Pesach cleaning for the desperate

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After a decade of marriage, it’s probably time to come to terms with the fact that cleaning will never be my hobby. There are many aspects of homemaking which I enjoy – cooking, definitely. Baking, mmm. Taking crisp, freshly washed, sun-dried clothes off the line – absolutely. But cleaning? Frankly, I can think of a thousand pleasanter ways to spend my time.

Of course, since we all appreciate clean floors, bathrooms and windows, I do clean, but the weeks between Purim and Pesach have never been my favorite time of the year. Add to this the fact that I’m due to have a baby in a couple of weeks, and you’ll get a picture that doesn’t exactly fit in with a marathon of vigorous cleaning. In fact, if I can but manage to drag myself off the sofa and do some dishes, I’m likely to congratulate myself at this stage.

Right now, it’s so much about letting go and lowering my (and everyone else’s!) expectations. We are facing a few stressful issues, but I’m really determined to reach the moment of going to meet my baby in as peaceful, stress-free state as possible. Last time around, I wasn’t able to do this. I was consumed by thinking about what I still need to do, and felt nearly cheated by the baby arriving a couple of days before due date, when I had counted on an extra week (my first two pregnancies lasted around 41 weeks).  Obviously, it was completely irrational, but I felt as though someone hit me on the head with a hammer and sent me headlong to a place where I wasn’t supposed to be yet.

So, this time, I don’t care what happens around me. I don’t care if my waters break at the precise moment when I’m trying to scrub the stove. I don’t care if my house isn’t really clean. Pesach is about getting rid of any trace of leavened bread. We’ll make sure to throw it all out. Dust on top of bookshelves isn’t leavened bread. Messy closets aren’t leavened bread. Grime on windows isn’t leavened bread.

Sure, it’s really great to take the whole kitchen-scourging thing a step further, and make it into full-blown spring cleaning. But you know what? I can’t do it this year. G-d has given me this pregnancy, and He has also scheduled it for this time of the year. I am sure He didn’t want me to forego the rest and relaxation so necessary in these last weeks of pregnancy, nor to exhaust myself by trying to do more than I am physically able to, nor to risk hurting my back by bending, lifting, or climbing ladders.

So I’m going to putter around, doing the easy stuff like sorting out our kosher for Pesach food items. My husband and older kids will pitch in with what they can. And I’m going to have my baby when she comes. And the dust will accumulate a little further, and wait for the time when I’ve recovered my health and strength. And life will go on.

Also read this lady’s down-to-earth and practical article – a breath of fresh air to all who have been harassed by the upcoming holiday and all the cleaning it entails.

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The table of Abraham

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In the Jewish Grace after meals, Birkat ha-Mazon, there are lines specifically intended for the guest to say: and this table shall be as the table of Abraham; all those who hunger shall eat from it, and all those who thirst shall drink from it, and it shall never lack bounty, always and forever. I find in these lines a very beautiful image of hospitality.

Our first dinner guest was sprung up on us quite unexpectedly. The memory stands out vivid in my mind; we were a newlywed couple, married perhaps for a month or so, and it was one of the first Shabbats we spent in our home. We were just returning from the evening service when a stranger came up to us and asked if he may have a dinner with us. We exchanged startled looks, but somehow (if not very eloquently) we must have given our consent, because half an hour later this man was seated by our table. It turned out that he is our neighbour, a middle-aged bachelor with no family living nearby. For as long as we continued to be neighbours, he was often our guest. He used to bake the most wonderful pita bread, and it was initially through trying to emulate him that our passion for bread-baking grew and flourished.

I am a scrupulous kind of person when it comes to receiving guests; I have good intentions of being hospitable and welcoming, and having my doors open to others, but when the rubber hits the road I often get these fretful nervous attacks, thinking that nothing is up to scratch – that the food I prepared isn’t fancy or plentiful enough, my home is not clean or orderly enough, my children not disciplined enough to allow space for adult company to talk.

But all this passes in my mind before the dinner or lunch takes place; once we are in the thick of action, I feel very glad for having done it, as there is nothing like the exchange, fellowship, enrichment of discussion, and generally just the knitting of hearts and communities together, that takes place ’round a dinner table. Leisure time is plentiful, the children play together, and there is that ease and laughter that accompany a good meal in good company.

I am beginning to relax. Around here, an impromptu invitation usually assumes that the guests are bringing some food with them, which turns every shared meal to a spontaneous pot-luck party. I’m telling myself not to fret about the additional side dish I did not have time to make, and think instead that washing dishes after everyone is already bountiful enough. :o)

It never ceases to impress me just how much our society lost by, when people stopped regularly congregating around the dinner table. Food, family, fellowship – the magical trio. Immediate family first of all, of course, but then the circle is expanded; others are included, made to feel welcome. Jokes are shared, discussions spring up, ideas are born. Once people dispersed for time-efficient gobbling up of substandard food from plastic TV-trays, a crucial element of togetherness was abandoned. As a clinical nutritionist I feel qualified to say that at least half of all our modern obesity and other nutrition-related maladies would be solved by the return of the family table. I truly believe there is no better way to make someone feel welcome and accepted, than invite that person to share a meal.

So my advice, to myself and to others, would be – take the plunge. Invite someone over; it doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Perhaps you didn’t prepare dessert; perhaps your home has a lived-in look (a couple of kids will give that perpetual air to a house); but your hospitality will be warmly appreciated as you toss on an apron and continue smiling and chatting with your guests while you soap up the dishes in the sink.

An update and a book review

First off, I would like to thank all the amazing people who left me comments and private messages following my last post. We are slowly coming to terms with the tragedy, and I was finally able to sleep a whole night. Above all, I’m praying for strength for my poor friend and her children, and for wisdom for our government, who must finally wake up and understand that the only way to increase its citizens’ safety is by harsh measures and an unapologetic stance, rather than by finessing and beating around the bush and PC talk.

In the sleepless nights that have been my share this past week, I’ve been reading John Seymour’s The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency. There’s nothing to take one’s mind off things like reading about malting or raising goats. Though much of the information in there will never be relevant for us (such as anything that has to do with raising pigs and rabbits), I’m loving the book; it’s the ultimate, most well-rounded and practical DIY guide to all things a homesteader, on whatever scale, might need, from tilling land to baking bread, from building fences to raising and managing livestock, and everything in between. Sure, it branches off into chapters that have enough fodder for specialized books on their own, and the savvy reader can find manuals that focus on, say, just animals (such as, for instance, my The Basic Guide to Backyard Livestock, and other, more detailed works) but it’s the best introductory condensed guide to self-sustainability I’ve read so far.

It could have been us. Or you.

Last night, a friend and neighbor of ours was brutally murdered by a cruel and cowardly terrorist, and while I can’t either think, speak or write about anything else this morning, I hardly know how to begin talking about this either.

It all began very trivially for us last evening. We were on our way home from my Mom’s, and I was irritated with my husband for stopping by to make some unnecessary little purchases, rather than drive straight home, while I was tired and (as usually these days, being in the third trimester) in need of a bathroom.

In retrospect, these few minutes of delay were just what prevented us from being on the spot while the terrorist was driving by. A little earlier, and the news could be reporting of several victims, not one.

So, as we were approaching home, I saw several private vehicles lined up, and a military jeep close by, with soldiers questioning someone. “Another patrol,” I sighed, thinking in frustration of this extra delay. That is, until I saw the ambulance. And a car with the front window all shattered with what looked like bullet marks aimed at the driver.

My heart sank. I knew that car.

Still, I was frantically praying, “please not them, not this family”, while in the utter chaos that reigned on the scene, we were checked, cleared, and told to drive on very carefully. A couple of hours later, we had already heard the heart-shattering news – that today, we are to attend the funeral of a friend with whom we stopped to chat only yesterday, thinking little it would be our last conversation.

The roles could have been reversed. It could have been us. It could have been anyone driving by in a car with an Israeli license plate.

I hardly know how to conclude this post, except perhaps with this: every day, Muslim terrorists prey upon roads in the West Bank, looking to shoot, stone, burn or run over unarmed Jewish civilians who seem to be the easiest prey. Every day, They know that, once caught, they have nothing more to fear than a stay in prison in the conditions of a passable hotel, where their “human rights” will be ensured by the hawk’s eye of humanitarian organizations, where they can pursue academic degrees at leisure, and from where, finally, they can hope to get out by some political-propaganda-fueled “gesture of goodwill” on part of our idiotic government. As long as they are in prison, their families receive generous pensions funded by sleekly run, well-funded Muslim and European organizations. Once they are out, they are celebrated as heroes, and can go back to their career of murdering innocents.

There is no death sentence, for anyone, ever (since Adolf Eichmann, at least), even if they were caught red-handed in the act and laughed and boasted in the face of the court. I say this needs to change. I hope it will change, so that Jewish blood can no longer be shed with impunity.

If you will, please pray for the widow and six children, aged from 11 to 8 months, who were left bereft by the horrors of last night.

Women in the IDF: an opinion

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I have read, more than once, articles by people in the US who say, “if the Israeli army drafts women, they must be doing something right, because they’re a darn good army!”

This reasoning is problematic on very many levels.

IDF is really very much the people’s army. Most men (excepting the Ultra Orthodox and, of course, Arabs) serve, as do the majority of the secular women. This is considered a rite of passage, and something most Israelis culturally identify with.

It is worth noting, however, that the idea of “everyone doing their part” is rather based upon old-school communist ideology, the same that instilled children’s homes in the kibbutzim to revolutionize the family unit, an experiment that traumatized a whole generation of children. The IDF is notorious for its ineffective management of human resources – it is commonly known that quite often, women in the Israeli army are assigned office jobs with little value, because there are just too many soldiers in auxiliary positions to dispose of. This leaves many, many young women – and, to tell the truth, many young men as well – in a position of basically killing time (a little less than two years) while they could have worked, studied or started a family. Essentially, the massive draft of women turns into an economic drain, and something that stands in the way of a professional, efficient army.

Israel is, to my knowledge, the only country in the world with an obligatory military service for women. Contrary to popular belief, it is not justified by Israel’s precarious political situation, since advanced technology plays a more important part these days than numbers, certainly more than numbers of soldiers who are superfluous.

This wastefulness and inefficiency, however, is not the worst of it. The feminist agenda of integrating women into combat units which were previously comprised of men only has led to reduced capabilities of said units, and a whole host of problems.

The young women who apply to serve in combat units are often highly motivated and propelled by the best intentions, being little aware of the left-wing agenda that is ready to undermine the army’s capabilities in the name of gender equality.

When it comes to physical performance, it’s a no-brainer, really: women are not as strong as men, on average, and less able to carry heavy loads. The thresholds of acceptance into said combat units have been lowered for the sake of admitting women, which is alarming in itself, but in the moment of truth, men often find themselves performing physical tasks for women who are simply incapable to do what must be done. Nevertheless, the young women are still driven to exertion far beyond their physical capability, sometimes to the detriment of their long-term health.

The second thing one must remember is that the vast majority of Israeli military recruits consists of 18-year-olds straight out of highschool. Put a bunch of teenagers in coed army units, and you get a whole lot of sexual tension, and reduced discipline and unit cohesion.

The third, and very concerning prospect, is what might happen if a woman soldier is taken into captivity. The horrors that would fall to her lot are hardly imaginable (though it is horrifying to think of any soldier in enemy’s hands).

Ultimately, the IDF is supposed to have one single purpose: defending Israel with the utmost efficiency. It’s not a place for social experiments, for gratifying feminists or for indulging individual ambition. If combat units function better when they include men only – and hardly anyone can argue against it being the case – no agendas or prickly egos are supposed to interfere with that.

Furthermore, if a smaller, better managed and more professional army would do better to defend me and my country, I’d take this army any day over a large, clumsily managed “people’s army”.

A lot of people might dispute this, but here is what I, and many others who know far better than I, believe: IDF can do without all its women, and a significant part of its men, with rational management. I believe that such management, and maintaining the safety of Israel, are the only principles that should guide our army.

Beautiful hobbit house

I love hobbit houses with lovely rounded corners and natural materials – and, though living entirely off grid seems a little daunting, I’d move into this super cute little house if I only had the chance! Straw bale building fascinates me so much that I’ve been itching to try it for a while now.

It’s a great inspiration to us all to watch people fight back against mass building and insane housing prices by raising shelters that are sustainable, affordable, beautiful and easy to maintain. In Israel, however, the main obstacle in the way of lowering housing prices are the prices of land. Land is scarce (in most regions – some are sadly underpopulated), and there is also the unfortunate phenomenon of widespread land piracy by Bedouins – which, despite the romantic image of the uncivilized nomad, cannot be tolerated in a small country with few and precious land resources (and, indeed, would not be tolerated in any country with a semi-developed legal system).

I hope, and dream, and pray that one day soon, our government will recognize the potential benefits of low-impact living, with eco-friendly building, environmental awareness and reduced energy exploitation, and will encourage people who would choose such a lifestyle, wishing to tread gently and lightly upon the face of this earth.

Staying safe

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Israel, where beauty and danger, joy and grief walk side by side.

From reading my blog, it’s sometimes possible to forget I live in Israel… I can admit that I forget this myself sometimes as I dig in the garden or scatter some grain to the chickens – at those moments it feels like I might be anywhere.

However, there are moments when reality hits, brutally. Just last Friday night, a terrorist walked into the midst of a family celebration and stabbed three people to death. I do wish I hadn’t seen the photos of the murder scene. They haunt me day and night.

There is an important point which doesn’t come up, in my opinion, nearly often enough when this subject is discussed – namely, that the terrorist didn’t break in or even climb in through the window. He walked in through the front door, which was unlocked.

The Fogel family in Itamar, about whom I can’t ever stop thinking and hurting, actually went to sleep with the front door unlocked, because a teenager was late coming home, and they didn’t want to sit up for her, or be bothered to open in the middle of the night. Five people lost their lives, including a four-month-old baby.

When I pointed this out, people turned on me: am I blaming the victims?! And the answer is no, no, and no. Absolutely not. I believe that the murdering beasts should be shot on the spot. Unless they are tortured first, which I would entirely support. Do I blame a girl who walks alone at night for getting raped? No. But I still say that it’s wiser and more prudent to thwart danger by, say, choosing a different route.

I’m merely saying this: let’s not make it any easier for those who try to do us harm. Locking doors and windows is basic, common vigilance. People living in town always do it on account of housebreaking. But somehow, people in settlements, who have so much more to fear, neglect this simple precaution.

Lock your doors and windows. I repeat; lock your doors and windows. Do it during the day and during the night. I always do. It doesn’t matter if I’m going to sleep or not. The convenience of just being able to tell a neighbor “come in” rather than go and open the door is insignificant compared to the terrible risk. And I don’t open doors to strange men when my husband isn’t present. I don’t care if people think I’m weird or rude. Safety first.

I do hope that one day, we will live in a world where no one has to bother about whether the door is locked or not; and most certainly, where no one pays with their life for neglecting to lock the door or window. But for now, the most important thing is to stay safe.