Tag Archives: Barcelona

People Find Me by Googling the Strangest Phrases. Here Are My Responses.

I figured we could all use some comic relief right about now, and this post is presented in that spirit. First, however, I have an exciting announcement: I have been informed by the manager of the Pomeranz bookstore that they will be stocking Letters to Josep: An Introduction to Judaism as of around two weeks from now. They are the most well-known English-language bookstore in Jerusalem, specializing in books of Jewish content, and I am beyond delighted to have my book on their shelves. If you are in the Jerusalem area, I hope you will support both me and them by purchasing a copy from them. They are located downtown, on Be’eri Street, between Ben Yehuda and Hillel. I intend to drop by after the stock arrives to sign some copies, too.

If you have any kind of relationship with the manager of a local bookstore, here’s what you can do to get LtJ onto their shelves: print out a copy of my press kit, or even simply the first page of it, and hand it to them. If they end up ordering some copies, let me know and I will send you a signed bookplate in thanks!

And now, today’s post.

I enjoy checking the visitor stats for this blog. I love to see what countries people are reading from. When I first started writing and my audience was smaller, I knew exactly who was reading when I got a visit from a place like Spain (hi Josep!) or Japan (hi Pamela!), but now, thank God, I tend to get enough traffic from enough interesting places that I really can’t be sure.

Google usually encrypts people’s search terms, so most of the time I have no idea what people have Googled that led them to this blog. Occasionally, though, a non-encrypted search term will appear in my stats, and… let’s just say, sometimes I prefer not to know.

Today I have decided to respond to some of these people and address the (fairly odd) questions that led them to me.

“I often wonder the jews the men smartly dressed with trilbys hats. what do they do in life beside praying.”

Well. That’s pretty much what this whole blog is for! If you find it overwhelming, I highly recommend reading my book!

“isnt delaying iftaar practise of jews? so whats strange if we find this in shias because”

Ramadan Kareem, Internet Stranger! To be accurate, Jews do not observe Ramadan and do not have iftars. (You can read more about Jewish fasting practices and how they compare to those of Islam and Christianity here.)

However, your question inspired me to do a little research, wherein I learned that there is a dispute between Sunnis and Shias concerning iftar (break-fast) time. From what I read, most Sunnis break the fast after sunset, and most Shias break it after nightfall. While it is true that Jews, too, break fasts after nightfall, Shias observe this timing of iftar not because they are secretly Jews, but because of Surah Buqarah aya 187: “eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn, then complete the fast till night.

The confusion is because on both the Hebrew and the Muslim calendar, days begin at night. But when does the night begin? Sunset? Twilight? Dusk? Nightfall? Not clear! We Jews call the period between sunset and nightfall “bein hashmashot,” literally “between the suns,” and there are all kinds of difficulties due to the uncertainty regarding exactly which day it is during that period! We try to err on the side of stringency in both directions. That’s why we fast until nightfall.

“weird things jews do”/”jews practicing weird customs”

I get this a lot. My post “15 Weird Things Jews Do” went viral last year and is, at the moment, the #2 result when I Google that phrase. Weird Jewish Customs ‘R’ Us!

“wierd thongs jews do”

That, my friend, is an entirely different question.

“religious people are right about sex”

Well, I am flattered that you think so. I wouldn’t put it quite so boldly, but I tend to agree with you, as evidenced by this post.

“pizza manu carp meem domenoz”

I…. am so sorry. I have no idea what language that is, and I certainly have no idea how you managed to stumble across my blog while Googling it. I do love pizza, though, so there’s that.

“do breslev kallah cover their hair straight after the chuppah”

Huh. No idea. I know that some Sephardic brides do, but Breslev is a sect of Hassidism originating in Ashkenaz, so I would guess that they don’t. In any case, it wouldn’t be straight after the chuppah, it would be after the yichud room. (If you don’t understand half the words in those last two sentences, see Different Kinds of Jews, Part I, and Part II, and my “Jewish Weddings” post.)

“what is the halakhic definition of a jew?”

Excellent question! Someone who was born to a halakhically Jewish mother, or who converted to Judaism according to Jewish law. More details here.

“stay with me versionada al català”

Em sap greu. I have literally no idea how or why Google directed you to me! The extent of my Catalan is a few key phrases/greetings and a couple random food words like el poncem and la remolatxa. (Don’t even ask.) (Okay, you can ask. El poncem because it’s a fruit used in an odd Jewish ritual during Succotla remolatxa because, as explained in the footnote on Passover Part II: “I served a Moroccan beet salad to Josep when he was here for Shabbat, and he asked me what it was, but we did not have a common language in which we both knew the word for this vegetable. After Shabbat I Googled it, and now I’ll never forget. (When I clarified, he was like, ‘Not something I eat every day!’ Was that a polite way to tell me he hated it? I decided not to press the issue.)”)

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes: “Stay with Me.” I can see why you wanted a translation; it’s a catchy and poignant song. Unfortunately the lyrics aren’t much to write home about. You should definitely write a better version in Catalan.

“caganer equivalent in judaism”

Listen… I’ll be the first to admit that Jews have some pretty odd practices. (See: “Weird Things Jews Do” above.) But Catalans and their crazy Christmas traditions are a whole different class of weird.

We have no such equivalent. Sorry to disappoint you. But Josep and I always get excited about anyone drawing any connection, however vague it may be, between Judaism/Israel and Catalonia, so thanks for the thought.

“catalan jew never invite”

I know, right? I have also been disappointed by this lack of hospitality on the part of Catalan Jews. So has Josep, who was not allowed to enter the synagogue in Barcelona because he is not Jewish. Uncool, Catalan Jews. (In their defense, their spurning of Josep was because of the tight security, which is meant to keep Jews safe from antisemites. Of course, if they had bothered to talk to him for more than 30 seconds, they would have realized that they had something entirely different on their hands.)

“jewish therapy barcelona”

Yes, Barcelona is most definitely in need of some Jewish therapy.

“yiddish nachas, vol. 2”

If you are my mother, I believe you have arrived at the correct destination.

(“Yiddishe nachas” generally refers to the feeling of pride and satisfaction a Jewish parent feels about their children being good Jews. More about “nachas” here.)

“tomb of the paper manufacturer max krause in the jerusalem cemetery in berlin”

I…. literally have no idea what this is about. And I have no idea how Google decided that my blog had anything to do with it. Sorry.

“letters as to why shabbat is important”

I’ve got one! Here it is.

“danniella levy shaving”

Regretfully, I’ve been growing out my beard for years. Can’t help you there.

“download video seks daniela levy”


“foto danniella levy”

That you can have. It’s on the “about” page of the blog. But I have a feeling you may be disappointed. In light of this line of inquiry on the part of Random Internet Strangers such as yourself, it has come to my attention that there’s a porn star who shares my name, and, well. Nope. Juuuuust nope.

Gonna file that one under “Things I Wish I Never Knew About the Universe.”

“the sanctity of shabbos: a comprehensive guide to forbidden activities which one may ask a gentile to do on the sabbath or yom tov”

Actually, it’s a debate as to whether or not it is permissible to ask a gentile to do anything forbidden on the Sabbath or Yom Tov. Most agree that ideally, you should not do so, even though you may benefit from the actions of a non-Jew on Shabbat (say, if you are sharing a room with a non-Jewish roommate and she turns off the light so she can sleep). But if it’s really necessary for your well-being during Shabbat, you can hint to a non-Jew that you need something done for you (for instance, if the light is on in your room and you catch a random non-Jew in the hallway and say something like, “The light in my room is extremely bright, don’t you think? Very hard to sleep with it on, I imagine”).

This is not a comprehensive guide, of course. I hope you found one.

“i asked for forgiveness to anyone gmar katima tova”

Oh. I am glad to hear that. Gmar Chatima Tova to you as well.

“what is the special dietary needs that must be considered for the juwish”

Aha! Now that is a question Josep has asked me! And my answer was so complicated it was split into three letters: here, here, and here.

“i m not supporter of orthodox rutuals a letter”

Hmm. This blog is probably not what you were looking for.

“chag hakurban”

Who are you that you Googled “Eid Al-Adha” under its Hebrew name in English transliteration? You sound like my kind of person.

Well folks, if you have any other random (or non-random) questions for me, do feel free to ask!

The Sabbath Keeps the Jews–Even When It Seems Like It Doesn’t

With the big snowstorm of the season brewing as I type this, I wanted to share this piece I wrote about the crazy blizzard we had last year, which I also sent to Josep at the time. Stay warm, everybody!


Dec. 15th, 2013


As those of you who live in the Middle East know, we had some seriously crazy weather over the weekend. And this time the title “Snowpocalypse” is not nearly as ironic and silly as it was when we used it to describe the snowstorm in January. This one was the worst and coldest storm in modern Israeli history. We’re talking over half a meter of snow (about two feet) in Jerusalem, and even more in higher elevations, in Judea, Samaria and the North. Haifa got snow for the first time in 22 years. This part of the country was in total lockdown, and to make matters worse, damage from the winds caused a lot of disruptions in electricity so tens of thousands of people were without power during the coldest nights of the year. Thousands of people had to be rescued and evacuated, emergency shelters were set up, the Israel Electric Company declared a state of national emergency… total chaos.

Look like the Rocky Mountains? Nope. This was the Jerusalem Forest in 2013.
Photo credit: Dror Feitelson Pikiwiki Israel

And if that doesn’t sound bad enough, the worst of it had to be on Friday evening. We had no power for two and a half hours before Shabbat, making Shabbat preparation difficult to say the least; the power mercifully came back on very low tension juuust long enough before Shabbat for me to take a warm shower and for us to enjoy a warm and well-lit evening meal with our neighbors. Shortly after we came back upstairs to put the little one to bed, the power went out again, and stayed off for about 18 hours.

Did I mention that all our heating devices run on electricity? And that we are not allowed to light fires or turn on any electric devices (including battery-powered ones) on Shabbat–except in life-threatening situations?

If you’re wondering how cold it was, let’s just say our milk didn’t spoil even though the refrigerator was off for 36 hours.

We were okay overall, and the kids were mostly happy in several layers of clothing, though they kept waking up during the night because of the dark and cold and forcing us to climb out from under all our blankets to calm them. I was the most miserable of all of us. What can I do, I am used to Shabbat being about festivity and warm food and good company and good cheer. All four were significantly missing during the day as we struggled to stay warm and keep the kids from going crazy. We were supposed to have a guest over for lunch but she understandably stayed under her blankets. Eitan delivered some food to her when we finished eating, for which she was very grateful.

We didn’t even get to play in the measly inch or so of snow we got out here by the desert because we had no way to get warm afterwards!

Concerning the commandment to keep the Sabbath, God said, “Between Me and the People of Israel it shall be an eternal sign” (Exodus 31:17). Lighting the candles to signify the beginning of Shabbat always gives me the sense of “handing it all over to him”, knowing that now He is taking over, I have no more control, and I am keeping Shabbat as a sign of my love for Him and trust in Him. This Friday I was strongly reminded of the sense of extreme vulnerability–and helpless sort of hope–that I felt when I lit the candles through the cracked open, chained door to the balcony in the youth hostel in Barcelona seven years ago. The same sense of “Well, I have no idea how this is going to turn out, but God, I’m just going to have to trust You”. The electricity was still on at the time but we knew it might turn off any moment, and I just felt so grateful to have my shower and warm food waiting for us. Tears welled in my eyes as I watched the snow flutter down outside the window where our candles glowed. My four-year-old asked me what I was doing. I said I was watching the snow. He asked why. I said, “Because it’s beautiful.” I put my arm around him said, “You know… Hashem is always telling us that He loves us. He tells us all the time, by constantly giving to us. Keeping Shabbat is our way of telling Him that we love Him back.”

On the list of Most Challenging Shabbatot Ever, this one definitely outranks the one in Barcelona (for goodness’ sake, maybe I was hungry and upset, but at least I was warm, there was Ben & Jerry’s involved, and I didn’t have screaming kids to deal with!). I spent most of the time without power being cold, desperate and miserable. You know what? Being a Jew is hard. It means being totally committed to an intense and sometimes very demanding relationship with Someone whose communication with you is often very hard to interpret or even notice, and who very often doesn’t answer your requests in the way you would like or ultimately think is “right”. But at the end of the day, I know that it is worth it. I know that He knows what He is doing better than I do. And I know He’s really looking out for me, and giving me what I need–just enough pain and suffering for me to learn and grow, and more nurturing and abundance and goodness than I sometimes know what to do with. I don’t always get it, and sometimes I get angry, but as with all the relationships I’ve been reflecting on in the last couple of years, I’m learning that anger and disappointment are inherent and indispensable parts of a deep and meaningful relationship with someone, and not only do they not destroy everything, sometimes they can even have constructive power.

There is an old saying that more than the Jews keep the Sabbath, the Sabbath keeps the Jews. I used to understand this to mean that the magical atmosphere and time to focus on what’s important–our relationships with God, our families and our friends–is what gave us strength to face each difficult week throughout the centuries. But I think it is more than that. Some Shabbatot are neither magical nor joyous. Some mitzvot (commandments) are very hard to follow. Ultimately, our willingness to stay committed despite how difficult it is can bring us closer to Him, and Him closer to us. It is an eternal sign between us. Most times, it is a bed of petals. Occasionally, it is a bed of thorns. Ultimately, it is all roses.

And Now for Something a Little Different…

On Christmas of 2006, Josep sent me the following video to educate me on Christmas traditions in Catalonia, with the following comment: “At least it’s funny!”

All I could say was, “And you thought JEWS were weird. o.O ”

To all my Christian readers, a very merry Christmas, and to the Catalans: may el Caga-tió, erm, excrete in your favor.

(I challenge you to tell us about an even stranger holiday tradition in the comments.)

How It All Began, or: An American-Israeli Jew and a Catalan Christian Walk into a Bar…

Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. October, 2006. I stepped out of the airport shuttle at Plaça de Catalunya and looked around to get my bearings, dragging a wheeled suitcase behind me. This was not my first trip to Europe, nor was it my first time traveling internationally without my parents; but this was my first time traveling to a foreign country completely on my own. I was 19 years old, in my second year of national service (an alternative to compulsory military service for religious women). A writer since I figured out how to hold a pen, I’d been part of an online community of teen writers for a while, and the friend who ran that community invited me to join the press team she was heading for an international youth conference in Barcelona. I was delighted to accept.

Now at this point there are a few important things you should know about me. One: I am not the “reporter” type. Shy, introspective, and quiet, I am the last person you would expect to burst into a room full of people and start interviewing somebody. Two: I am an observant Jew. That means that I adhere strictly to Jewish law in every aspect of life, from keeping kosher to abstaining from all work and “acts of creation” on the Sabbath. Before my trip, the editor-in-chief had assured me that my religious needs would be accommodated, specifically, that kosher food would be available, that our room at the youth hostel would be girls-only, and that no work would be required of me on Saturday. Still, I am not ashamed to admit that I grew up in a bubble. A warm, lovely, fulfilling bubble, but a bubble nonetheless.

In short, I was roughly 2,000 miles from my comfort zone.

One more important thing you need to know about me before we proceed is that ever since reading Naomi Ragen’s “The Ghost of Hannah Mendes” as a young teen, I have had an inexplicable obsession with the Spanish Inquisition and the concept of crypto-Judaism. I had, in fact, made friends with someone in the US who believed that she was descended from crypto-Jews. I was very involved in her exploration of Judaism and her journey to pursue her Jewish heritage. This gave traveling to Barcelona another level of meaning for me.

That first day I found my room at the hostel and as soon as I’d settled in, I headed right back out to search for the old Jewish Quarter, the “Call”. I found it and poked around the ancient synagogue, and then headed in the other direction to find the only kosher store in the city, hoping to find some options for food for the Sabbath. It was Wednesday, and I didn’t know if I’d have access to a refrigerator. I was told that the following day there were challahs and other Shabbat necessities sold, so I resolved to come back then. In the meantime, I bought a bottle of grape juice and headed back to the hostel.

The editor-in-chief and graphic designer, both from America, were waiting there for me. Towards evening, we went down to the sidewalk in front of the hostel, where we were introduced to the rest of the press team. They were all locals, some of whom had been recruited at the last minute due to budget cuts that had forced some of the other international members of the press team to cancel. When I was introduced to the group as “Daniella, from Israel”, one of these last-minute local recruitees looked at me with wide eyes.

“You are from Israel?” he asked.

I sized him up apprehensively. Europe in general is known for being hostile towards Israel, and Barcelona has at times been considered one of the most anti-Semitic cities in Europe. I had been warned not to wear anything outwardly Jewish and to keep my nationality discreet. Heart pounding a little, I answered that yes, I was.

“I was supposed to be there this summer!” he exclaimed. “The trip was canceled at the last minute. I even had the tickets…”

Well, that didn’t sound like the beginning of an anti-Israel tirade.

Relieved, I laughed and said, “Well, I can understand why you didn’t end up coming…” (The Second Lebanon War was in July of that year. You’d be surprised how many trips to Israel have ended up under the category of Canceled on Account of Rockets.)

I squinted at him questioningly. “Why… what’s your connection to Israel?” I ventured.

He answered that he was Roman Catholic but had always been fascinated with Israel and Judaism, and as the group began moving down the sidewalk, we found ourselves deep in conversation. As it turned out, he was a die-hard fan of Israel–certainly an odd bird for a secular, liberal, intellectual European–but had never actually met an Israeli before. He had also always wanted to learn about Judaism, but he had never met a real Jew before. And to seal our mutual delight at meeting one another, about fifteen minutes into the conversation, he said, “You know, my last name is considered to be a converso surname.”

This so-called Christian shall henceforth be known as Josep. (This is not his real name.)

Over the next few days, it became apparent that the Powers That Be had not, in fact, provided for my religious needs. There were no kosher meals available, and I shared the room at the hostel with about 6 girls and 2 guys. Of course, I wasn’t going to sleep on the street, so I had to make do; but when it came to food, I was stuck with raw vegetables and the crackers and instant noodle soups I had brought with me. I had tried to locate the list indicating what items at the grocery stores were kosher, but failed. I don’t remember why, but somehow I didn’t make it to the kosher store on Thursday, and on Friday morning I found myself facing an entire Sabbath–usually celebrated with two large, festive meals–with nothing but a bottle of grape juice, a loaf of so-healthy-it-tastes-like-cardboard vegan bread, and a carton of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream (imported from the USA, of course, where it is certified kosher). I went to the synagogue that evening to peddle myself off as a needy Sabbath guest; a valuable commodity in any self-respecting Jewish community. Except the one in Barcelona, apparently. I couldn’t even manage to make eye contact with anyone. I left the synagogue, defeated, to eat my ice cream.

When Josep learned of my plight, he was appalled. “There has to be a kosher restaurant somewhere,” he insisted, and went off on a crusade, if you’ll pardon the expression, to find me kosher food. He searched on Google and the Yellow Pages, and called a bunch of friends. I told him it was hopeless and that I’d done the research, but he would hear none of it. At lunch that day, while I picked at my sliced cucumbers, he asked me, “What if we went to my house and I bought kosher ingredients and cooked for you?”

I looked over at this person who had literally just offered to bring home a random girl from another country, whom he had known for a grand total of 72 hours, and cook her a meal. I shook my head. “No… all the pots and pans would have to be kosher…”

“What if I bought a new pan?”

He couldn’t be serious.

“That’s very nice of you to offer… but it’s not just the pans… it’s all the utensils and the oven and everything…”

“Is there a way to make them kosher?” he insisted.

I smiled ironically. “Uh… yeah…. but trust me, that’s not going to happen.”

“Why not? What would I need to do?”

“Just trust me. You don’t wanna know.”

“Tell me. I want to know.”

I eyed him skeptically, eyebrows raised. “You really want to know?”


I shrugged. “Okay… you asked.” Thereupon I launched into a long, rambling explanation of how one kashers a kitchen, which for the uninformed among you, is a long, painstaking, arduous process that involves a lot of scrubbing, boiling water, and otherwise heat-treating everything. The goal of this tirade was to illustrate just how crazy an idea this was, and I assumed that after a few sentences his eyes would glaze over in boredom and that would be that. As predicted, everyone else who had been listening quickly lost interest and began chatting among themselves as I rambled on. But when I glanced at him somewhere in the middle of expounding upon mugs and soapy water in the microwave, he was still watching me as though I was giving him a thrilling play-by-play of the latest Barcelona vs. Madrid soccer game. I skidded to a stop and exclaimed, “Why are you even still listening to me?”

(To this day he claims that he couldn’t do it just because it wasn’t his own kitchen, and that if and when I come back to Barcelona he will, in fact, kasher his kitchen. To this day I claim that he’s nuts.)

Ironically, it was someone else who managed to locate a restaurant that was “kosher enough”–a vegan restaurant run by a Moroccan Israeli that at least had had kosher certification up until a few months before. I figured that under the circumstances, this would be acceptable, and we all enjoyed a wonderful meal there. Josep sat next to me, and during that conversation it became clear to me that he was interested in researching his possibly Jewish heritage and learning more about my faith. We parted, promising to stay in touch. And so began an enthusiastic correspondence through which a deep friendship emerged. The combination of my passion for writing and for Judaism and such an appreciative audience resulted in my writing long, rambling e-mails explaining Jewish concepts, holidays, and traditions.

And that, dear readers, is how this blog came to be. The entries will be letters to Josep about various topics relating to Judaism and Israel. Most will be new, but some will be dug up from the dusty depths of my Gmail history. Personal details will be left out, but the nature of our friendship–which is, I think, what gives these letters their unique appeal–will be reflected in them. I hope you find them entertaining and informative.

(And for the nitpickers who are wondering about the title of this post, no, we have never actually walked into a bar. We did, however, walk into a pub on La Rambla, along with the rest of our motley ensemble of junior journalists. 10 points to whoever can come up with the funniest ending for the joke.)