Thursday, January 31, 2008

Painting a Life

Sometime in the middle of eighth grade, I switched allegiance from Bnei Akiva to Ezra. I don't remember why, but I must have had some compelling reason, because Bnei Akiva met right up the block, on Pisgah Street in Bayit V'gan, and Ezra met miles and miles away, somewhere in Rechavia.

So on Shabbat afternoon, I walked up the stone stairway with my friend Esther and waved to Shifra. Shifra lived not in a stone building like ours but in a small wooden house. The house was full of red-headed children, one of them a tall girl who ran breathlessly to meet us.


Now we were walking across a field dotted with wild red poppies. It was hot afternoon, the springtime sun beating down on us. We wore long sleeved cotton blouses and long blue skirts. We also wore pantyhose, covering our legs. But as we climbed up a rocky ledge, Esther suddenly turned around. "Hide me," she said. She ducked down and when she stood back up, the stockings were in her hand instead of on her legs. She unceremoniously dumped them in a trash can by a bus stop.

"That feels much better," she said. Shifra and I stared at her bare legs. My legs were itchy from the hose. I should have just worn knee socks, but on Shabbat I always wore hose. I didn't take them off. We were almost there anyway, I reasoned. Shifra was mad at Esther and scolded her in rapid Hebrew that neither of us understood. Americayit, said Shifra. And not in a good way.

I liked Ezra. I liked the songs. I liked the little building where we met. The girls in one room, the boys in another. Later, we were together for Havdalah and then a campfire. Pulling potatoes from the campfire and drinking black coffee. Strange and wonderful to me. Then walking through the streets of Jerusalem, singing our songs. Sometimes we walked to the Kotel for Ma'ariv. I don't remember everything: it was thirty years ago and sometimes seems like a dream.

Sometimes, when I was young, when I was with someone I cared for, I tried to explain what I wanted life to be. How I thought it should have colors like a painting and different textures. How certain moments glow. But I found myself among rationalists. It was a long time before I met a fellow dreamer who knew the importance of a rich and fully realized, deeply felt life.

When I think about being Jewish, I think about all those things. I think also about the past, not my own but that of my parents and grandparents. I think about how each letter in a Torah scroll must be perfect, the lessons of scribes handed down through generations. I remember a Lower East side store where beautiful cloth in every color and pattern filled shelves and covered tables. These were scarves for covering a woman's hair. In another store, in another country, at the corner of Ben Yehuda street and King George, was a store where we bought our thread to crochet kippot. All the colors were there too. And we used the same thread to decorate the blouses we wore in a parade in Jerusalem.

None of these are reasons to be Jewish, but they are the things that transport me. Like walking to the Kotel at sunset, like the sounds of the songs in the old shul, which were nothing near harmonious, but the voices were both old and young and always real.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Oy Veh!

It's been so long since we've written here... But I got an email that let me know people are still reading the older, archived posts. Maybe we should rejuvenate this blog? ("Rejewvenate"?)

Just to kick-start it a little: Here an interesting tid-bit I learned this morning. I was looking up information on Jews from Galitzia (Galitzianers) and in Wikipedia read this:
In 1773, Galicia had about 2.6 million inhabitants in 280 cities and market towns and approx. 5 500 villages...

No country of the Austrian monarchy had such a varied ethnic mix as Galicia: Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, Armenians, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Roma, etc.

The Jews of Galicia had immigrated in the Middle Ages from Germany...

Poles were Roman Catholic, the Ruthenians (or Rusyn, now mostly calling themselves Ukrainians) belonged to Byzantine-Slavonic Greek Catholic Church. The Jews represented the third largest religious group, who kept mostly strictly their rabbinical faith.

The average life expectancy was 27 years for men and 28.5 years for women....

So, several interesting things here:

1. The Jews were the third largest religious group in the region,
2. The Jews living in Galitzia were mostly religious Jews observing rabbinical Judaism,
3. Life must have been terribly hard, with an average life span of 27-28 years.

Is it significant that the Orthodox Jewish way of life may have taken form at a time when people had a drastically shorter lifespan? If you had only 28 years to live, certainly that would affect your approach to religion, to marriage and family, to education.

That average life span noted in Wikipedia is the average for all people of the region. Did Jews live longer due to better health habits (eating Kosher, washing hands, etc.)? I wonder. There must be some records that still exist. It would be an interesting area for research.

While poking around on the Internet, I found this moving and disturbing, detailed book on Jewish life in Korczyna, Poland. Sigh. These stories all end the same way, and that's the sad thing. But at least we are here today to look back.

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P.S. I notice that comments are not working on this blog. I will contact Chaim about that.

P.S.S. With Chaim's approval, I updated this blog to Blogger II. Changed the template but kept the beautiful header. Comments are working now. It's a new year!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Haveil Havalim- A New Sheriff In Town

That is right folks, there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Jack. In the coming weeks I am going to take over the administrative responsiblities for Haveil Havalim.

I strongly urge anyone who reads this blog to participate in it. If you have any questions hop over to my blog and I'll fill you in on the details.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008