RRR Quickie

Sun, May 23, 2010

Dear RRR
Just a quick note* to wish you all Shabbat Shalom.
Life is just so busy and sociable here at Maon Harofe that I’m afraid I’m just not managing to keep you all in the picture and/or loop.
But when I’m home, I’ll probably bore you all silly with my ramblings.
In the meanwhile, the worst thing that has happened is that I managed (entirely my fault) to make my very ancient (6 years and 8 days) Nokia mobile phone a little damp and it’s rightly reacted by getting rather neurotic. So if you’re trying to call me, the best thing is probably in my room on 02-5705530. I know the mobile (cell) rings, but getting it to answer is another matter…
I also seem to be about to acquire the armchair that gives my back great relief. Hopefully it will be delivered on Tuesday and I will be there in order to check it out before paying for it.
On Sunday I’ll be going to Meuhedet to do my Xrays.
On Monday I’m meeting David at Hadassah for my follow-up visit to the surgeon. I intend to have my favourite smoked salmon baguette there before my 14:00 appointment. Whether David will join me depends on his and Daisy’s work and outing schedules…
What it is to be a free agent with people helping and visiting and writing to me!
> :-}

copper beech tree
One of the beautiful copper beeches (? – the leaves are certainly copper…) in our beautifully kept gardens had a nasty thing happen to it today: one of the enormous branches tore away from the trunk.
Given the fact that both of the others have clearly had a branch lopped off, this is not a rare occurrence.
So now I have replaced my beautiful flowers (thank you, my kind friends – Nedivah and Laurie and my fellow patient Elisabeth’s son Wevgeny who sent/brought me the most beautiful cut flowers last week!!!) with some Japanese style leaves in a lovely vase. The begonias (thank you, Ruth!) are still doing brilliantly!
Last time I looked, there were no matches with the tea lights which do duty as Shabbat candles here, as in most homes and public institutions in Israel. Yossi Drori asked me if I had some. Since I’m the lady who has never smoked and has lung cancer (adenocarcinoma, most common in non-smoking women in their 50s!), matches are not something I walk around with. But I am ever hopeful that by candle-lighting time, the arson’s friends will have turned up!
I in any case have already arranged my four candles right at the front of the tin-foil-covered tray and intend to light early so as not to “lose my place”. (Why four? Two for our home, according to tradition; one for Daisy; and one for all the four-legged furry waifs and strays that I try to help rescue.)
I also have every intention of not bursting into tears when I light them, unlike last week when I suddenly – for the first time – felt terribly sorry for myself, lighting candles away from home – and why? because, at the age of just-turned-sixty (the previous day), I have been diagnosed with (only) two cancers and being chopped out something horrid (I have three incisions), and I was overcome by a wave of longing for home and for my family (two and four-leggers) and for our lovely Friday nights when I light candles and David rushes off to shul to make sure nobody else sit in his beloved seat and Daisy and I either go out together (in the winter) or flop about in the living room (in the summer) and wait for David to come home and for us to have our standard Friday night dinner of cheese-filled ravioli (made by the nice Italian man from Pasta Italia down the road in Agrippas whose name I can never remember – Yaakov? Yossi?) and my home made fresh tomato and basil sauce…. I felt so sorry for myself and suddenly there were tears in my eyes. I tried to hide them, walking away from the candles before anyone could see and standing in the corner and sobbing. Quietly.
Then I went off to  my room.
At 19:00 I came back for kiddush.

David, the “substitute” rabbi (the regular kashrut supervisor is currently away), made kiddush. For those of you not familiar with this ceremony, I’ll explain briefly. This is a blessing made over wine on Shabbat (the Sabbath) and festivals. The “officiant” (father, host, whoever) holds up a glass or silver goblet filled (traditionally to the brim – Jewish men have amazingly steady hands!!!!) with “fruit of the vine” – grape juice or wine, and recites the kiddush (literally, “sanctification”: see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiddush).
The wine or grape juice over which the kiddush has been recited has a special sanctified status. So the officiant either makes sure that everyone has a glass with the liquid in it which they hold up while s/he recites the kiddush, thereby including everyone’s wine in the ceremony and sanctifying it all in this way, or first drinks a little from the glass or goblet and then passes it round for others to drink from, or (depending on whether swine flu is circulating and the rabbi has forbidden this tradition or a family or gathering is either hygienically minded or just follows this tradition), a little of the sanctified wine is poured from the glass into individual glasses, which are then topped up if there is not enough liquid left over. Sometimes the officiant tops up the sanctified wine in order to ensure that what is poured into the individual glasses still contains some of the sanctified liquid.
Why do I explain all of this in such detail?
In order to make all you lovely RRR readers aware of why I reacted as I did.
As described below.
David’s tradition or way of doing things was to pour from the glass containing the sanctified grape juice. He managed to get some into eight small glasses. We were about 20 people. He told me to top them up. I did and was told off (rebuked, remanded, reproached – grrrrr!!!!) for pouring too much – “no one will drink that much!” (this was grape juice and they were small shot glasses). And of course quite a few people, including myself, didn’t get any of the sanctified wine from kiddush.
He then went to wash his hands (netilat yada’im) to make hamotsi (the blessing over the bread – the “breaking of bread” referred to in the New Testament. He didn’t give anyone else the chance to do the same. None of the Jewish “democracy” and participation that David and I were so careful to practice in Lancaster at JSoc. But hey, this is Maon Harofe, and these are just sick/elderly/old/gaga convalescent people.
Now, as you may or may not know, Judaism is rife/replete/resplendent in/with “customs” (minhagim). Customs galore. There is also a tendency among some circles to consider a custom or minhag the only way to do things. I understand that. But what happened next was, I believe, a complete distortion of the beauty of the myriad customs that exist.
Two loaves of special bread, hallah, underneath a special cover, are blessed by the officiant/father/host/hostess. In our house, after David has done this, he takes one loaf, cuts it ceremonially, then slices however much we want at that stage, sprinkles it with salt, and then puts the slices in a basket or on a plate and passes it round. This is after we have ritually washed our hands with a blessing (“netilat yadayim”). Between the handwashing blessing and the eating of the challah, by tradition nobody is to say anything, other than the officiant when he blesses G-d for bringing the bread forth from the earth (“hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz). (This reminds me of what happened at JSoc in Lancaster, when 32 of us all washed, and all, as instructed, remained silent awaiting David’s making hamotzi. It takes quite a while for 32 people to ritually wash their hands and say the blessing, especially at one small basin in the corner of the kitchen… :-)) While this was going on, Father Joe, the Roman Catholic chaplain, came in to find Fergus, who was his right-hand man. Fergus and several other Roman Catholics shared a house with Debby Nodel, our JSoc treasurer (?) from Manchester. And every single one of the residents of that student whole house had that day slaved in the Jewish Rooms over huge amounts of tomatoes and basil and a hot stove to make the most heavenly fresh tomato and basil soup. I have never forgotten its celestial fragrance and taste! And believe me, peeling enough tomatoes for soup for 32 people is a lot of work. Anyway, back to Father Joe and Fergus. Father Joe stood in the door and either gestured at or called (I don’t remember – this was 1992!) Fergus to come out and help him with something. And Fergus, complying to the letter with the custom of remaining silent between the ritual washing of the hands and the eating of the blessed challah, gesticulated that he couldn’t come yet. Poor, poor Father Joe! He hadn’t the faintest idea what had happened to his right-hand man…. :-) That is one of my favourite ecumenical “live and let live” and mutual respect memories from our two years in Lancaster.)
Anyway, I digress – but not really, as you will see.
So given that there were 20 people of varying – what shall I say? – “abilities” standing about (“differently abled”) waiting for their challah, I thought the easiest thing would be for David to put the sliced challah on a plate and hand it around. So I went to get a plate. I brought it over, and Zilpah made the “ttttutttt” sound that I had never heard used as it’s used in Israel until I came here 28 years ago. It is most definitely not the same as a British “tut”. Nor a “tut tut”. Maybe I’m exagerating, but I know that from the first time I heard it, to this day, it does the same thing to me. It signals to me that I have not only committed or am about to commit the most awful faux pas, but I am the most awful person in the world. From Zilpah, given the circumstances (I’d been really nice to her and helped her and reassured and encouraged her one day when she was really dreadfully worried about her post-bypass operation stitches), it felt like the ultimate rejection, and as if she was accusing me of doing the equivalent of waving an enormous juicy pork chop over everyone’s food, like the most out-and-out heathen deliberately doing the most terrible thing on purpose to upset the innocent locals.
Of course she meant no such thing. What her problem or criticism or issue was, I have no idea. I never asked her.
But given the background – my emotional reaction when I lit candles, being criticized over my “excess” pouring of the grape juice, not getting any sanctified grape juice myself, this was the last straw.
I fled to my room.
I don’t remember if I sobbed all the way.
Or if I managed to hold the sobs in till I reached my bathroom.
All I can tell you is that I discovered the hard way that when your ribs have been interfered with in order to remove a lobe, what is more painful than coughing is sneezing, and what is infinitely more painful than coughing and sneezing is sobbing.
This wasn’t silent tears pouring down my cheeks.
This was great heaving anguished sobs.
I sobbed my heart out.
I haven’t cried like that for years and years.
I haven’t felt such pain on sobbing ever. (Well, I’ve never had a lobe removed before either…).
I sobbed for I don’t know how long – 10 minutes perhaps.
And as I sobbed I felt so, so sorry for myself.
Aged 60 and 1 day and in this situation.
As I sobbed and sobbed, I tried to stop. (As I type this, the tears are spilling over. And I’m trying not to let the little sobs come out. You can still feel sorry for yourself when you share the experience with your RRRs. Even a week later. :’( )
But my mind was also working, analyzing what was going on.
And I took a decision.
I could have gone to get some food and come back to my room to eat it.
I could have eaten what I had in the fridge.
But I decided that I wasn’t going to let two thoughtless and inconsiderate people, who doubtless hadn’t the faintest idea what they’d done to sensitive me, two weeks after my operation, by their actions, spoil my Shabbat.
So I (more or less) dried my eyes.
Went back and asked David for his prayer book (he had a tiny bencher).
What for? he asked.
I want to make kiddush, I said.
I can make it for you, he offered.
Thank you, no, I said. I don’t believe my teeth were clenched as I said this.
So I filled a glass with grape juice and got two small glasses for my table mates – a Ukrainian woman who’d had the same operation as me in Hadassah, and an Algerian/Moroccan woman – Elisabeth and Gilberte, who happened to share the room next to mine.
Then I made kiddush for us all, making sure that Elisabeth and Gilberte had their glasses held high as I recited the words.
Then we drank.
I borrowed a second bread roll from somebody so I could make hamotzi (it has to made over two loaves or rolls in memory of the double portion of mannah that fell on Friday). We ate the challah.
I returned the roll to the other lady.
Elisabeth, whose story I will tell in another posting, thanked me and said, “I’ve never been present at a Jewish ceremony in my life before.”
She’s 62. And has been in Israel since August. And was diagnosed with her lung condition in September.
So in a nutshell, this particular cloud was given a very bright, not to say burnished, silver living.
For those of you who still don’t understand what I mean when I say, “the woman who went into Hadassah on April 28 is not the same one who came out of hospital”, I hope this has helped give you a little insight into what I mean.
And some of it is due to Bernie Siegel.
And I will be forever grateful to Yehiel and Sharon Spira to introducing me to him and his writings and thinkings.
Got to go and light candles – hope the matches turned up!
Shabbat Shalom to all
PS1 I’ll probably be leaving here on Wednesday or Thursday. So PG (please G-d), next Shabbat I’ll be lighting candles at home with David and Daisy!
PS2 I know I said this would be a quick note*…. :-[

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>