Tag Archives: Israel

Two Jews, Three Opinions, One Heart

Dear Josep,

I was going to post Part II of “Different Kinds of Jews,” but it felt pretty ironic to be posting specifically about our differences and bitterest conflicts on the eve of the first annual Unity Day. The day was established in memory of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Sha’ar and Naftali Frankel, who were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists on the 16th of Sivan (tonight/tomorrow’s Hebrew date) one year ago.

You and I were in touch around this time last year, and I included you on my e-mail update list, so you know about the events of last summer and how they affected me. Nonetheless, I want to write a little bit about it from the perspective of a year later.

Eyal, Gil-ad and Naftali were three teenagers who studied in the Hebron area and lived in central Israel. They were waiting at a bus stop around a 25-minute drive from here. A car stopped for them, driven by two Palestinians, terrorists affiliated with Hamas. At this point I should explain that hitchhiking is extremely common and generally considered safe in this area, as a result of the strong sense of community and the abysmal public transportation.

We now know that the teens were shot and murdered by the terrorists, and then hastily buried in a field north of Hebron. But at the time all we knew was that they were missing, and the search for them led to a wide-scale operation in Hebron and the area, leading to clashes, Palestinian casualties, and heightened tensions. The bodies of the teens were found on June 30th, 2014.

A picture of the teens posted to the social media by the IDF. "שלושת-החטופים-2014" מאת דובר צה"ל - הפליקר של דובר צה"ל: https://www.flickr.com/photos/idfonline/14433226962/. ברישיון CC BY-SA 3.0 דרך ויקיפדיה.
A picture of the teens posted to the social media by the IDF.
by the IDF by CC BY 2.0

In those 18 days, the entire country held its breath. We obsessively checked the news. Countless prayer groups were formed. I took my son to a Psalm-reading session that was organized for children. There was a very, very strong sense of unity and solidarity. 30,000 Jews gathered to pray at the Western Wall for the safe return of the teens. 75,000 people from all walks of life came to a solidarity rally and concert at Rabin Square. And when the teens’ bodies were found, the entire country fell into deep mourning. Vigils were held all over the country, lighting candles, singing sad songs.

Not only in Israel, either. This one was in Washington DC. "Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad" by Ted Eytan, under CC BY SA 2.0
Not only in Israel, either. This one was in Washington DC.
“Candlelight Vigil in Memory of Naftali, Eyal and Gilad” by Ted Eytan, under CC BY SA 2.0

Walking outside that day, it felt like Tisha B’Av, the day we mourn the destruction of the Temple (post forthcoming). You could see the sadness in every eye in the street, feel the intense despair in the air. I saw my neighbor in the stairwell that day and didn’t say a word, just touched her shoulder.

Look. As you very well know, Jews argue with each other a lot. It is one of our best and worst characteristics. Heated debate is a national pastime, especially when it comes to politics. And sometimes things get ugly. But at the end of the day–we share a passionate loyalty to one another and care deeply about each other, and that comes through in times of crisis. You know how I’m always referencing the joke, “Two Jews, three opinions?” At the funeral of the teens, Rabbi Dov Zinger said, “Two Jews, three opinions, but one heart.”

This came through during the war, too. 90% of Israeli Jews supported the operation in Gaza. Getting 90% of Israeli Jews to agree on ANYTHING is nothing short of a miracle. And there were miracles. If not for the kidnapping and subsequent escalation, Hamas would have been able to carry out a massive surprise terror attack through that network of tunnels, which they had planned to do very shortly after the teens were kidnapped. I recently saw a video of an interview with an IDF commander who told how a catastrophic attack from the terror tunnels was thwarted by the actions of some oblivious Jews from Bnei Brak who had that field cleared because of a number of halakhic strictures.

And there was unity. In one of my updates, I sent the following list:

  • An acquaintance of mine from high school told the following story: she was driving on Highway 431 between Rehovot and Tel Aviv when the siren sounded. She didn’t know what to do, but she saw other drivers pulling over so she followed suit, got out of the car and got down. She has always been afraid of loud noises, and she heard huge explosions overhead and felt so vulnerable. Finally when it was over she walked back to her car and found herself starting to have an anxiety attack–crying hysterically and shaking like a leaf. A man who had pulled over beside her noticed her and walked over to ask if she was okay. She said “no”. The man just stood there with her, soothing her and telling her it would soon pass, and did not leave her side until she had calmed down and was ready to continue her drive.
  • Other stories and pictures have been circulating of perfect strangers rushing over to children taking cover on the street and protecting them with their bodies.
  • A million videos of the soldiers dancing and singing on the border–not to celebrate death, the way the terrorists do, but to celebrate life, singing “Am Yisrael Chai” and “the Eternal Nation does not fear a long journey”.
  • Solidarity with the south. Tons of goodies and volunteers streaming into the rocket-stricken cities and running activities for the kids. And all kinds of activities and “fun days” arranged for them in safer areas.
  • There has been a constant, constant flow of pizza, goodies, essentials, and letters from citizens to the soldiers. I don’t think I remember seeing anything of this scale in the previous wars I’ve been here for.
  • There is a picture circulating of a tank decorated with children’s drawings and letters sent to the soldiers. Unlike Hamas, they guard themselves not with our children’s lives, but with their love.
  • People making aliyah (immigrating to Israel). A few hundred French Jews arrived recently, saying that they feel safer in the bomb shelters in Israel than walking down the streets of Paris with a kippah on. (By the way, if you think the horrible anti-Semitic demonstrations are limited to Europe, think again; anti-Semitic activity has spiked around the world, including the United States, Canada, and New Zealand.) Someone I know just made aliyah with her family through Nefesh B’Nefesh; not a single person canceled or postponed plans because of the situation.

It is very difficult to convey what we went through last summer. Just today we had a national security drill with the air raid siren, and even though I was expecting it and knew it was a drill, that rising and falling wail never fails to make my heart pound and my skin crawl. During and after the war, we all joked with each other about “Phantom Siren Syndrome”–jumping out of our skin at any sound that resembled the beginning of the siren, like an ambulance or a motorcycle accelerating. Still, it was not my first experience with a grim security situation (the height of the Second Intifada in 2002 was MUCH worse), nor with ducking for cover at the wail of an air raid siren (Second Lebanon War, 2006, a few months before we met); nor with doing that as a mother (Operation Pillar of Defense, 2012). The thing that was extraordinary about this war was the incredible level of unity. And that is why Unity Day and the Unity Prize that were established in memory of the teens feels so appropriate. If there is one thing I hope I never forget, it’s that feeling of love from Jews all over the country and Israel supporters all over the world, that sense of oneness. Thank you, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, for showing us what we are capable of.

May we hear only good news.

Love,

Daniella

Welcome to Israeli Emotional Roller Coaster Week!

Dear Josep,

Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the first day of the month of Iyar.

I saw an image on Facebook that I can’t share here because of copyright issues, but I can link to it and describe it. (And I’ll share it to the FB page. What, you didn’t know that Letters to Josep has an FB page? Well, now you know!)

It’s a cartoon by Shai Cherka that was printed in the Makor Rishon newspaper. It shows a steep roller coaster track with a man holding on for dear life, his kippah about to fly off his head. At the top of the hill he’s coasting down is a yellow Jewish star with “Jude” written on it; at the bottom of the drop is a torch propped up with rifles; and then the track shifts into the blue strips of the Israeli flag, with the blue Jewish star at the center, as it takes a sharp turn upwards.

This is a perfect visual representation of what the two weeks after Passover are like in Israel.

Towards the end of Passover, you start to notice some blue and white streamers popping up along the roads. Then, you start spotting teenagers at intersections, selling Israeli flags that fit onto your car window, usually around 15 NIS a pop. I can’t tell you how many of these we have lost by opening the window while driving at high speed. A couple years ago they started selling these cute sideview mirror covers that lack that disadvantage.

And the flags start appearing on windows and street lamps. By MathKnight and Zachi Evenor (Own work) [CC BY 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
And the flags start appearing on windows and street lamps.
By MathKnight and Zachi Evenor (Own work) [CC BY 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
At the top of the metaphorical roller coaster is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The importance of this to our national identity has already been described in that post.

A week later, we have Memorial Day, in honor of the fallen soldiers and terror victims. The very next day is Independence Day (Yom Ha’Atzma’ut), the 5th of Iyar, which is the day Ben-Gurion declared independence. Now, remember–Jewish days begin and end at sundown. So Memorial Day begins at sundown this Tuesday, and at sundown on Wednesday, the whole country makes a sudden and very dramatic shift from solemn mourning to joyous celebration. This may seem kind of jarring, but to us it makes perfect sense. We cannot celebrate our independence without first expressing our gratitude to those who gave their lives for that freedom. Last week, we remembered the victims of the Holocaust, standing as a symbol of the culmination of all Jewish persecution and suffering over the centuries. Then, we acknowledge those who died for our country. Only then can we celebrate our national independence, the miraculous realization of a 2,000-year-old dream.

As a kid I remember being struck by how Israelis seemed to connect less to Holocaust Remembrance Day than to Memorial Day. To me, the Holocaust was a tragedy so much more awful in every possible way. What I didn’t quite understand at the time was that even grandchildren of Holocaust survivors tended to have much more up-close-and-personal experience with death in the context of wars and terrorism. There is not a single Israeli who didn’t have at least a casual connection with someone who was killed in a war or a terror attack. It’s a small country. Serving in the army is mandatory after graduating high school. It’s fairly impossible to avoid.

Memorial Day is observed similarly to Holocaust Remembrance Day. A one-minute siren sounds in the evening at 8pm, and another, for two minutes, at 10am the following morning. Flags are lowered, ceremonies are held, graves are visited, candles are lit.

Soldiers stand at attention during the memorial siren on Mt. Herzl, the main military cemetery in Jerusalem. By Israel Defense Forces from Israel (Remembering the Fallen) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Soldiers stand at attention during the memorial siren on Mt. Herzl, the main military cemetery in Jerusalem.
By Israel Defense Forces from Israel (Remembering the Fallen) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As you may remember, I did not serve in the army, but rather chose an alternative available to people who prefer not to serve for religious or moral reasons (usually religious women), known as national service (sherut leumi). You may recall that I worked in the northern office of OneFamily Fund, now called OneFamily Together, an organization that provides emotional, legal and financial support for victims of terror. I could probably write an entire book about what that year was like for me (…actually, I sort of did. 😛 But that’s another story.), but one thing that it helped me understand was how very, very close these tragedies were to all of us.

This year, unfortunately, over 70 names will be added to the list. Most of them are soldiers who were killed during Operation Protective Edge this summer. Some of them are people who were killed in the vehicular and stabbing attacks while those were “popular” back in the fall. (Actually, another man was just killed in a vehicular incident, but it has not been confirmed that it was a terror attack.)

There are a few people I will be keeping in mind when the memorial siren sounds.

One is a young lady named Karen Yemima Mosquera. She was from Ecuador, the daughter of a family with what appear to be crypto-Jewish roots, and she came to Israel to study and do a formal conversion to Judaism. She had completed her conversion process just a few months earlier, and had just begun her life as a fully observant, formally recognized Jew. She was killed when a terrorist veered his car into a crowded train stop, in the same attack that killed a 3-month-old baby. I did not know her personally, but somehow–probably because of my connection with Spanish crypto-Judaism–her story touched me deeply.

Another is a woman from my community. Just last week I was looking at an old Google spreadsheet that listed names and phone numbers of potential babysitters, and my stomach fell when I saw her name there.

And of course… three of those new names are the names that make every Israeli heave a deep sigh. The names we were posting on social media, chanting in rallies, hanging on signs, wearing on shirts… and then singing mournfully, spelling out using candles, and using to name new initiatives.

Eyal. Gilad. Naftali.

I will write more about them and the effect their kidnapping and deaths had on us when the one-year anniversary of that event approaches. The events of last summer deserve an entry of their own.

After these 24 hours of painful memories, on Wednesday night, we blow out the candles, raise our flags, and celebrate, with public ceremonies, parties, fireworks, and concerts. In the religious Zionist (dati leumi) communities, a special prayer is held after the usual evening prayers, singing various Psalms and verses of praise, and Psalm 126 to the tune of HaTikva1. For us, Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is not only a national holiday, it is a religious holiday. We see the foundation of Israel as a miraculous historical event much like the events that we celebrate during Chanukah and Purim2. Older Israelis, secular and religious alike, like to hold “shira b’tzibur”, “public singing”, which is a sort of communist version of karaoke 😛 where the music is played and the words displayed on the screen but everybody sings together.

As a teenager I would walk to downtown Rehovot with my friends, where the main streets would be closed to traffic, and there were vendors selling candied apples and other treats, and various Israeli-flag-themed paraphernalia, usually including big blow-up plastic hammers with which kids bonk each other on the head. Don’t even ask me how this became a Thing, but kids also run around spraying each other with “snow foam” and colored spray streamers. Well, I guess it’s slightly better than the Venetian carnival scented-egg-throwing thing.

Anyway, during the day, it’s become something of a tradition to have a picnic, usually barbecue, probably because the weather tends to be just right for it and basically any excuse to eat a whole lot of meat sounds good to an Israeli. 😉 Many people dress in blue and white in honor of the holiday, and cakes, cupcakes and cookies are decorated with Israeli flag toothpicks or blue and white frosting or sprinkles. Special prayers are held again for the morning services. Museums, tourist sites, and public parks are open and often admittance is free. The IDF also opens some of its lots to the public, where people can come look at the equipment they use up close. In general, Yom Ha’Atzma’ut is a day to honor and celebrate the soldiers who protect us, so it’s also customary to give them gifts and have kids write them thank-you notes.

And then, we have a couple weeks’ break until the next minor and somewhat obscure holiday on the calendar: Lag B’Omer. 😉

It so happens that there is another interesting holiday this week, the same day as Yom Ha’Atzma’ut, actually, but it is not an Israeli or a Jewish one. You know what it is, but I’ll keep our blog readers in suspense for now. 😉

Love,

Daniella


1. “HaTikva”, “the Hope”, is the Israeli national anthem. Within the first twenty minutes of my very first conversation with Josep, he informed me that he knew all the words to this song, and took a deep breath as if to start singing, but thought better of it, seeing as we were standing in a little street corner print shop in Barcelona around a bunch of other young people who thought both of us were weird enough to begin with. It was at this point in our conversation that I started to wonder if maybe I was hallucinating.

2. If you’re wondering what happened to the post about Purim, it was causing some issue with the formatting so I had to delete it. I’ll repost it next year. 😉

In the Empty Synagogues of Poland

Dear Josep,

Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed in Israel starting this evening, on the 27th of Nisan, which is the day the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began. The date was also selected for its proximity to Memorial Day (for the fallen soldiers and terror victims) and Independence Day next week. We see all these events as part of the same story.

We observe this day with ceremonies and stories, lowered flags and sad music on the radio; and one thing that is unique to Israel: a siren sounds throughout the country at 10 a.m., and everyone stops whatever they are doing, stands up, and observes two minutes of silence in memory of the victims of the Holocaust. The entire country comes to a literal halt.

As you can imagine, remembering and teaching about the Holocaust (the Shoah in Hebrew) is a big deal in the world’s only Jewish country, and given that Israel was founded out of the ashes of the Holocaust and on the backs of its survivors, it is a major part of our national identity. Educating future generations about it is of utmost importance to us. To this end, many high schools arrange educational tours to the death camps in Poland.

There is some controversy about those trips; about the moral integrity of funding Poland’s “death camp tourism” industry, about whether those rowdy teenagers actually get anything meaningful out of the trip, and about whether the Holocaust should be something so deeply focused upon and ingrained into our national identity when we have 3,000 years of rich and diverse history to draw upon. After all, half of the country’s Jewish population is comprised of non-Ashkenazim–Jews from North Africa, the Middle East, India, and Ethiopia. They have other important stories to tell, stories that are not told as thoroughly and as publicly as the stories of the Ashkenazim. Furthermore, some argue, is it really so healthy for such a major part of our national identity to be built upon a sense of victimhood?

Well, I traveled to Poland with my fellow 11th graders in March 2004, and it was one of the most powerful and meaningful experiences of my life. The kind of experience in which the depth of its impact is completely impossible to convey to those who weren’t there. But let me try.

We visited three camps–Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, and Treblinka–as well as the neighboring cities, Krakow and Warsaw, and a number of small towns where Jews once flourished, such as Lodz, home of the famous Hassidic sect, and the charming town of Tykocin… and the mass grave in the nearby Łopuchowo Forest where its entire Jewish community was murdered by the Nazis.

My friends walking to the mass grave and memorial site in the Łopuchowo Forest.
My friends walking to the mass grave and memorial site in the Łopuchowo Forest.

We had several guides, including an Israeli guide, a Polish guide, and a “witness”: a man who survived the camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz and whose family was murdered at Treblinka. We are especially lucky to have been the last generation that could travel with a witness and hear his personal story as we stood at the very places where the events happened. Our witness, Avraham, was a remarkable man with a vibrant spirit and a great sense of humor, and his contribution to the trip was immeasurable. Our teachers accompanied us and ran discussion groups. Our principal had brought his guitar and he played along with our singing.

And we sang everywhere. We filled every empty synagogue with song and dancing; we sang “Am Yisrael Chai”, “The Nation of Israel Lives”, and brought life and music to all these places where our ancestors had been silenced.

My classmates, teachers and I dancing and singing in the beautifully restored synagogue where the Jewish community of Lancut, Poland, once prayed.
My classmates, teachers and I dancing and singing in the beautifully restored synagogue where the Jewish community of Lancut, Poland, once prayed. (I’m the one with the dull pink coat, the white scarf and the hair all over the place. 😛 )

In the gas chambers of Majdanek, we sat on the floor and sang about faith and yearning for redemption through our tears. It may sound strange to do anything but observe a reverent silence in such a place; but for us, raising our voices in song is our way of honoring those who died there, giving them a voice, calling out to God from the depths of our despair.

We walked, grandchildren of survivors, free citizens of a sovereign Jewish state, and sisters of the Jewish soldiers protecting it, down the infamous train tracks, into the forests, and through the remnants of the ghettos. We carried our Israeli flags in heartbroken pride; our unspoken message to those who died there that their deaths were not in vain. My friend Menucha, whose grandmother survived Auschwitz, says: “I remember walking in Auschwitz with an Israeli flag on my back and thinking of how my grandmother had come in with nothing. I think it’s one of the proudest moments of my life.”

Walking to the barracks at Auschwitz.
Walking to the barracks at Auschwitz.

One evening in our hotel in Krakow, a woman came to speak to us and tell us how she and her family sheltered Jews during the Holocaust. After her talk, we got up, one by one, to thank her and hug and kiss her. That wordless exchange–the glowing warmth and gratitude, the firmness of her grip on my arms, the softness of her white cheeks against my lips–is burned forever into my memory.

There is no way to replace this kind of learning. As Menucha says, being there with a witness to share his story was like the difference between learning about the Shoah and being in Poland; the difference between knowing and feeling.

So did my trip, and the focus on the Shoah in my education, result in building my national identity on a sense of victimhood?

The answer is: absolutely not.

It built my national identity on a deep sense of purpose and triumph. Triumph, because we are the answer to the Holocaust. Every Jewish baby born, every Israeli soldier sworn in, every mitzvah observed, every holiday celebrated, every song, every laugh, every smile is another slap in the face of Hitler and all he stood for. Ultimately, we won; not with guns or bombs, but with our spirit, our faith, and our dedication to our identity and purpose.

“The Eternal Nation is not afraid of a long journey”, I sang with my friends in the empty synagogues of Poland.  The Jewish people is here to stay. We have something invaluable to give the world. We have been oppressed, persecuted, and massacred for carrying that message for thousands of years. But we’re still here, still carrying it. Learning the terrible extent of the sacrifice my brethren made to keep their identity and hold on to that message makes me all the more determined to do the same, and to pass it forward into what will hopefully be a brighter future for all of us.

Love,

Daniella

Stranger in a Familiar Land

Dear Josep,

So we are back in Israel as of yesterday afternoon, and still trying to get over the jet lag and exhaustion from around 36 hours of travel (I know, boo hoo. Try doing it with three restless kids!) and get our act together because Passover–the Jewish holiday requiring the most intense preparation–is next Friday night. (Ahhhhhh!)

Being in the States was many things for many different reasons, but one thing that I felt there this time was… strange. Back when I was a kid and still a new immigrant, going back to the USA was a huge relief. When surrounded by people speaking Hebrew, I didn’t even realize how much I was straining to understand even when I wasn’t trying. It was only when I was surrounded with English again that I realized how much easier that was. And as you mentioned, Americans are so nice and upbeat when interacting with strangers. This used to be so refreshing for me.

This time, though, it was kind of exhausting. Israelis have a pretty bad reputation when it comes to friendliness and politeness. They don’t mind if I walk around as my usual pensive, antisocial self. 😛 I have the unfortunate combination of being both extremely curious about people different from me, and extremely shy, if not somewhat socially anxious, so I usually end up wondering about them and making up stories about them instead of striking up conversations. (This is where Eitan comes in handy. He “interviews” people for me, and I listen. 😉 )

Moreover, I felt extremely self-conscious in my long skirts and covered hair, next to my boys with their kippot and payot. I am no longer used to being a Jew in a primarily non-Jewish place. This may sound strange, but it adds pressure, because it means I become a representative of the Jewish people to the world. We are supposed to be “a light unto the nations”. It makes it that much more important to me to present myself as being kind, respectful, and generally a good human being. This is pretty challenging when you have three energetic little boys who are not used to, uh, non-Israeli standards of behavior. 😛 By Israeli standards, my kids are pretty well-behaved, but by American standards–let alone European standards–they can be a nightmare. (…I don’t know what your standards are, that you think my kids are so great, but you’ve always been an odd bird. 😛 )

This is not just my own quirk, either. There’s a mitzvah known as kiddush Hashem, “sanctification of the Name”, that specifically involves presenting yourself as a positive example of the Jewish people to the world. Throughout history, the whole Jewish nation has always been judged by the actions of the few–usually for the worse :-/ and that can be dangerous to all of us.

Practically speaking, when in the US, I experience this “ambassadorship” fairly often. Most Americans have a vague idea of what Jews are and know to categorize us that way, and we had quite a few “Shalom”s and other friendly comments indicating recognition. Other Jews tend to feel an automatic kinship with strangers they recognize as Jews, so we had some of those approach us, too. At one supermarket checkout counter, an African-American lady asked what our religion was and when we told her we are Jewish, she said “I have so many questions for you”. We asked for her information and promised to be in touch. (My father-in-law took this upon himself and said he’s going to send her a link to this blog. If you’re reading, say hi!)

This made me want to wear Jewish symbols outwardly so people would know what they were looking at. I’ve been wearing that gold Chai necklace of my grandmother’s pretty much every day since she was diagnosed (there’s a picture of it in this entry about Jewish symbols), but not everyone recognizes the Chai. Of course, the USA is pretty much the only place in the Diaspora where I could even consider proudly displaying a Jewish symbol. (This is what happens when you do that in France. 🙁 )

I often feel the same way about being an Israeli. I sometimes get friend requests on Facebook from random people in all kinds of random countries, and when I ask them to what I owe the pleasure, often it’s because they love and support Israel.

I am willing and proud to take on this role, but especially during these tough political times, it can be a heavy responsibility. As soon as I set foot on Israeli soil, I felt it lift from my shoulders somewhat. Here, I still represent something–observant Jewish women, American olim (immigrants), settlers, what have you, but that’s less pressure than the entire Jewish people and the whole state of Israel. Sometimes I wish I could just blend into the crowd. But I’m always going to stand out… not only because of my religion, nationality, and personal choices, but also because of my unusually high sensitivity and empathy, and sometimes it can be a burden.

We thought of you as we flew over Barcelona on our way back to Israel. I told H we were flying over Spain, and he said, “So Josep might see the airplane!” I chuckled and said you probably wouldn’t, and even if you did, you wouldn’t know it was us 😉

Lots of love,

Daniella

***

Blog readers: Yes, I still have an announcement, but give me a little more time to get settled 😉 In the meantime, have you ever felt that you are representing something to the world? What did that feel like?

Little Gifts

Dear Josep,

I’ve been thinking about sharing this song with you since it came out, around a year ago. It really captures the character of a Friday in Israel.

As you know, I am in the USA now, spending time with family. It’s a wonderful and crazy trip, and also pretty difficult. I don’t get to see my grandparents very often, and especially since my maternal grandmother was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, the trip has felt like a neverending series of joyful reunions only to be followed up with extremely painful goodbyes. Rabbi Judah the Levi (an 11th century Sephardic poet) writes, “My heart is in the east, and I am in the uttermost west…” and while I do feel that way and miss Israel dearly, I’m realizing that my heart is actually scattered in pieces all over the globe, many of whom are here. And being reunited with those pieces does bring joy, but it also emphasizes how much those pieces are missing in day to day life.

So… this song really speaks to me today. The music and performance are by Rami Kleinstein, and the lyrics were written by Noam Horev. Below is my translation.

Little Gifts

It’s another Friday
I breathe in the air
The light and the shadow are playing tag again
The table is set
Pictures of childhood on the wall
White processions return from the synagogue

And that scent
That scratches at my heart
It creeps in
And opens doors
To a small joy,
To that old song
That’s been passed down to us through the generations

Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Shards of intention,
Circles of faith
Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Like the strength to accept
What isn’t, and what is
What else could I ask for?

It’s another Friday
A porch and a newspaper
The sun, like our worry, is slowly erased
Simple melodies
Drift in through the window
And no storm could hide the quiet here

Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Shards of intention,
Circles of faith
Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Like the strength to accept
What isn’t, and what is
What else could I ask for?

“For You have chosen us
And made us holy
Blessed are You, God
Who sanctifies the Sabbath”*

And that scent
That scratches at my heart
It creeps in
And opens doors
To small joy,
To that old song
That’s been passed down through the generations

Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Shards of intention,
Circles of faith
Little gifts
Someone has sent me little gifts
Like the strength to accept
What isn’t, and what is
What else could I ask for?

Little gifts

*This is from the kiddush recited on the Sabbath.

Shabbat Shalom 🙂

Daniella

Even the Weather Is in on It

Dear Josep,

So remember how I was boasting all about Tu B’Shvat and spring and the almond trees and anemones blooming?

IMG_1019

And look how they both posed for me so nicely. An almond tree in the middle of a young olive grove in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

So…. we woke up to this this morning.

IMG_1173

IMG_1172-0

All I can say is, climate chaos. :-/

And also, the month of Adar! One of the themes of Adar and Purim is “v’nahafoch hu“; that everything that was turned on its head. I guess this is how the weather is choosing to celebrate the first day of Adar.

Crazy stuff!

Love,

Daniella

Trees, Jews, and Israel

Dear Josep,

I have always had a thing for trees.

When I was six years old, I learned about the rainforests and the importance of trees in the ecosystem, and became completely obsessed with these topics. When my parents and grandparents would take me to a bookstore, I always wanted something about rainforests or trees, the kind with the big, glossy pictures. I loved trees. I would hug them, and put my face right up to the bark and breathe in their scent. (…If it were socially acceptable, I would totally still do this. 😛 ) I saw them as my friends and enjoyed their “company”. I knew all about how they grew, and how the leaves used chlorophyll to convert light into energy, and how it was the loss of that chlorophyll that made them change color in the fall. In my childhood in northeastern America, I had a favorite tree: the maple tree. (The one with the signature leaf that appears on the Canadian flag.) I loved its broad, star-shaped leaves, its sturdy trunk, and most of all, the smell of its autumn leaves: the brilliant reds, oranges and golds that carpeted the ground. I think that scent is one of the things I miss most about America.

Very different types of trees grow in Israel. Olive, cypress, pine, oaks, palm trees, acacia, pistachio, eucalyptus… and they weren’t always so plentiful. Israel is one of two countries in the world that, at the turn of the millennium, had a net gain in trees; and the only country that has managed to actually reverse the process of desertification–by planting so many trees. When settling the land, the pioneers started an afforestation project to make the soil better… and it worked. The Jewish National Fund is known for its projects of planting entire forests in Israel. They initially used a lot of non-native pine trees, because they grow a lot faster than the kind of tree that grows here naturally. The problem is that they are a lot more flammable. :-/

This is the Yatir Forest, the largest planted forest in Israel. "Yatir Forest, Israel no.1". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
This is the Yatir Forest, the largest planted forest in Israel.
Yatir Forest, Israel no.1“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The trees that grow naturally in this region are less flammable because they grow more slowly and are much denser.

There’s an allegory in there somewhere.

In any case, planting and honoring trees is an ancient Jewish tradition. In Deuteronomy 20:19 there is a specific commandment not to destroy trees for no reason while besieging a city: “For is the tree of the field man, that you should besiege it?” This is a rhetorical question in the text, but removed from its context, this phrase: “כי האדם עץ השדה”, reads: “for man is the tree of the field”, and has been used thus allegorically. The Talmudic rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai taught that if the Messiah comes while a person is planting a tree, he should first finish planting the tree, and then go greet the Messiah.

I would probably say that my favorite trees are are now almond and olive. The almond tree for its beauty during flowering season, and the olive tree for its character. You have olive trees in Catalonia, so you must know what I mean. There’s something about its ancient, gnarled trunk, its characteristic elliptic leaves, and the deep symbolic significance it has acquired over the thousands of years of history so rich within this soil.

And look how they both posed for me so nicely. An almond tree in the middle of a young olive grove in the outskirts of Jerusalem.
And look how they both posed for me so nicely. An almond tree in the middle of a young olive grove in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

So I guess it is not a big mystery that Tu B’Shvat, the New Year for the Trees (as explained here), has more significance in Jewish tradition than simply a technical beginning to an agriculture year. We love trees, and see them as a way to connect us to the land and to our privileges and responsibilities regarding it. This year, because of shmita, we can’t plant them, but we can still celebrate them.

And with that, allow your personal Jewish Calendar to wish you a Happy Tu B’Shvat. 😉

Lots of love,

Daniella

Jew Food, Part II: The Vegan Section (well, sort of.)

Note: this is the 2nd post in a 3-part series on kashrut. Click here for Part I, and here for Part III!


Dear Josep,

Welcome to Part II of the Great Jew Food Tirade! (Here is Part I in case you missed it.)

In this part we’re going to talk about plants.

Now, if you can recall what my plate looked like while you and the rest of the press team were happily devouring your “pimp salmon” 😛 you will remember that fruits and vegetables, as a general rule, are just fine within the laws of kashrut. So why am I writing an entire section on them? Well…

Mitzvot HaTluyot Ba’Aretz (Commandments Connected to the Land of Israel)

Observant Jews indeed wander freely through the produce aisles of supermarkets in the USA and Europe. Ironically, it is actually in the land of Israel that we have to be more careful. Because while there is no problem inherent to any plant, when the land is owned by a Jew and is located in Israel, there are a number of commandments that apply that must be observed for the plants to be okay to eat. These are the mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz, which I mentioned briefly in the entries about shmita (which is one of them) and the Jewish New Years (because Tu B’Shvat is used to calculate “fiscal years” for these commandments).

I am not going to elaborate on what all these commandments are, because there are a lot of them and the details will probably bore you. But they basically split into two categories: mitzvot that involve giving to the poor (such as leaving fallen grapes or stalks for them to collect, leaving a section at the corner of the field unharvested for them to harvest, etc.), and mitzvot that are connected to the Temple service (such as bikkurim, bringing the first fruits to the Cohanim at the temple; terumah and ma’aser (tithing); challah (which is probably where the name of the Shabbat bread came from), separating a portion of the bread dough for the Cohanim) or other issues of sanctity (such as the prohibition against crossbreeding plants or eating fruits from a tree in the first three years after it is planted).

Now, the ones connected to the Temple are no longer relevant; some of them are observed sort of symbolically (like terumahma’aser and challah), but they still must be observed for the produce to be considered kosher.

For fields owned by non-Jews or located outside of Israel, these commandments are not relevant.

However, there are other problems associated with products produced in non-Jewish settings…

Wine

So, for instance, you have known for a long time that there is such a thing as kosher wine, by which one would logically (and in this case, correctly) deduce that there is such a thing as non-kosher wine. But think about this for a minute. We’re talking about 100% pure crushed grapes, fermented in barrels that hold nothing else. Grapes are inherently kosher, and given that the mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz are not in the picture, what could possibly be non-kosher about wine?

According to the Talmud, there are a number of things that must be avoided under the general prohibition of idolatry. One of them is drinking wine that used for some kind of ceremonial practice by idolaters.

Buuut, I hear you say, that would explain why you couldn’t drink wine made in, say, India. But what about wine made by Christians or Muslims, who are, for the most part, not considered idolaters? (“For the most part” because the concept of the Trinity makes us go :-/ . But the sages who actually lived among Christians did not consider it idolatry. That’s a topic for another e-mail. 😛 We have no such debate regarding Islam.)

So, the sages extended the prohibition to include all non-Jews and non-observant Jews, pretty much because you don’t really have any way to know what their beliefs about the wine are, and because of the severity of idolatry, we need to be extra, extra careful about this. Idolatry is one of the only three commandments that we are not allowed to transgress even if it means our only other option is to die. The other two are murder and sexual immorality.

Digging through my archives, I discovered that you actually provided another answer to this question when we first discussed this issue many years ago. I told you that our editor-in-chief in Spain had asked why we still observe this law about wine if there is no longer idolatry in the Western world. You said: “I disagree with [her] about the idolatry thing. Maybe we don’t have idols like in the old times, but there’s still a lot of idolatry with things like the TV, supermodels or superstars, money, fame, sex… And it’s caused by the same basic principle: the emptiness of the soul. When you’re full of God, you don’t need anything more. So you don’t have to put the TV at the center of the house, or the sex in the center of your life. The old people put other gods instead of Him in the center of their lives because they had empty souls. That’s what I think.”

Well, I’m definitely not arguing with that. 😉

In any case, not so very long ago, you couldn’t get really good kosher wines. (Ever heard of Manischewitz? If not, good.) Today, though, there are some really great wineries in Israel and abroad that produce a wide selection of good kosher wine. Like, for instance, the one you bought us last time you were here, which we finally opened a couple days ago. (And is, by the way, delicious. Thank you. 😉 )

L'chaim. (Thanks for this, BTW. It's delicious. :) )
L’chaim.

Baking and Cooking by Gentiles

Another issue that comes up here is bread that is baked or food that is cooked by a gentile. This is a rabbinic restriction based on the idea that it is difficult to trust someone who does not keep kashrut himself or see any importance in it, to be careful enough about it when cooking for you.

There are ways around this. According to Ashkenazi custom, it is enough for a Jew to light the fire for the food to not be considered bishul nochri (food cooked by a non-Jew). That’s how kosher restaurants are able to employ non-Jews in the kitchen.

Another restriction I should mention here, even though it concerns an animal product, is chalav nochri. The Sages ruled that we may not consume milk produced by non-Jews (…that is, their cattle…) out of concern that milks of other, non-kosher animals might be mixed in. The famous American rabbi Moshe Feinstein ruled that this is no longer a concern in places of modern industry where there is strict regulation and supervision, and you can be certain that what you’re getting is cow’s milk. (This is actually not true in all Western countries, by the way… including Spain. I was told that I couldn’t rely on this ruling regarding even plain milk in Spain.) Most Americans hold by this ruling, but many Israelis don’t, because of the wide availability of chalav yisrael (milk produced by Jews) in Israel. The Rabbinate of Israel holds that derivatives of chalav nochri (a.k.a. avkat chalav nochri), such as powdered milk, are okay, but not straight milk. So there was a big scandal in recent years about the Rabbinate removing Haagen Dasz ice cream from the shelves, even though it is certified kosher by the Orthodox Union in the USA, because of this difference in halakhic observation. (Ben & Jerry’s, the other really good foreign, kosher brand, has its own factory here that uses chalav yisrael, so we can still buy decent ice cream. Fortunately, Eitan and I are American and hold by Rabbi Feinstein, so we can eat Haagen Dasz too. 😀 )

Anyway.

In all of the above, beside the practicalities of trusting non-Jews with kashrut… I also see an agenda on the part of the sages to make it more difficult for Jews to get socially intimate with non-Jews. Jews not being able to eat at non-Jews’ tables makes it harder for them to develop the kinds of relationships that could lead to conversion, intermarriage, and assimilation. That may not be so politically correct, but assimilation is the biggest threat to Jewish continuity in the modern era, and… well, this is a topic for a different e-mail. 😛

Little Friends

So the last issue to do with eating fruits, vegetables, and grains, is the fact that we are not allowed to eat bugs (see part I), and therefore they must be thoroughly checked to assure that no creepy crawlies have found their way into our food.

Now, someone who has peeked ahead and knows the 1/60th rule that I will explain in the next entry, might ask: unless we’re talking about the kind of bug that would make any housewife run screaming, we’re talking about tiny, almost microscopic creatures, that are certainly less than 1/60th the volume of the food.

I refuse to post a picture of a bug. Have a puppy instead.
Photo credit: Andrea Schaffer under CC BY 2.0

So why aren’t they batel (“nullified”)?

Because they are a briya shleima, a “whole creature”. Meaning, that because it’s the bug’s whole body, it cannot be nullified.

But then how do we ever eat anything?! What about microscopic bugs?!

So this rule only applies to bugs that can be seen by the naked eye. If you need a magnifying glass, let alone a microscope, to see it–it doesn’t count.

Still, you can imagine, checking for bugs can be incredibly labor intensive and frustrating. For some kinds of fruits and veggies it’s no big deal–fruits, including fruits that are generally thought of as vegetables (like cucumbers and tomatoes), only require a once-over to make sure they don’t have wormholes or something like that. By contrast, leafy green vegetables must be pulled apart, soaked in water with soap or salt or vinegar, and then examined–leaf. by. leaf. (I should mention that there are different standards, and some are more lenient–allowing to check a representative sample, for instance, but checking each leaf individually is the mainstream view.)

One way of getting around this problem is growing the plants in special conditions where bugs are extremely unlikely to come in contact with the vegetables. In Israel, Gush Katif vegetables are grown hydroponically, meaning in that they are grown in greenhouses, detached from the soil:

Photo credit: Ryan Somma under CC BY-SA 2.0
Photo credit: Ryan Somma under CC BY-SA 2.0

The environment is carefully controlled to assure that no bugs will get in. In this case, we are permitted to eat the produce without checking for bugs (but most authorities still require a thorough soaking and rinsing before use). There is also an opinion that frozen vegetables are not a problem because any bugs that may be in there will explode in the freezing process (…) and therefore are no longer “whole creatures”. This is not exactly reassuring, but our bug-free standards are way more OCD higher than pretty much anyone else’s, and you have to draw the line somewhere…

So that concludes Part II! Stay tuned for the third and final installment. 😉

Love,

Daniella


Missed Part I? No problem! Click here to read Jew Food, Part I: Vegetarians, Avert Your Eyes.

The Not-So-Dead of an Israeli Winter

Dear Josep,

Anyone who attended a Jewish day school, anywhere in the world, learned That Tu B’Shvat song sometime in his or her childhood.

And everybody only knows the first verse and the chorus:

The almond tree is blooming
And a golden sun is shining
Birds from every rooftop
Proclaim the arrival of the holiday

Tu B’Shvat is here,
A holiday for the trees!
Tu B’Shvat is here,
A holiday for the trees!

Now… as a child in the northeastern United States, the entire concept of this song was utterly bizarre.

This is the view from my friend Shelly's window in Pennsylvania as of Jan. 28th. Celebrating trees is not what comes to mind.
This is the view from my friend Shelly’s window in Pennsylvania today. A “holiday for trees” with the “golden sun shining” is not what comes to mind.

I was assured at the time that in far away, temperate Israel, where our ancestors had first observed this “new year for the trees”, Shvat was indeed the very beginning of springtime, when the worst of the winter rains were over–an ideal time to plant trees. As Shelly and the rest of my friends and family in northeastern USA right now will testify, this was pretty difficult to picture!

It was only when I moved to the Jerusalem area that I started to notice that the song actually describes the phenomenon with startling accuracy. Right around the beginning of the month of Shvat, it’s like someone (or, I should write, Someone) flicks a switch, and all of the these stark, bare brown almond trees suddenly burst into bloom. Almost overnight, the landscape is dotted with these patches of white and pink blossoms, so striking against the mostly leafless branches.

An almond tree in full bloom on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on the road home.
An almond tree in full bloom on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on the road home.
Another almond tree next to the neighborhood playground. They are such beautiful blossoms, so striking against the leafless branches.
Another almond tree next to the neighborhood playground.

One of the things I very quickly learned after making aliyah is that Israelis are completely obsessed with nature. They can’t get enough of this beautiful land and everything that grows in its soil. I was nine years old when I moved here, and my classmates had already mastered the names of all the most common Israeli wildflowers the year before. Whereas “field trips” in the USA involved trips to places like museums and historical buildings, the annual Israeli school tiyul meant hiking–and I mean serious hiking. Like, six-hour-mountainous-trails-in-the-blazing-May-sun hiking. I heard once that Israel has more marked hiking trails per square kilometer than any other country in the world; I don’t know if that’s true, but it could be. The land is covered with trails, and hiking them is the most common and popular recreational activity. (Unless, of course, you count arguing about politics. 😛 )

For a girl who has always loved nature, it is a little embarrassing to say that I rather dreaded these excursions. I am sensitive to heat, I hate exercise, and I am an exemplary specimen of introvert. Needless to say, these trips held very little appeal. So when my class went on its first overnight tiyul in sixth grade, I declined and stayed home. When I tried to do the same in seventh grade, my teacher was extremely concerned and called my parents to tell them they couldn’t just let me stay home! This was a crucial part of my social development! She was completely baffled that I would even consider the possibility of not going. Unfortunately, introversion is often considered something of a social disability in this very gregarious and outspoken culture. My parents brushed her off.

In eighth grade, I gave in to peer pressure and decided to go anyway. I eventually found my Introvert Niche within these trips: heart-to-heart conversations with my handful of close friends, late into the night. It was worth suffering through the hikes for that “quality time” with friends.

In any case, over the years I have acquired bits and pieces of that fundamental education in Israeli flora. I now know, for instance, that these lovely bright red flowers blooming in a field across the street from us now, are called kalanit (anemone):

IMG_1017

IMG_1019

And not pereg (poppy), which is the red spring flower that grows closer to the coast, where I grew up:

Photo credit: MathKnight,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo credit: MathKnight, CC BY-SA 3.0

Or nurit (buttercup):

Photo by Shlomi Sheetrit

Telling these three flowers apart is elementary knowledge in local botany for Israelis. (Here’s the secret, which you can’t really see in my picture: anemones have a white circle around the flower’s center, and the other two don’t. Buttercups have five petals, anemones have six, and poppies usually have four.) (You’re welcome.)

Indeed, the month of Shvat is very different here from what I grew up with. Your climate is much closer to mine, and one day I expect a full report of your favorite flora native to Catalonia, complete with photographs. 😛

Love,

Daniella

Shmita, or: Holy Bananas, Batman!

Dear Josep,

Because of how hectic things were for both of us around Rosh Hashana this year I never got a chance to tell you about what makes this Jewish year so special. You know, other than the fact that it’s a lovely palindrome (5775).

I know I have mentioned in the past (and I’m sure you have no recollection whatsoever) that there is a whole category of commandments that have to do with the land of Israel and its agriculture. (In Hebrew, mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz.) But for two thousand years, there were no Jews working the land. The Jews who had been living here throughout history, in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed, were not farmers and lived mostly off of donations from Jews in the diaspora so they could study Torah full-time. As a matter of fact, no one was working the land for the most part. It was basically an infertile wasteland. When Mark Twain visited Israel in 1867 he described it as “a desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds… a silent mournful expanse…. a desolation…. we never saw a human being on the whole route…. hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.” It is said that the Land of Israel only blossoms when the Jews are tending it, and whether or not you believe these prophecies, historically, this appears to have held true. In any case, when the Jews began to return to Israel in the 19th-20th centuries and tend the land again, it had been 2,000 years since the last time the commandments relating to the Land of Israel had even been relevant. Just like the revival of Hebrew, calling these commandments “back from the dead” and suddenly implementing them in a world completely different than the one in which they were last observed was quite a challenge. The most challenging of all, is the commandment of shmita.

Six years your shall sow your field, and six years you shalt prune your vineyard, and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath unto the Lord; your shall neither sow your field, nor prune your vineyard. That which grows of itself of your harvest you shall not reap, and the grapes of your untended vine you shall not gather; it shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.” –Leviticus 25:3-5

Shmita is that seventh year. (This year!) We’re not allowed to engage in our usual agricultural activity for profit. We’re allowed to tend plants to make sure they don’t die, but we’re not allowed to do things that improve production. And all plants must be hefker–public property. We must leave the gates open and anyone who is hungry may come and take whatever he wants.

“‘And during the seventh year you shall rest’
The fruits are hefker (public property)
You have permission to enter”

Now I know what you’re thinking: “What?! You’re not allowed to sow fields, prune vineyards, or reap any harvest? You’re supposed to let anyone come and take whatever does grow? What are you expected to eat?

Well, that’s exactly what the Romans said, and if I recall correctly, there is a record of a play they put on mocking those crazy Judeans. It involved a donkey (or was it a horse?) complaining that he had no grass to eat because it was shmita, and all the Jews were eating his grass, because they couldn’t grow any produce. Very funny, Romans. (They and the Greeks also thought the idea of a Sabbath–not working one day a week–was a riot. Who’s laughing now? 😛 )

Anyway. As with everything in halakha, things are not nearly as simple as they first appear. And especially given the universal halakhic concept of pikuach nefesh–according to which we are allowed to transgress almost any commandment if it endangers a life–and the fact that civilization has changed so dramatically in the way food is produced and distributed in the past 2,000 years, some creative solutions have been required to address this mitzvah. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate, came up with a temporary solution that is similar to the “legal fiction” we use to solve the problem of businesses owning chametz on Passover (…don’t worry, we’ll get to that in a few months. 😉 ). Shmita only applies if the land is owned by Jews. Therefore, he proposed, the Jews could “sell” the land to a non-Jew, so it is technically owned by a non-Jew, and then work the land as usual. At the end of the year we would buy the land back. This solution is known as heter mechira, and the reason it is temporary is that it only works while the commandment of shmita is considered rabbinic and not Biblical. That is, it’s Biblical, but only applies as a Biblical commandment when a majority of the nation of Israel is in the land. That is not true yet, but it may apply already in the shmita following this one, given our population growth and the shrinking Jewish populations in the USA and Europe due to assimilation and emigration to Israel.

So there are two other solutions. The first is the one that the ultra-Orthodox tend to use, because it avoids the entire issue of dealing with shmita: using only produce grown outside of Israel, or grown in fields that are owned by non-Jews. The second, and the one that I favor, is something called Otzar Beit Din. I can’t get into the details of how or why it works, but here’s the general idea: it takes advantage of the loopholes in the law to continue to grow, harvest and distribute produce (in ways that are different than usual, and therefore permitted) using a special alternative system. This year, this type of produce is sold at our local grocery store. And the special thing about it, is that produce grown in Israel during the shmita year has a special status: it is endowed with kedushat shvi’it, the “sanctity of the seventh year”. Just as this produce must be treated differently in the fields, it is treated differently in our kitchens. We are only allowed to prepare it in a way that is accepted–so for example, we’re not allowed to cook vegetables that are generally only eaten raw (like, say, cucumbers), or eat vegetables raw when they are usually eaten cooked (like, say, sweet potatoes). We are not allowed to throw it away or damage it purposely in any way while it is still edible, so we have a special garbage pail for only kedushat shvi’it fruits and vegetables, where we put scraps and stuff and only throw away when they have rotted on their own.

2015/01/img_0976.jpg
Yes. I decorated it. What?

I favor this solution because I love feeling the connection to the land and its “additional” holiness during this year, and because I believe it is the closest to what was originally intended by this mitzvah. God clearly did not want us to starve. The purpose of this mitzvah is very similar to another “seventh” you already know about–Shabbat. To remind us that this land belongs to Him first and foremost, and that no matter what we have done to make the land blossom and bring forth produce, it all really comes from Him. When I hold one of these “holy bananas” in my hand, it feels, even more than usual, like God Himself put this in my hand, smiled, and said, “Enjoy.”

Holy bananas, Batman!
Don’t mind if I do. Mmm, sanctity.

There is much, much more to say about this topic, but it is very complicated and legalistic and not being a farmer myself there’s a lot I don’t know about it. But since the month of Shvat begins in a few days, I will probably elaborate some more on the other mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz, so stay tuned. 😉

Wishing you a Chodesh Tov (a good month) and a refrigerator full of goodness. 😉

Love,

Daniella

P.S. …If you’re asking yourself what on earth Batman has to do with any of this, you’re missing this cultural reference. 😛