If I were to start off by writing that the week before Pesach we were cleaning our kitchen, you would read that information and most likely return to what you had been doing before, even if that ‘something’ was as exciting and profitable as a game of free cell on your computer. If I were to add that we were trying to get our house ready for Pesach by Thursday night (Pesach starting the following Monday evening), you might admire our enterprise, but I certainly wouldn’t be getting your full attention. But when I tell you the story about our oven door, now you are going to have to listen up.
We had no choice but to buy a new wall oven when we bought this apartment. The previous owners left us a stove top on its last legs but took their wall oven with them. So we went back to Lior’s, our local appliance place and purchased a self-cleaning Electrolux (the same company that manufactures the vacuum cleaners), ovens with this wonderful feature being a fairly rare commodity in this country. I have spent a considerable amount of time over the years koshering ovens for Pesach, and a fair amount of that time has been wrestling with the mechanisms that allow you to take the door off and put it back on. Every oven door I’ve ever seen has a double pane of glass serving as a window; and you can never get inside the glass to clean it. You can make the oven door acceptable for Pesach use, but you can never get it so the glass is clear as it was when you bought it, and that’s annoying. But our Electrolux – there is a way to open it up to clean it inside, and lo and behold, there are actually, count ‘em, three panes of glass. There I was, holding the door upright on the dining room table, spraying 409 and wiping it down with paper towels; and then I lost my grip, and the door tipped back onto the table. Not a big drop, but enough to chip off a small piece from one side of the outside pane of glass, and, even worse, to chip off a small piece of the plastic which holds the glass in place from the other side of the door. Oyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy.
I had already used what the manufacturer calls the pyrolytic setting, so the oven was theoretically kosher for Pesach, but kind of useless without a door. All this took place on Wednesday afternoon. Barbara called Lior’s, and they gave her the phone number for the service company, Sherut Gur in Jerusalem. Phoned them. Bring it in the next day; they’re right near the Shuk.
I had visions of getting on the bus Thursday morning holding the oven door by its handle. Here in The Land, people get on buses with all manner of items. (Barbara recently got into a conversation with a woman at a bus stop who let my wife know that she had a live fish in her shopping cart, and not to get scared if the cart started to jump.) But Barbara sort of spoiled my fun by wrapping the door in newspaper and putting it into our red Century 21 bag from The States. We got onto the bus to Jerusalem Thursday morning with our carefully camouflaged oven door. Natania was with us because she needed to see our chiropractor. Being out of the army, she had gotten back onto our health plan, seen our family doctor, and convinced him to give her a referral for chiropractic care. Now she was on her way to the Maccabi natural health center to see the gatekeeper and convince him or her to authorize the same sixteen visits per year that Barbara and I get at the reduced price of 80 shekels (about $25 at today’s exchange rate) a visit. This was going to work out just fine because everything we needed to do was within walking distance of each other. We started out on Rehov Rashi, a street we will never forget because that’s where the army recruitment office is, where Natania began her army career two years and two months ago. As promised, Sherut Gur is very close to the shuk and we found it with no trouble.
How busy do you think an appliance repair center in the center of Jerusalem would be the week before Pesach? Uh, yes. Very busy. When we walked in, the phones were ringing off the hook, much too often for the young women sitting behind the desks to keep up with. There was one woman ahead of us in the repair center. She had just, I mean just, bought a new stove and it had been delivered with the wrong pieces. I don’t even know what you call them in English: the round cast iron pieces that sit on top of the burners. But they’re called kippot in Hebrew; the same word for what guys wear on their heads (although the head gear is somewhat lighter). She was expecting to feed twenty some odd people for the seder in exactly three and a half days and was remarkably calm under the circumstances. Rafi the technician was able to locate the right ones and send her on her way with them. There was another guy who came in while we were waiting. He had a small metal rack, probably for a portable oven, also the wrong size. Rafi found one that fit better; it cost 125 shekels. Barbara and I began to get nervous. If this puny rack cost 125 shekels, how many zillions of shekels would a new oven door set us back?
Our turn. We unwrapped our door and showed it to Rafi. I assume that he had done his time in the Israeli army, and after that experience it would take a lot to upset his equilibrium – even the week before Pesach. On the phone to the supply center in Tel Aviv. Fortunately for us, we had remembered to bring our original sales receipt. We knew that dropping a door would not be covered under the warranty, but the receipt did have the model number. Fortunately they had the part in stock, and it would arrive as early as that afternoon. He gave us an estimate that was quite reasonable, although he didn’t mention that labor was extra – much extra.
We had sent Natania ahead to the health clinic to be examined by the gatekeeper and approved for the requisite sixteen visits. It turned out that our chiropractor, Dr. Breen was available that very moment, so she got an immediate appointment to begin the process of returning the vertebrae in her neck to their proper positions. And then off to the shuk for round six of our pre-Pesach shopping. Except we did stop off for lunch first because you never go food shopping on an empty stomach. Unless you want to wind up bringing home two kilo of ochre and five of fava beans.
I have only the dimmest memories of the Machane Yehuda shuk from my first visit to The Land in 1980. In fact, the only thing I remember was photographing a ritual slaughterer plying his trade on a production line of chickens – an image which I have exhibited many times since. Today mercifully, the guys killing the chickens are miles away from the people buying and selling them. The shuk today is much bigger and a sense of up-scaleness (if that’s a word) has begun to creep in around the corners – which is most interesting because the rest of the Rehov Jaffa area has been suffering from the ongoing, poorly planned construction of the Light Rail, still a year away from completion. The most conspicuous example of this trendiness in the shuk is the presence of an Aroma coffee bar on the main drag. But there are a number of smaller, less conspicuous places cropping up like mushrooms on a New Jersey lawn after a week of rain: a few fancy clothing stores, a brightly lit concession which sells only the highest quality olive oil, a cooperative gallery displaying the work of local craftsmen. In fact, the revival of the shuk was the subject of an article in the Jerusalem Post recently which described a number of small restaurants that have opened up in or around the shuk. What stopped me in my tracks was a mention of an Indian restaurant. Indian food!!!!!!!!!!!! As the only other kosher restaurant of its type in the area is a mediocre but more expensive meat restaurant in one of the hotels, you can imagine my glee at reading this wonderful news. But where was it? I had never come across it, and I do tend to get around in Mahane Yehuda. One day a few weeks ago when I was in the area, I made it a point to explore systematically all the back alleys of the shuk in search of this hidden treasure, stumbling onto it at last on one of the side streets. At least I now knew where it was, so it was a foregone conclusion that on this afternoon before Pesach we would head over there for lunch.
There are small restaurants, and then there are tiny restaurants. This vegetarian Indian restaurant can comfortably seat about a dozen people, making it smaller than the average falafel joint on King George – with a menu about as extensive. In fact, they don’t hand you a printed affair; they point to what’s written on a big blackboard on the wall. What it comes down to is that you can order a medium size plate, a big plate, a bigger plate, or a really big plate. But it’s all the same food: thin Indian bread, rice, potatoes in a sauce, lentils, a split pea type soup, a yogurt dish, and one or two other items that I cannot identify – just more of it or less of it. You can also order some side dishes as well as dessert and chai tea, served in a glass meant for cold drinks so you have the option of holding onto the glass and removing your finger prints, if you so desire. It’s just that the food is so sublime that it would be easy to shed tears of joy; not over your plate, though, it would be a pity to water down what you’re eating. In these intimate surroundings, it’s easy to get into a conversation with the woman who runs the place, a Jew who was raised in India, who came to and left Israel several times, although she thinks this time she will stay put.
Lunch being over, I suggested that Barbara and Natania head home to continue cleaning, and I would remain at the shuk to do the shopping. So the two of them headed in one direction to do one errand and then take the bus back to our island of serenity, Maale Adumim. I wandered around, bought what I needed, got on a different bus and arrived back at to our apartment thirty seconds after them. Good plan, bad execution.
Several hours later, Barbara and I were back on the bus heading to the Jerusalem Theater for another FREE concert(at least for us; I’m sure some of the audience paid full price for their tickets. And they call us freiers!); this time the forces at hand, Leon Botstein and the Jerusalem Symphony in an all Kurt Weill program: a concert suite from The Threepenny Opera, his Second Symphony, and the rarely performed but quite marvelous ‘Seven Deadly Sins,’ for orchestra, one female and four male vocalists – one of those pieces that remain underperformed because of their eccentric use of musical forces. This was another example of Botstein’s programming skills, a concert devoted to the music that Weill wrote, generally in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht, before he came to America. This is a subject which particularly fascinates me: artists who fled the Nazis because they were Jewish and/or considered avant-garde, i.e.; ‘decadent,’ and their subsequent careers in America, something completely outside the scope of these articles. I should mention, however, while I have my cultural news reporter hat on, that there was a whole new series of art work on display in the lobbies, most of it not so ipsy-pipsy, as my late father might have said.
One seemingly innocent thing happened on the way to the theater, the full significance of which we only grasped later. It was a phone call from Natania. “Mommy, where is Mimi’s heating pad?” “In the closet in the middle room.” “Do you need it for yourself or for the cat?” “It’s not for me. And where’s the eye-dropper?” “Under the bathroom sink, in the right hand drawer. Why do you need an eye-dropper?” “I’ll tell you when you get home.” We should have figured something was up, as these were not the typical questions a grown child asks her parents, but we were too busy trying to make our bus connections and then too engrossed in the concert to consider. As I said, we should have know better.
The concert was over. Our friends David and Bernice had also obtained tickets, but he was much too busy with work to attend. Therefore, we were left to our own devices to get home, meaning we had to wait for a bus to arrive to take us to a second bus which would get us back to Ma’ale Adumim, by which point I was more than ready for beddy-bye. However, there was Natania, waiting for our arrival. “I have some good news and some bad news. Actually, I have some bad news and some more bad news.” “OK?” “The bad news is that I broke a bottle of wine. The worse news is that, we’re down a bottle of wine and we’re up to kitties.” “What?” Natania pointed to Mimi’s bed, which our old cat rarely uses as our bed is more comfortable. There in the bed, with the heating pad on, were two very small felines, upon inspection less than a week old – their eyes were not open yet and they could not walk. As our daughter explained it, on her way to the mall earlier in the evening, she had seen two local kids carrying this kittens, an unusual activity in and of itself. When Natania returned home, she found these two pathetic little critters abandoned in front of our building.
I know that there are billions of people on the planet who would have gone about their business, not giving the matter any thought. But Natania was raised in her mother’s home; she would be as likely to head into the wadi with a can of gasoline and start a forest fire as she would leave these kittens to die of exposure and starvation. Make no mistake about it, those kittens would have been dead within a few hours. That doesn’t mean that Barbara and I were thrilled and delighted to see these newcomers (Mimi had already come down, sniffed at them, and, determining that they were no threat to her hegemony, walked away). Barbara’s response was, “Natania, the kittens are yours. You are going to have to get up and feed them.” I took another tack, inquiring before I headed upstairs to bed, “Natania, which bottle of wine did you break?”
Yes, this saga will be continued. What did you think?