Saturday, December 29, 2007

It Happened Here Part 2

The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I’ve always had a fond feeling for this little haiku-like poem by Carl Sandberg, perhaps because it was the subject of the most successful lesson I taught in my short career as an eighth grade English teacher. Understand that it had nothing to do with me; my assistant principal, Alice Zeghers, was “observing” my class, and so, of course, for the only time in my short career as an eighth grade English teacher, there was not an inappropriate peep from any of my students – which only served to reinforce my sense that teaching eighth grade boys and girls was not going to be my life’s work.
In any event, it seems an appropriate way to describe the advent of Hanukkah here in The Land, a little bit east of Yerushalayim. Unlike in America, where the “Holiday Season” arrives with great fanfare, or as with our own major holidays: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Pesach, where there is a buzz in the air and mucho preparation, Hanukkah does seem to creep up on you until it’s in your face, like certain cats I have known and loved. And that’s part of the charm of Hanukkah here: it’s not considered more important than “the biggies;” it’s free to be what it is and no more, playing a supporting role in the calendar of holidays – instead of having to be our “answer” to Xmas. Imagine someone who bats seventh in the lineup who is one day asked to be the cleanup hitter and carry the team in The World Series, or a woman who is usually cast as one of the Three Witches who has to take over for Lady Macbeth when the leading lady is indisposed. Maybe they were just good enough to be at the bottom of the batting order, or charismatic enough to recite “Double, double toil and trouble…..” every night.
Just about one month before Chanukkah, you begin to notice sufganiyot in the midst of the other cookies and pastries displayed in the ubiquitous bakeries throughout The Land. One day, they’re not there, the next day they are – sort of like spring crocuses in most of America. Usually, the Jerusalem Post, as a public service, does a taste-testing, sampling the wares of some of the most popular places in the Jerusalem area. (In fact, I remember reading last year’s review –generally very negative – and sighing wistfully that we still had seven or eight months to go before aliyah.) This year, for reasons unknown, the JPost did not perform this essential service. Never fear, Fred is here! Your intrepid blogger, capably assisted by daughter Natania, went about to do his own review. (Why else did we make aliyah, if not to help out?)
Now you might wonder, wouldn’t that be dangerous to one’s waist line, eating all those calorie-laden jelly donuts? Actually not. The first thing to understand is that you are dealing with something like the buttered bread syndrome: if you drop a piece of bread which has butter on it, invariably it will land butter side down. If you bite into a sufganiyah, the jelly inside will immediately begin a downward trajectory, especially if you are standing while eating – which is most of the time in today’s hustle-bustle world. Of course, the jelly will not go straight down to the floor. No way! First the jelly will go sort of sideways, landing on your shirt or blouse. Then it will find its way to your pocket book, the book bag you have draped over your shoulder, or anything else you are carrying. From there, it will slide down to your pants or skirt, and then to your shoes, before finally reaching the ground. On the other hand, the white powder on top of the donuts travels horizontally. If you come within five feet of a counter with several dozen donuts – especially if you are wearing dark clothing – the powder will begin a migratory flight in your direction, until you look like a walking advertisement for Head and Shoulders shampoo. So what you wind up eating of the sufganiyah is mostly the bland dough, not all that fattening.
Even so, there was no way that Natania and I could sample the products of every purveyor in Jerusalem and Maale Adumim, so there were a few places of note that we never got to. We did, however, munch samples from such places as Marzipan (a highly regarded producer of pastries on the outside of the MahaneYeduda market), Peer (a somewhat less known bakery in the closed part of the shuk, which makes hands-down the best challah that I have ever tasted) a few other places in the shuk (which you have to find by location as they usually don’t bother to advertise their names), a marvelous French patisserie on King George St., and by way of a contrast, a boxful from MisterZol – six for fifteen shekels – right here in Maale Adumim. (By the way, the word for supermarket in Modern Hebrew is “supermarket,” usually shortened to “super,” and pronounced “superrrrrrrrr,” as in “I’m going to the superrrrrrrr,” or “they have it at the superrrrrrrrr.” Most of us Anglos have a very difficult time trying to roll our “reshes,” especially those of us for whom final r’s have become vowel sounds.) But by far the best sufganiyot we sampled was from Maafa Ne’eman, in our mall and throughout Jerusalem: the dough was tasty, the jelly was plentiful and not the same commercial glop we found in every other product. I am making a standing offer to anyone out there: Natania will be in the I.D.F. starting in February, and I will be in desperate need of an assistant for next year’s taste-testing –whether or not the JPost resumes its review.
The next sure sign that Hanukkah is coming is the availability of candles about two weeks before. We found a guy selling boxesful for seven shekels on the sidewalk outside the shuk. A few days before, you can find street vendors selling simple, tasteful, hanukkiot for about as little as fifteen shekels (the fancy Judaica shops have tasteful, expensive ones for sale all year ‘round.) And, of course, there are the large, public ones throughout The Land. The biggest one I heard about was in the municipal square in Jerusalem: something like six stories high made of corrugated metal. It goes without saying that in a country where the most ubiquitous face remains that of “The (late Lubavitch) Rebbe,” Chabad got into the act. Hundreds of metal hanukkiot, about eight feet high, and lit by electricity were placed in malls, municipal centers, and facilities all over The Land. Lest you think that Chabad hanukkiot are a source of controversy only in The West, here is a quote from an article in the Haaretz magazine (a publication which goes out of its way to find points that it can miss) by one Ariel Hirschfield, entitled “Dim Light:” “The Chabad hanukkiot….are the personification of a total absence of viewpoint; they are a cheap industrial product that emits industrial-contemporary-global anonymity in all its nakedness.” (Stop that runaway metaphor!) If you think that this pontification is weird, consider the campaign by one of the more extreme environmental groups here, to light one fewer candle each night in order to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide pollution! A competitor group thought that this suggestion was too extreme, so it suggested that everyone light the appropriate number of candles, but place an additional, green candle in their hanukkiah – but don’t light it. What I derive from all this, is that in a nation of Torah giants and Nobel prize-winning economists, we have our share of fools as well; that people who are trying to turn political social, or ecological concerns, valid or invalid, into secular religions are – whether they realize it or not -- waging the same war against our religion as did the Hellenists, whose defeat we celebrate precisely at this time every year; and that no matter how much light you try to spread, there will always be somebody ready to pour cold water over it.
We did have ulpan the first day of the holiday in order to have an ulpan-wide Hanukkah party. However, we did have a few hours of class first. Our teacher, Ora, wrote on the board the words of the song “Sivivon,” (Sivivon, sov, sov, sov, Hanukkah hu hag tov…….) and after explaining the words, asked students to provide a translation in their mother tongue (we have students from Italy, Slovenia, Holland, and France in our class) which she wrote on the board in Hebrew letters. (Are you with me so far?) So we had a slew of translations in all these languages, as well as Arabic. What about English? Now normally in ulpan my brain while thinking in Hebrew is working with the efficiency of a very large truck going up a very steep hill, but just then I was being asked to think in English, and suddenly the very large truck was now going downhill. So fifteen seconds later, I asked the teacher if she wanted a “free translation.” Whereupon I recited the following: “Little top, spin, spin, spin, Get a gimel, and you win…….” But I needed a second stanza, so I further improvised, “Spinning tops everywhere, Miracles happened there….” Except that Ora quickly reminded me that I was now in The Land, and the dreidels here say “Nes gadol haya po,” instead of “haya sham” as Jews have been saying for all these years of painful exile. What to do? Well, how about “Spinning tops, far and near, MIRACLES HAPPENED HERE.” Last year, we were far (as in Teaneck, NJ.) This year, we are near (as in Maale Adumim.) You may consider our coming Home a “nes gadol,” a “nes katan,” or no “nes” at all, depending on your point of view. But I also have a point of view, very far removed from industrial-contemporary-global anonymity. To my way of thinking, there are such things as miracles, and miracles are never anonymous, because to Our Creator, no one is anonymous. And nowhere can you be less anonymous than in The Land, where everyday a miracle occurs to someone who takes the trouble to see it.

1 comment:

Devorah said...

I'm surprised no one chastised you for The(late) Rebbe. I had a confrontation with someone once about this, many refuse to believe he isn't alive and well and ready to be moshiach.

Your blog is fun. But it takes too long to read!