweet and savory pastries I had chosen from their vast selection I said to
First the kippa, then the rabbit
the co-owner, Shoshana: “I’m here for a year, have no specific plans for myself, and have this crazy idea. Back in Canada I make challah for my family every Thursday night … perhaps I could work here making challahs as well?” I assumed Shoshana would treat my crazy idea for what it was, and laugh it off as a joke. Instead, she replied that it wasn’t crazy at all and would speak to her husband Moshe, who was not in at the time. I called back later and the arrangement was made.
So at midnight last Thursday I walked over to the bakery where I joined three other employees and worked through the night until 7:30 a.m. when I walked back home exhausted, but pleased and relieved that I had made it through the night. One of the other workers told me the bakery produces 1000 challahs for each Shabbat. I couldn’t tell, but there was no doubt that four guys working full-out without a break for almost eight hours in an commercial bakery can produce a lot of challahs.
For me it was a steep learning curve. The first thing I learned was that the braided challahs
This is even better than White Spot
with three strands I’d been making for around 30 years are not true challahs. Only four stranded challahs are (or six for special occasions such as weddings). It took me a while to catch on – the middle of the night is not the optimal time to learn new things - but by around 3:00 a.m. I was braiding four stranded challahs with reasonable proficiency and speed. Though nothing by comparison to the crew leader whose fingers worked at warp speed. I didn’t time him, but I estimate he could braid a challah in about 4 or 5 seconds. Only the two of us did any braiding – the others were busy with countless other tasks. I probably braided around 50 to 75 challahs, which means my co-braider did around 925 to 950.
Braiding, however, is but one step in the challah making process and I, likewise, moved from task to task, and then back again, throughout the night. And as long as I kept moving, I didn’t feel the exhaustion. But stop for 10 seconds or more and I would start to wilt. Fortunately, there were few 10 second breaks.
I had thought that, before starting, this
This is almost as good as
would also be a good opportunity to work in a Hebrew speaking environment. The workers, however, are all Arabs whose Hebrew is limited to what they need to know to do the job. They also had a problem with dealing with the name “Fred.” After asking me several times to pronounce my name, they decided my name was “Avner” (the Hebrew version of Abner). After correcting them a few times I gave up and am now known as Avner by the night workers at Magdanit Pe’er. I’d thought about telling them my name was “Farid”, but kind of liked the idea that, at least for the Thursday night graveyard shift at Magdanit Pe’er, I had recreated myself (Thanks Yoni) as Avner.
Even though I was working with Arabs who cared nothing for Shabbat, I did feel the “kavanah” (intention or mindfulness) that I was making challot for the families of Jerusalem. And that around 50 or so families in Jerusalem said a “motsie” (blessing over bread) over challah that was created with this kavanah. Some people daven (pray) – I make challah.
I also loved the fact that I had entered inside something real, and that I belonged there. Moshe showed up at 4:00 a.m., and Shoshana at 5:00 a.m. It felt good when Shoshana stood beside me while I braided my four stranded challas and told me the crew had said I was already part of the team and not a learner. While it’s not rocket science, there is a feel for working with dough that only long experience can bring, and though I never worked in a bakery, dough is dough and, as it turns out, I know my dough.
And on top of it all, a night in the bakery was one hell of an upper body workout. Best I’ve ever had. Shlepping and kneading large globs of dough entails serious forces of nature. And the machines involved could do some serious physical damage if one is not careful, especially when fueled largely by adrenalin at 4:30 in the morning.
When I got home shortly before 8:00 a.m. everyone was still asleep. I was covered from head to foot in floor – a long and lean version of the Pillsbury Dough Man – and could have used a shower, but didn’t want to wake anyone. So I stripped down to my underwear, left my cloths in a pile by the door, and crashed on the couch for the rest of the morning. … until Adin jumped on my chest around noon. Though I moved at half speed for the rest of the day, and slept soundly that night, I felt pretty good.
Shabbat: We attended two local shuls (synagogue) over Shabbat. Friday night we attended Shira Hadasha (“new song”), an Orthodox synagogue that prides itself on pushing to the outer edge of what Halachah (Jewish Law) will permit, at least according to their interpretation. Women lead the Kabbalat Shabbat Service, which is the service welcoming Shabbat. It lasts about a half hour and contains all the best songs. The voices and melodies were beyond beautiful, to the point that I got quite emotional at times. Nevertheless we came away disappointed. Nobody said “Shabbat Shalom” to me after the service. Not one person. And not a lot of people said Shabbat Shalom to each other either. I’m told that Shira Hadasha sees itself as a friendly congregation. I guess what we experienced was an anomaly. I would like to give it another chance - if for no other reason than to hear, and participate, in the singing, and in the hopes that we’ll experience the warmth and hospitality that Shira Hadasha is apparently known for.
Saturday morning we went to the congregation of Yedidya. Though the singing wasn’t as nice, many people said Shabbat Shalom, and we chatted with a number of members, who seemed genuinely happy that we were at their shul. We’ll be back.