Immigrant Moments

A personal validation of Zionism

When I backpacking around Europe and Asia, some 25 years ago, I felt a mix of disdain and sadness for the many tourists I’d encounter ensconced in their oversized, air conditioned tour buses, being ferried around from site to site, taking in the highlights through tinted windows which they’d abandon only at carefully selected cafes and for quick museum jaunts. They’d never get a chance to really know a city, I thought to myself, by walking it block by block, riding the trams and soaking in the local atmosphere.

But when my mother recently came to Israel, an organized tour was just the ticket. Despite our having lived in Israel for 17 years, this was my mom’s first ever visit to Israel and, at nearly 80-years-old, she wanted to see everything.

The two-week tour, run by the Margaret Morse travel agency, was as challenging as it was comprehensive. The 100-person, three bus “adults only” group started in Tel Aviv, headed up the coast via Caesarea to Haifa, cut across the Galilee to Kibbutz Goshrim with a stop in Safed, climbed up to the top of the Golan Heights, danced on a boat in the Sea of Galilee, drove down the Jordan Valley to Jerusalem (where they spent 5 days touring the capital’s extensive offerings) before plunging even further south to the Dead Sea, Masada and Eilat.

The tour guide on my mom’s bus was a staunch Zionist and peppered his exhaustive descriptions of antiquities and modern Israeli innovations with an hefty dose of idealism. The 2,000-year-old longing of the Jews for the land of Israel, why all Jews should move here, our tragic history and inspiring renewal in the modern state – it was all there in spades.

Now, since we moved to Israel, my mother has never really commented on our decision. Not visiting was less out of a philosophical stance than the fact that my father was disabled and never could have handled all the climbing, steps and stairs (which my mother pointed out were ever present). After he died two years ago, she began thinking seriously about visiting her children and grandchildren here.

While it’s true we never heard any outright cries of protest about our living so far from California, where I grew up and where my parents still were, we also didn’t receive any emotional support towards such a life-defining choice. Until now.

It was over a sushi lunch (these days becoming more the classic blue and white staple than the staid falafel) that my mom turned to us and mustered a few words that were as transformative for her as they were affirming for us. “I understand now why you’re here,” she said as a single tear ran down her face. “This is where you belong.” And then for emphasis: “I’m glad that you are here.”

After so many years of assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that our move here had dealt a mortal blow to my parents, a rejection of everything we’d been raised with that, in parallel, ripped their grandchildren away from the warm multi-generational embrace they had undoubtedly anticipated, these words of validation brought tears to our eyes too. We didn’t require it per se – we’re middle-aged adults ourselves and supposedly long past the need for our parents’ approval. But it’s never too late for a mother to tell her son “you done good, kid.”

Mom flew back to California Saturday night. Will the enthusiasm for our adopted home and her newfound Zionism remain, once the cheerleading of her tour guide has abated and the comforts of routine and sanitary bathrooms return? That’s not clear, though I hope a remnant at least will remain. But for a moment, we were all on the same page. And that was a happy enough conclusion to a novel that has been a long time in the writing.

Art,Blogging,Design,Food,History and Culture,Holidays,Immigrant Moments,Israeliness,Life

A crafty New Year

I’m thinking that the impending holiday has to be about more than the fact that my husband is leaving for two weeks to work as a baal tefillah at a synagogue in Toronto — read, vacation money, new furniture funds and maybe some put into savings — the food that has to be cooked for three days of chag and the mountain of dishes that will be washed. (Although there are some good recipes in there.)

And so, I’ve been inspired by a gan tradition that I had to fulfill, which was that we had to make cards to be given to our boys this week. It happens in schools and ganim throughout the country before Rosh Hashanah, but this was a first for me. So I first thought about easy ways to fulfill it; scribble something on a paper, print out a coloring page and use that. But then I warmed to the idea and came across all these momblogs that are just filled with crafty ideas, some cool, some kitchy. I finally settled on this one, from ChallahCrumbs, Thumbprint Bees for their RH cards, using just black construction paper, yellow fingerpaint and a white crayon. The idea was really adorable, just that my yellow paint ended up drying invisibly on the black paper and I had to use yellow crayons to outline the bees. No matter, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Even thought the thumbprint bees weren’t a total success, we had a great time today with Playdoh and a new Fun Factory, so much so that I’m thinking of embarking on another project tomorrow, Wine Cork Stamp Rosh Hashanah cards from creativejewishmom, in which you use wine corks and a red stamppad to create really sweet apple stencil cards, napkins, gift tags, what have you.

I can’t promise what will come out of all that, but I’m willing to give it a try. Finally, I’ll also be creating a non-dairy frosting for very sweet apple-shaped cupcakes. I already made these a week ago, using a lime cupcake base — gotta use all the limes from our tree — and a readymade frosting with red food coloring. But, have to think non-dairy for some big meat meals, so will probably be using this frosting recipe. Still, I can tell you that the cupcakes are a hit and there’s something very satisfying about creating such a finished looking product.

How’s them apples?

From Rothschild Boulevard to a Jerusalem living room
Music

From Rothschild Boulevard to a Jerusalem living room

We first met Niv Kaikov a few months back at Tel Aviv’s White Night celebration. We were strolling on Rothschild Boulevard – yes the same one that’s been filled with tents all summer – which, during White Night, is instead filled with musicians. Every block, sometimes even every half a block, there is another band set up. The music is mostly rock, with a little world/ethnic thrown in to remind you of what part of the world we live in.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuSyc-KAHcQ[/youtube]Niv Kaikov performing “A New Way” live at house concert in Jerusalem. Here’s the official video for the clip.

As my wife Jody and I made our way down the boulevard, we’d stop to listen to maybe to a song or two, before moving on to the next performer. We did this musical shuffle for a good hour until we got to a young singer-songwriter whose tunes we really liked. We stayed for a couple songs. Then a couple more. A woman in the crowd was selling his CD. We bought it. We never buy CDs on the street from bands we don’t know, but there was something about this particular artist that spoke to us. That was Niv, of course.

Afterward, we struck up a virtual conversation via Facebook, during which time we decided to bring Niv to Jerusalem to put on a house concert. It would be romantic with wine and candles; an intimate acoustic performance. Niv was excited – it would be his first time playing in the Holy City. And, entirely by coincidence, the date that worked best was my birthday.

Now, here’s the 21st century spin: all the planning was done entirely virtually. We never once spoke to Niv over the phone. We didn’t even know what his non-singing voice sounded like. Still, when he walked in the door, I gave him a big hug, feeling like I’d known him forever.

Niv turned out to be as charming in person as he is in his songs. Moreover, his story is inspirational to any budding artist: he had been working as a project manager at an e-commerce company in Tel Aviv. His boss offered him a promotion and laid out a 5-year success path where Niv would become CEO and have 30 people working for him. But Niv actually hated hi-tech. And so on the same day as he received the promotion, he quit his job to pursue a full-time career as a musician.

Niv sings about his career choice in Derech Hadasha (A New Way), the first “single” from his CD (it got some airplay, he says). Other songs relate to his experience after a near-fatal motorcycle crash, and his wedding at the top of a mountain at sunrise (“we got lost on the way…the groom almost didn’t make it!”) He is at once professional and sincere, heartfelt and driven. And it doesn’t hurt that his voice and styling’s are reminiscent of a younger Ivri Lider.

For the show’s finale, Niv and his band (he brought a second guitarist and a percussionist with him) belted out his “second” single – the song Pesak Zman. When he sings about the value of “taking a break” (the English translation of the song title) from life’s many “statuses” (he mentions cars, jobs, jewelry) in order to step back and reflect on what’s truly important, you believe him. Indeed, Niv says, his dream would be to morph into a kind of motivational speaker using music as punctuation for transformation and change.

Making it in the music business these days is tough: it’s rare to be “discovered” by a big record label mogul anymore; most of the promotion work and expenses fall on the artist. Indeed Niv has invested in several professional music videos and the recording of his songs with a full band. He is very active on Facebook and social media to build a community of committed fans.

We were delighted to move from the virtual to the real and celebrate my birthday with this dynamic, talented musician. While this blog isn’t a platform for in-your-face PR, my recommendation to check out Niv’s MySpace page is born from the best intentions: to support a young musician who truly moved me…and perhaps to help him from needing to return to that corporate day job.

Entertainment

Twilight in Jerusalem

Young fan meets her vampire idol in Jerusalem yesterday (picture submitted by Jeanette Gory-Shavit)

The news that Kellan Lutz, the actor who plays vampire Emmett Cullen in the hit Twilight films, was staying at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem sent some young fans into spasms of celebrity stalking, camping out on a blistering hot Shabbat afternoon for a glimpse at their hero.

I know this because we were there too, but not to check out Lutz. We had walked my mother back to the hotel where she was staying (on her first visit ever to Israel, at age 79 – but more on that in another post).

The small gaggle of chattering, cell phone-addled girlhood had been waiting more than an hour for a Lutz sighting but to no avail. We didn’t care much until we ran into an old friend who had driven up all the way from Yavne with her 14-year-old daughter to sneak a peek.

Lutz was in Israel, along with actor Miguel Ferrer, Columbian singer Carolina La O, and Cuban performer Didier Hernandez as part of a trip sponsored by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Americas Voices in Israel, and El Al Israel Airlines.

America’s Voices in Israel, which is the prime mover behind this and other celebrity journeys, brings media and entertainment personalities to Israel with the aim of spreading more positive messages about the country. Previous visits have included stars from TV’s Full House, Ally McBeal, 90210, House and Raising Hope.

On the current trip, Lutz was the only participant to have been to Israel before. He told Arutz Sheva that “I’m amazed at the scope of history here. In the US, there is 200 years of history and here we are talking about thousands of years of stories and tradition that truly fascinate and amaze me.

Back at the Inbal, we left without seeing Lutz, but a Facebook posting later that day by our friends who’d driven up from Yavne breathlessly revealed that the vampire had indeed shown up and was quite generous with his teenage fans, posing for pictures and being a real sweetheart, albeit a blood sucking one. But hey, these days we can’t choose our friends. Vampires work for me.

Israeli man to give birth

In the movie 1994 film “Junior,” a scientist played by pre-“governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger agrees to carry a pregnancy in his own body. While that comedy was pure fantasy, in Israel the same scenario is playing out…and this time it’s real.

Yediot Ahronot reported earlier this week that a 24-year-old man walked into an emergency room in central Israel and informed doctors that he was in his seventh month of pregnancy.

No, Israeli scientists are not playing around with some experimental treatment as with the Danny Devito character in Junior. The man in question was born as a woman. He went through a sex change operation several years ago, removing his breasts and taking hormones to create a more male appearance (he apparently was sporting a goatee).

But, in an unusual move, the man (who asked that his identity remain secret) left his sexual organs intact (most transgender men undergo surgery to construct a penis). That enabled his surprising pregnancy.

Yediot reported that in Israel, one out of every 400,000 women seeks to become a man. This, however, is the first reported pregnancy. The doctors in the emergency room, by the way, released the patient, ruling that the pregnancy is proceeding as planned.