Politics are Terrible. Channan is Wonderful. Lessons Learned.

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I haven’t written in awhile. This blog stuff is hard. But I want to talk about my two different realities today.

This Saturday night Alon Shevut is hosting a meeting to talk about security in Gush Etzion. I am working very behind the scenes which makes me happy because the scenes… they are so painful and ugly. Politics are nuanced and complicated and come with years and years of baggage so planning this meeting has us unintentionally stepping on lots of toes. And getting yelled at a lot. I really just want people to not be physically hurt. I’m pretty sure it’s okay to want that. But it has been weighing heavily on me — the cost of trying to help when people are angry (or in denial?) at the world around them.

But then also Channan spends the day at David’s bakery being filmed for a segment on Israeli TV. And the actor is lovely. And the director is kind. And you watch as the day unfolds as Channan gets more and more comfortable and confident with them. I’m not sure if this part will make the show (and happily I wasn’t there to see it because I would have teared up quite a bit), but at some point Channan sat down and was interviewed by the production team on what it is like to wear hearing aids. He took them off, explained them and talked candidly. The team, who have done many segments of this show, were so impressed with him. As I am. Always.

So for all the Channans out there and their siblings and friends and vibrant lives, I know why I’m working on this meeting which is the equivalent of banging my head into the wall repeatedly. It is for every child that there is and the hope that they will grow into their wonderfulness.

Boots on the Ground

For a number of summers, we worked at Moshava. We worked pretty hard and rarely saw the pool, but on days that I was feeling ambitious, I would take a kid or two at the end of the day. The lifeguards at the pool rivaled any front-line defense team. There, stationed around the pool, stood some very tanned lifeguards with great summer highlights through their hair — probably because they spent eight hours a day outdoors. The lifeguards surrounded the pool with one standing every few feet outlining the perimeter of the pool. And then they just waited and watched.

That is the best analogy I can give to my Tzomet, Tzomet Gush Etzion. There are literally soldiers every few feet, standing, staring, waiting. Give them a towel and a lifeguard whistle and it’s pretty much the same thing. But the crazy (crazy) thing is that people still keep getting stabbed. With soldiers (and soldiers and soldiers) every few feet, it is still not enough.

These days there some elite soldiers at the tzomet. How do we know they’re elite? They come with face masks — these black “maybe I could be knocking off a 7-11 right now” — masks. Dov thinks he’s being guarded by “good guy robbers.”

I am fascinated by the role trauma plays in the lives of small children. Because Dov is my last (and also super adorable) kid, I walk him to the bus each and every day and wait with him at the bus stop. Something I never had the time to do before (also, if I’m being honest, Yoni is the only other kid who took the bus and he would never want me to cramp his style). Often, I’m the only parent there and I love it. I chat with each kid. I know their test schedule, if they’ve done their homework and what they’re packing for lunch. The other day I was talking to my adorable little neighbor about the weather. And she told me that even though it is already cold out, she doesn’t have new boots yet.

It turns out the day she was supposed to be getting boots was a Thursday and instead of getting boots, she tells me earnestly, her mom had to go over to the neighbor’s house because the neighbor’s husband got shot. So no boots. And that’s the way she tells this story, she understands the story. Instead of boots, her neighbor died.

We got cookies from a neighboring Yishuv the Friday after Yaakov was killed. And I was touched by the gesture. It seemed nice. And then I was angry all Shabbat at those cookies. I don’t want to be the one getting a cookie. I want a bit of a different reality — where we get boots when we’re supposed to get boots and make our own cookies.

Broken.

Here is what it looks like when a community has its heart broken:

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It looks like a hundred kids standing together, singing songs and waving flags. And slowly slowly, it grows and grows until it’s not only those kids singing songs, but it is their friends who join them and their parents who stand behind them and their little siblings who don’t really understand what’s happening.

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And then we walk. We walk out of our small seemingly safe yishuv and turn left as we all do every day. And then we pass a memorial, hastily, lovingly achingly made and we keep walking.

This Shabbat was quiet. There were whispered stories of cars that made a right instead of a left in that moment. Of a girl in the back seat of Yakov’s car. Of cars that were shot at and cars that were spared.

And we keep walking and there is singing and dancing and hugging and crying. And kids wave their flags and speakers stand up to offer the brokenhearted some solace and strength. And one Rav, one neighbor gets up and he tells us to love every minute of life, because it is precious.

In that moment, surrounded by my broken community, surrounded by kids and parents and grandparents, I do love life.

The Don family lives five doors down from us. Sarah Don reminded me on Shabbat that the first time she met David and me we were a newly engaged couple in Toronto and they were there on shlichut. They were at our kiddush and thought, what a young cute couple. That feels like thousands of years ago. Look where we are now.

 

 

 

 

Scars

Eitan’s hair grows like a Chia Pet. I’ve thought of asking his barber for a punch card with the tenth haircut free. We’re frequent customers. Today he got a buzz cut. He was deliriously happy. But as we were leaving I noticed he had a nick on the top of his head, like the shaver burrowed in just a bit too much. When I pointed it out, the barber blamed Eitan’s head. He was right. Eitan had stitches at the top of his head when he was four. And all along this little scar has been there hidden away.

In my Top 40 house, we’ve been hearing a lot of Stitches by Shawn Mendez lately. It is a bizarre little song rhyming “stitches” with “kisses” but it’s got a good beat and feels appropriately teenage angst-y so it’s a win around here. I one up their Stitches with Train’s song Bruises and we’re really a pretty beat up bunch.

I feel like scars have been exposed. Yesterday I jumped into a cab in Yerushalayim because it was too wary-ing to wonder if the next person I passed by was going to stab me. And then it’s equally weary-ing to berate myself for the fear. The cab was quiet. In a news-obsessed country at a time of war, the radios are on everywhere all the time. But not my cab driver. He had had enough. By 10 am, he had turned his radio off. He told me he believes in fate. Fate was there, he told me, 20 years ago when he was near a bomb that detonated in the city. He was close enough to have his clothes ripped off his body but not a scratch on him. No scars.

Some scars are hidden and you find them after years. Some you never find. But they are most certainly there.

Maine: The Way Life Should Be

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This afternoon, three lovely soldiers showed up at my house. My settler house. They came to interview me. They were quite lovely. From three different cities in the States, these boys all moved here and are starting off their lives by serving in the army. Today they wanted to talk to a settler. And there I was. Settling.

I don’t come by it naturally, being a settler. There is an awkwardness that I have about it. There is an apologetic part of me when the conversation turns to my life choices. I am, in my heart, a very liberal Canadian (as all Canadians seem to be) so this seems counterintuitive, doing something that makes people angry, hurt, uncomfortable. But here I am sitting in my quite lovely home with some quite lovely soldiers talking it through.

Today was literally a day of sticks and stones. Stabbings and attempted stabbings in Kiryat Gat, Jerusalem and Petach Tikvah (and maybe Maaleh Adumim in the past few minutes). Some sort of attempted lynching (do we even use that word?) on the Tekoa road. All in all it seems like the perfect day to throw in the towel. Just the littlest bit of research has told me that Maine has the lowest crime rate in all of America. And it has lighthouses. It’s looking pretty good to me now. Also not lost on me? The irony of Maine’s tagline: The Way Life Should Be. Hilarious.

In America, there’s a lot of talk about helicopter parenting. Parents who cannot separate and hover, taking control over the minutiae of their child’s life making sure they are on top of every detail. I’m looking to coin a new phrase. I’m no helicopter parent but I did call my son’s school principal to make sure that the right security measures are in place in their seemingly super unsafe school. How do you say — can you make sure my kid doesn’t get attacked while under your guidance? It’s all just the littlest bit bizarre.

I told those three soldiers a story this afternoon: During the second intifada as I was driving home from work one day my car got stoned. And I was sort of expecting it to happen, we all were in those days. But what I was most interested in was my reaction. I wondered would I suddenly feel rage, fury, anger? Would I feel unsafe? Betrayed? Aggressive? And here’s the truth, I just felt sad. As we all swerved around the rocks and kept driving, I just feel deeply and truly sad. It is definitely that sadness that sits with me tonight. (and fear, a nice healthy dose of fear.)

Praying to Demeter

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I think in my life before business (BB or BBB before bread business) I understood what was going on around me. I hung out with people I liked, I had a skill set that I had worked on for a bunch of years to do really well. I sort of had it together. And then the bread began.

Things we have lost to the dough? One night David’s dough exploded all over the router and knocked out wifi at the bakery. In the age of automated everything, shockingly there was no number to press for my wifi has stopped working because it is covered in sourdough on the Bezek menu. Mercifully, Bezek was happy to replace the router. Another night David’s smart phone fell into the dough while it was being mixed and it fell victim to the dreaded diving mixing arm shattering everywhere (not so smart now, eh phone?). David’s alarm goes off at terrible hours. Mean vicious late at night early in the morning hours. And he gamely gets up to mix his dough, talk to his dough, shape his dough, bake his dough. He’s happy and exhausted and happy.

I sort of need a learning curve for this whole business deal. It turns out some people are mean. It’s bread, why would anyone be mean around a carbohydrate? I have been yelled at (about bread). People will do many strange things to save small amounts of money (again, it’s bread). But then there are a million lovely people that I have met who make this whole business thing feel sort of cool and fun. I talk in broken Hebrew using vocabulary words that they don’t teach in Ulpan that refer to flours and breads and sourdoughs and bread slicers. I get chizzuk from my fruit and veggie guy who tells me how to deal with customer service. I get hugged by so many lovely people. I get great emails after workshops extolling the virtues of a bread baker like David.

I have learned which breads slice easily in the bread slicer (whole wheat and country French) and which ones you need to offer up a quick and silent prayer to Demeter the Goddess of Bread, Wheat and Bountiful Harvest as you run it through the slicer (spelt… it kills me every time).

I know where to go to buy industrial ovens. I’ve met the flour guy and his wife and daughter. I know the guy we buy bags from (do I love him? no.). i know who to call in a bread emergency. I meet lots of small kids and give them magnets. I meet cute young couples who are newlyweds and spend time pondering over the perfect bread for their Shabbat table. I talk it out with people who are yeast sensitive, gluten-intolerant and wheat averse. Who knew that there were so many approaches to bread?

On Fridays, when I am in and out of the bakery, I dream up new spreads and dips for David’s bread. I have stopped cooking meals (sorry, Fischers!) and have focused on olive tapenade, pestos, roasted eggplant dips to just put out with bread.

It’s a weird world. It’s yummy.

Mean Chelm

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I like showing up at David’s bakery at 8 pm. In Katz time, that is usually when I am snuggling with Channan and Dov watching Phineas and Ferb but I have given up my dose of “Where’s Perry?” to head out to Rosh Tzurim. I can’t describe the air in Rosh Tzurim except to say that it is good air. It is Kibbutz air, as though air can change from my little hill to their little hill. But somehow it does and it is good.

I get there as breads are coming out of the oven for tomorrow and as the sun finishes its descent. I have made fun of David for years for believing that we can see the Mediterranean from the Gush but on these nights, if I squint I swear I can. It is colorful and peaceful and calm. It makes me believe that one day we will own a farm and sit on our porch at the end of the day. It inspires me to buy outdoor furniture.

When I write curriculum, I always try to write “silver lining” pieces. I think I’ve mentioned it before. It’s the type of lesson that says: boy do things suck, but check out this part — it’s so good (Civil War in Syria? Bad. Israeli hospitals helping the injured? Good). And then we forget about the sucky part and just remember the good. I get lightly mocked for my desire to put that spin on virtually everything I do (my unit on War In Judaism left out Mlichemet Mitzvah because it felt…mean. I’m in the middle of rewrites.)

But boy do things sometimes just suck. We finished a BIG meeting today about Channan where a new solution was proposed that simply seemed too good to be true. You know why? Because it was. It was a lie. We left the meeting and within 15 minutes and two phone calls it became clear that they were selling me the Brooklyn Bridge. If I’m being charitable I’d say people just didn’t do their homework well. If I’m being truthful I’ve started equating the situation to being stuck in Mean Chelm.

Yoni and I leave for North America tomorrow. We land in Toronto and I get to hug my brother and sister-in-law. We go to the PanAm games. We see a few folk and then we road trip to Cleveland. I get to hug my people — the people that I equate with good air and sitting outside, at sunset looking at the Mediterranean. I’m ready for that air and those people. I’m ready to not drink coffee at Caribou’s? Peet’s? Whatever may be left? I’d like to drive by Trader Joe’s and Barnes and Noble because I can. Maybe I’ll even buy a piece of overpriced fruit at Whole Foods. It will be my silver lining.

And then I’ll come home to Mean Chelm and to our bakery at sunset. It will all be good.

One Hell of a Fruit Bowl

It doesn’t feel good to fail. It actually feels remarkably bad. We ran Channan through a series of evaluations and it became apparent to everyone that in order to play catch up with Hebrew he needs a small classroom. Hearing-aided ears combined with a late hearing loss diagnosis and an English-speaking house has done him no favors. And while we’re sad to take him away from the one good thing at school, his friends, we’ve sort of made our peace with it.

Except there is no small classroom that will have him. In some combination of bad luck, bad planning, bad urban layout, the classroom for him would be in Efrat. Except that it is full. And while everyone is pretty nice and means mostly well, we take care of our own. And that means no room for my kid. Each day I wake up and steel myself for the next round of phone calls, the next series of letters, the next batch of begging, crying, yelling. Whatever it takes, I think. I can be all mama bear if it’s for my kid.

But it comes at a cost. My heart breaks every day a little more. My faith in people doing the right things for the right reasons is pretty much shot. I get that the situation is complicated and I have jumped through hoop after hoop and tied myself into a pretzel and written impassioned letters (in Hebrew!). And people love my kid. So to know what is good and right and have it out of reach is just shattering.

But today he graduates from 3rd grade. And there will be a song and dance and he will be the line leader. And I will take too many pictures. We need to bring the fruit platter. So I take all of the energy and all of my feelings of inadequacies as his mother and transfer it to the making of the fruit platter. I can control nothing, it seems, but boy can I control the outcome of fruit. So I head to pinterest and pick out some basket that some ubermom who probably home schools her kids and cuts coupons religiously and irons makes for afternoon snack and I tackle it with gusto. Channan and I learn how to carve out the inside of a watermelon and layer it up with new and different fruits. He is a perfect kid and it is a perfect fruit bowl. And for today that will have to be enough.

Go Team Go

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You may think I’m about to write about the Cavs. I’m not. I mean, I guess I am if it counts that I start off with we woke up this morning early (so early) to watch a game (so painful) that certainly could not have put us in the best mood. But that isn’t the team I’m going to talk about. I’m going to talk about our team, those Katz folks.

David opened his bakery today. Many people from many places have called or written to talk about what it is like to follow a dream and that is certainly cool. The place is beautiful. The people on Rosh Tzurim are authentic and effortlessly cool and like healthy bread so that’s all great. But to me what was great today were my kids.

Yoni and Eitan came to Rosh Tzurim to hand out flyers to everyone who showed up for the Cherry Festival (we timed our opening with a major festival that happens each year on Rosh Tzurim). They worked together (!) for many hours and no one came back bloody or full of rage. Already the bakery is a success, if only for that moment. Yael opted to stay home and cook all of Shabbat for us. By mid-morning she had made lemon meringue pie, spice bars and coffee cake. I’m not sure she had a clear vision about proteins and that’s probably okay.

I smiled at a lot of people, kissed some babies I didn’t know (just kidding that would be creepy) and sold a lot of bread. David ran a workshop for 40 people including the Minister of Agriculture and the Head of the Gush Etzion Municipality. Then he smiled a lot and sold bread.

Yoni realized that with the cherry festival going on a few minutes away, he needed to be proactive. So Yoni and Eitan filled baskets with bread and went down and sold it all within minutes. Then they did it again. And then all the bread was gone. So David will be retiring and our soon-to-be 14 year old will be running the store and Yael will be making our meals.

Go Team Go.

Tzefat Blue

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Maybe building a bakery isn’t so easy. There seems to be all these things we need to decide. Lighting? Does the bathroom look too farm-y? Are the tiles too big? And, this week’s crisis: windows and doors. As they went in, David and I (separately) wigged out about the color. It was crazy town blue. Super super blue. Elementary school blue. Or as David liked to say Tzefat blue. Certainly it has no place in our farmhouse bakery.

My parents came out to see the latest bakery crisis and thought we were nuts. Our amazing super-talented interior designer friend showed up to calm us down. The branding team dispatched an emergency delegation to reassure us that we are ridiculous. So maybe we are.

And then we went to Tzefat today. We’re with friends in a beautiful house in Rosh Pinah for Shabbat and this morning we had a fabulous walking tour of Tzefat. Anything is fabulous that manages to engage Dov Katz in conversation. Dov was at the helm, engaging the tour guide with numerous questions — some even were relevant. But it felt beautiful and holy. And it also felt blue. At every turn there were our bakery windows and doors staring at us. Maybe it was fate?

But really what was absolutely wild is that the tour guide ended the tour with a discussion of the color blue — of our bakery blue. And he spoke about mysticism and of skies and waters and beauty. And it was our blue. And suddenly it is beautiful.

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