Posts Tagged ‘Shabbat’

Welcome!

 

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Several months ago my husband hung a batik banner next to the mailbox at the bottom of the driveway with the words “bruchim haba’im” – welcome – written in an artsy, flowing Hebrew script.

We live on a rural country road that doesn’t get much traffic, and let’s face it, not too many people in Maine can read Hebrew.  But what the heck.

About an hour before the end of Shabbat, we heard cars coming up our driveway, which is unusual by itself.  Out clambered 6 young people from Boston, who were vacationing in the area for the Fourth of July weekend.  They’d seen the sign, were able to read it, and their curiosity got the best of them.  So they decided to check us out.

We invited them inside and they were floored to see my husband and I, along with a friend from our hometown, gathered around the Shabbat table.  They joined us for a l’chaim and asked us all sorts of questions about the hows, wheres and whys of what we’re doing in a remote corner of Maine.  One was a female rabbinical student; one was a software engineer; one was in social media marketing; one was a grad student majoring in economics; and two were involved in non-profit organizations for social justice for the underprivileged.

Our guest from our hometown couldn’t believe the unfolding scene.  Oh, we had regaled her with entertaining stories of all the bizarre situations we’ve found ourselves in, and the many unusual people we’ve met over the years living here in Maine, despite our isolated location, but now she was getting a taste of that delightful Maine mojo first-hand.  (Many of these tales can be found in the archives of this blog.)

Really my friend’s visit was somewhat serendipitous to begin with.  When I was in my hometown last week to celebrate the birth of a new grandchild, I happened to see her in the street and mentioned that I’d be returning to Maine in a few days, and that if she’d like a ride up with us she’d be welcome to join us.

She had visited us once before during that time of year known as “stick season” in November, when the gorgeous fall colors are long gone but the snow hasn’t yet fallen, so the landscape is quite bare and grey.  I happen to like stick season, but my friend wasn’t particularly impressed, especially after hearing my accolades about the beauty of Maine.  The bleakness of the landscape appeared foreboding and desolate to her then.  Now that we’re at the peak of summer and everywhere it’s a lush green, she feels differently.  It’s been fun to expose her to her first-time-ever kayaking and swimming in a lake, and hiking to hidden cascades and moutaintops.  But nothing prepared her for the one-in-a-million chance of meeting up with total strangers and inviting them in for a taste of Shabbat.

Shabbat came to an end and we all made havdala (the special blessings chanted over wine, braided candle, and spices to say goodbye to Shabbat and welcome the new week). Contacts were exchanged along with warm wishes and my suggestions and directions for exploring some of the hidden gems in the area.

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I don’t know if we’ll ever see them again, but you never know to what or where something as simple as a “welcome” sign might lead.  And now my hometown friend has her own Maine stories to tell.

 

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Yahrzeit

Every year on the Hebrew day that corresponds with a loved one’s death, we commemorate the yahrzeit (memorial day) by reciting kaddish (the mourner’s prayer) with a minyan (quorum of 10 Jews).  The kaddish is said first at evening prayers; then the next day at morning prayers; and then again for the afternoon prayers. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, but here in Maine finding a minyan on even one occasion, much less three times, can be a challenge.

In the past we’ve simply admitted defeat and my husband has returned to our home town so he can say kaddish there.  But this time we knew we’d be in Maine and we would have to find a minyan somewhere, somehow. Normally we would have gone to the Chabad House in Portland, but the rabbi there was away in New York, celebrating his son’s wedding.

Fortunately there are two places in the White Mountains in New Hampshire that have minyanim in the summertime:  Lincoln and Bethlehem.  Since Lincoln, a 124-mile round trip across the Kancamaugus Highway was the closest to our home, we traveled there this past Thursday to Loon Mountain.

Usually the views from the Kancamaugus Highway are expansive, but just before a massive thunderstorm, the clouds rolled in.

Usually the views from the Kancamaugus Highway are expansive, but just before a massive thunderstorm, the clouds rolled in.

2014-07-04 11.59.59_resized   Next to the ski lift is a deli that is operational only in winter, so in the summertime Jewish travelers get together to rent it from June through August, and amongst the tables and menus for chili dogs and sub sandwiches, they transform it into a temporary synagogue. Since it was still before the peak vacation season, there were only a few worshipers – – my husband was in fact the 10th man – – but he was able to say kaddish for my mother’s yahrzeit.

The makeshift synagogue at Loon Mountain, usually the home of Slopeside Deli.

The makeshift synagogue at Loon Mountain, usually the home of Slopeside Deli. We got there early, so my husband sat and reviewed some religious texts while waiting for the rest of the minyan attendees to arrive.

The outside of the "synagogue"

The outside of the “synagogue”

The ski resort where the minyan is held

The ski resort where the minyan is held

Here is the base of the ski lifts across from the shul

Here is the base of the ski lifts across from the shul

The view from inside the shul

The view from inside the shul

A one-time $15 donation is requested from minyan participants, which is applied towards the rental of the space from the deli.

A one-time $15 donation is requested from minyan participants, which is applied towards the rental of the space from the deli.

This map shows the boundary line of where one may walk on Shabbat to be in proximity to the synagogue

This map shows the boundary line of where one may walk on Shabbat to be in proximity to the synagogue. There is no eruv.

The chassidic rabbi from the Bethlehem community is hoping to keep his synagogue operational on a year-round basis in the future.

Bethlehem is 30 minutes from Lincoln. The chassidic rabbi from the summertime Bethlehem community is hoping to keep his synagogue operational on a year-round basis in the future. They recently restored an old mikva there.

Originally we thought we’d go camping at Hancock Campground, a lovely NH State Campground that is only 10 minutes from Loon Mountain.  That way, we could also bring our dog and we wouldn’t have to pay for a kennel to board him.  We could sleep in our tent under the stars and return easily to the minyan the next morning in Loon Mountain before heading back home. Unfortunately, the weather report was ominous and it was obvious that camping out was not a realistic option.

We had considered staying in a motel nearby, but thanks to the upcoming July 4th weekend the prices were very expensive and I would have also needed to pay for boarding my dog.  So we opted instead to drive home that night, and return the next day for morning prayers, despite the long drive.

We knew the weather called for lots of rain.  What we hadn’t counted on was the immense thunderstorm that was a prelude to a now-weakened Hurricane Arthur, making its way up the East Coast from North Carolina.  Driving the normally scenic Kancamaugus mountain road in the pitch blackness, the only illumination besides our car’s headlights was the constant bolts of lightning.  Ferocious winds and sheets of water pounded our car up and down the steep traverse, and fog further impeded my vision.   At least I didn’t have to worry about traffic  – – we were the only ones crazy enough to attempt to drive home under such conditions.  I went very, very slowly.  About 4 inches of rain fell during the two hours we were on the road.

Since the ride normally takes 90 minutes, we left our house in Maine at 6:30 a.m. the next morning to make it in time for the morning prayers back in Lincoln NH.  Since it was July 4th, my husband was off from work and we decided on the way home from prayers to take a leisurely detour along the Kancamaugus, stopping at very scenic Rocky Gorge.

First, though, my morbid curiosity got the best of me, and we stopped at Hancock campground to see how the other campers had fared during the storm.  A few of the tent campers had packed up, but several people had erected an elaborate set of tarps to shelter the tents from getting too saturated.  Even the people with pop-up campers had set up tarps.  Now that the punishing rain had passed, the weekend forecast was promising and the soggy campers were in for a pleasant holiday weekend.

But meanwhile the skies were still a threatening grey and in fact it was drizzling.  That was not enough to stop us from exploring Rocky Gorge along a beautiful walkway next to the Swift River.

Some of the falls at Rocky Gorge on the Swift River in NH

Some of the falls at Rocky Gorge on the Swift River in NH

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There were many “No Swimming!” signs posted along the gorge and soon we came upon a plaque describing exactly why swimming was forbidden.  Reprinted from Readers Digest, it told the following dramatic story, which reminded me of the scary ghost stories told around a campfire when I was a little girl:

The disappearance of Dorothy Sparks on July 20, 1942 will likely be remembered as a classic of the strange, the terrible and the true.

One moment she had been seen, young and beautiful, poised a the river’s edge in a New Hampshire wilderness.  Another tick of the watch and she had vanished as if by a conjuror’s hand.

With a group of friends, Dorothy had gone for a holiday to Rocky Gorge, not far from North Conway and Intervale.

There, through a chasm of jagged granite, flows the Swift River, to plunge over precipices in two noisy, misting cataracts, one below the other with a churning pool between.

For Dorothy, one of University of New Hampshire’s most intrepid swimmers, the pool was a challenge.  She plunged into it for a swim, then joined the others for a picnic lunch.

The group spent the afternoon hiking along the river shore.  When they returned to their cars, someone asked, “Where’s Dorothy?”

She had lagged behind on the way back.. Several of her friends recalled seeing her silhouetted on a rock at the rapids’ edge above the upper falls. “Dorothy!  Doro-thee!” they called.

But from the heights and valleys no answer came.

They scoured the slopes around the falls.  Man after man dived into the river, above and below the two cascades.

Edmund Pennypacker even hurled himself recklessly into the maelstrom at the foot of the upper waterfall.  Instantly he was sucked into the relentless drag of a current near the bottom of the pool where the water was pouring through a natural tunnel in the rock formation of the second cataract.  Catapulted through this hole into the shallows at the foot of the fall, he reappeared, bruised and spent.

Surely, if Dorothy’s body had been caught in the jagged rocks of the subsurface,  tunnel, he would have come upon it.

And it was not lying in the shallows beyond.

The knot of heavyhearted picnickers realized at last that there was only one thing left to believe:  Dorothy had been trapped under the falls.

And her death was already certain.

Still, some of the picnickers kept up their futile diving, while others drove to the nearest hamlet to phone the police.

It was two hours later before State Trooper Kenneth Hayward arrived, together with the deputy medical referee, the local undertaker and a squad of 20 forest rangers. They went to work with tongs, lowering and lifting long bamboo poles.

Once the trooper thought that his grappling iron had hit something solid.  Again he probed in the same place and this time fished up a forlorn strip of pink silk cloth; it was part of Dorothy’s bathing suit. So Dorothy’s body was down there, snared in the densest drop of the falls.

Since it could never be raised against the force of the descending water, they decided to divert the stream above the falls.

With darkness now beginning to close in, they might have said, “We’ll wait until morning to build the dam and drag for the body.”  Instead, with the tenacity characteristic of every small American community, they decided not to give up so long as a remote chance remained.

After a mad trip back to town for potato sacks and shovels, the crew, working against time and darkness, shoveled the sacks full of sand, cut own brush and rolled stones.

At last the thunder of rushing water yielded.  Enough of the flood had been sent off at an angle to give a weird translucence to the lessened cascade.  That was when Chick Whitcomb, looking through the spume and spray at the bottom of the falls, saw a human hand swaying back and forth in the water.

Failing to hook the hand with his sharp grapple, Whitcomb yelled for a pole with a noose at its end.  Somehow he managed to lower the noose over the swaying wrist, draw the rope taut and pull the ghostly hand closer to the surface.  Then, while the others held him by the belt and heels, he plunged his arm into the chill water, reaching for that hand.

To his consternation, he felt cold, clammy fingers close around his wrist and squeeze it!

What had happened to Dorothy Sparks?

When last seen, she had actually been betting herself that she could walk across the rapids above the first waterfall by stalking barefoot from stone to stone.  In mid-river she slipped, fell, and was instantly swept over the falls.  Like a plummet, she plunged headfirst to the bottom of the pool . . .

. . . Spray constantly washed her face and slapped her denuded body, from which the bathing suit had been torn in her struggles.  As she lay there, soaked and numb with cold, the dim light all around her was greenish yellow.  She tried to scream, but the noise of the water drowned out her feeble calls. For three hours and 15 minutes, passing in and out of consciousness, Dorothy Sparks remained alive in her watery cage.

When at last tongs grazed her face, she tried vainly to seize them and signal.  What if the searchers gave up and looked elsewhere?  If they never came back?  It might take her days to die!  When Whitcomb’s rope brushed mercifully across her face, she caught hold of the loop, in a last desperate spurt of strength, and forced it around her wrist.

With great heaving and pulling they dragged her foot free and pulled to the surface what all believed to be her dead body.  The slim nude figure looked like a marble statue as it was raised to the top of the ledge.  Then Dorothy opened her eyes, her lips parted in a feeble smile, as she flung both arms around the neck of the popeyed trooper.

In the ambulance the trooper told her:  “That was the first time a corpse ever hugged me – – I darn near fainted and dropped you!”

After visiting Rocky Gorge (and after reading Dorothy Sparks’ story, we tread very carefully!), we returned to our house in Maine.  We had only four hours to relax before getting back in the car to travel to our next destination, Old Orchard Beach, 75 miles away. We would be staying with friends for Shabbos in Old Orchard (our friends maintain the Orthodox synagogue there).  The shul was built in 1912 and is quite simple but very beautiful.  (You can read about the synagogue here and see pictures here.)

Besides the quinoa-corn-edameme salad and gazpacho soup I made for our hosts, I also brought some homemade watermelon margaritas and some gin- and wine-based honeydew-cucumber spritzer, whose recipe I found in a Good Housekeeping magazine I read while at the dentist several weeks previously.  I figured that the l’chaims would contribute to a relaxed and happy atmosphere at the Shabbat dinner table, and help us cool down.

(The entire week leading up to Hurricane Arthur, it had been very, very hot.  I think I gained 10 lbs. because basically I reduced my mealtimes to two food groups:  beer and ice cream.  The only other way to cool off, and which we took advantage of, was to spend the searing weekday afternoons swimming at the lake once my husband’s work days came to an end.  At least if one has to be in a heat wave, it was probably the least painful way to sizzle (very few people in rural Maine have air conditioning).

Although Hurricane Arthur never touched down in Maine (nor was it hurricane strength by the time it made its way north), it did bring very heavy rain to Old Orchard Beach on Friday night.  Fortunately my husband was well prepared with a head-to-toe rain suit and his Muck boots so the walk to the synagogue, while formidable, was at least do-able.  I worried needlessly that the weather would be an impediment to synagogue attendance.  Nine other hardy souls slogged their way through the heavy downpour by foot to make it in time for mincha and kabbalat Shabbat, and so my husband was able to recite the third and final kaddish in my mother’s memory on her yahrzeit.

We had a lovely Shabbat with our Old Orchard Beach friends, who as usual regaled us with amusing and interesting tales of their life experiences in Maine.  As Shabbat came to a close, we made havdala in the shul and then stepped outside onto the sandy white beach where tens of thousands of vacationers of all ages looked skyward, in anticipation of a July 4th fireworks show that was about to begin.  It had been delayed by 24 hours because of the storm, but tonight it was clear and pleasant and the fireworks display was really impressive.

It had been a very interesting but exhausting yahrzeit.  We had driven a total of 400 miles through stormy mountain roads and alongside crashing ocean waves so that my husband could say kaddish three times in 24 hours.  In this world, my mother (who was not an Orthodox Jew, but appreciated observance of the recitation of kaddish) would have probably said, “That’s crazy!” but hopefully her neshama (soul) in the world Above was becalmed and pleased by our success in thrice finding a minyan, even in faraway Maine.

 

Israel, Days 8 – 9: Mitzpe Netofa

Our second and final Shabbat in Israel would be spent in the Galilee, in a small yishuv called Mitzpe Netofa.  It is located near a major highway crossroads called Tzomet Golani (Golani Junction), from which the highway takes you, depending on which direction you choose, to Tiberias, to the Upper Galil, or the Golan Heights (but still feels out of the way when compared to Highway 6, which runs north to south down the center of the country).    Tiberias is only 15 minutes away, but Mitzpe Netofa is high in the hills so it’s quite a bit cooler than Tiberias’ oppressively hot, humid summer weather, and there is always a nice breeze.

There is a convenient strip mall, part of “The Big” (pronounced, comically, “Ha-Beeg“) franchise, just off the main highway on the outskirts of Tiberias (downtown Tiberias has yet another, much larger “Big”).

2014-05-25 15.36.42_resizedThis off-highway “Big” is one of many “Bigs” located throughout Israel.  The larger-scale Bigs have many stores which any American will recognize, including The Gap, Banana Republic, Nike, etc. (but this being Israel, clothing and shoes are double the price). It also has a great Rami Levi discount supermarket (a chain found throughout Israel), as well as a wonderful kosher dairy cafe franchise called Cafe Greg, that served one of the best vegetarian meals I’ve ever eaten.

A delicious vegetarian meal of handmade spinacha and sweet potato ravioli, with a feta and goat cheese, lentil, bulghur  and edameme salad.

A delicious vegetarian meal of handmade spinach and sweet potato ravioli, with a feta and goat cheese, lentil, bulgur and edamame salad, served with crusty artisan bread.

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All guests are welcome at Cafe Greg

 

 

It meant that if we lived in Mitzpe Netofa, we wouldn’t have to rely solely on the local macolet (mini-market) with its limited selection, since the Rami Levi supermarket chains are big, beautiful, well-stocked and fairly priced, and this one was only 15 minutes away.  I also enjoyed people-watching there:  there were some Druz couples out on dates, plenty of Israeli youth, and families all enjoying the food and ambience.  Until now we had been eating on the cheap:  besides my beloved Milky puddings and Choco drinks, we were subsisting on fresh pita and humus bought at convenience stores because due to our extensive driving schedule, other than the shwarma in Jerusalem, we hadn’t even had time to sit and eat at a restaurant, so the delicious meal of  incredibly fresh salad with local feta cheese, and handmade spinach and sweet potato ravioli with goat cheese along with a cold Tuborg beer that we enjoyed at Cafe Greg, was especially appreciated.

There were several things about Mitzpe Netofa that appealed to us.  First, there is absolutely no age discrimination.  There are plenty of people our age, but of course there are many young families as well.  What is impressive is that the various age groups seemed to mix; they greeted one another with genuine affection and interacted socially in one another’s homes.  Everyone we saw came up to us and greeted us in a friendly manner, really going out of their way to make us feel welcome.  At the synagogue on Friday night, during the announcements, our names were mentioned as visitors and we were publicly welcomed by the entire congregation.  The main synagogue is located in the main, original area of Mitzpe Netofa.

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The flag banners inside the synagogue are left over from Israeli Independence Day celebrations

Just outside the synagogue is an amphitheatre which serves as a great meeting spot and is perfect for community concerts and performances.

The ampitheatre outside the synagogue

The amphitheatre outside the synagogue

The newer building area is in a completely different location one hillside away, which is a bit of a shlep (not a problem for me, as I love to walk).  There is a possibility that a Sephardi syngagogue will eventually be built to service the new neighborhood.  But for ourselves, it probably makes more sense for us to buy an already-built (and rarely available!) home in the 15-year-old neighborhood, since as we age a long, uphill walk may be impractical.  Most of the “older” residents – – those who had been in Mitzpe Netofa for 15 years – – live in the older neighborhood, with young couples with small children buying in the newest areas.

New construction in a new neighborhood in Mitzpe Netofa

New construction in a new neighborhood in Mitzpe Netofa

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Mitzpe Netofa, in conjunction with Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah organization (a key administrator in NBN lives in Mitzpe Netofa), has a rather unique program called the Soft Landing Program.  In order to not only encourage aliyah to Mitzpe Netofa but also to the North part of Israel in general, they have a “try before you buy” program at Mitzpe Netofa.  This is not an option for acceptance – – the one year probationary period is a requirement for acceptance/membership/permanent residence.  One rents a “caravilla” (very basic modular prefab home) for the highly subsidized price of 1000 NIS approx for 3 bedroom caravilla to 1500 NIS approx for 4 room caravilla per month for a minimum of one year (As of this writing $1 = 3.4 NIS’ or put differently, 1 NIS = $.29).  During that time, you participate in all aspects of life in Mitzpe Netofa, with the exception of voting rights on community issues.  During that time, one’s children (if applicable) attend local schools; one is a member of the synagogue; one participates in any extracurricular activities offered by the community; one makes use of the medical clinic if necessary, one interacts socially and gets to know the residents, etc.  The community meanwhile does its utmost during that initial try-out year to make potential residents feel welcome, inviting them as guests on Shabbat, befriending them, including them in participatory activities, etc.  It’s a way of getting one’s feet wet – – a sort of baptism by fire – – without burning one’s bridges if things don’t work out.

Interestingly, there is no particular pressure to join Mitzpe Netofa itself.  The real purpose of the Soft Landing Program is to use Mitzpe Netofa as a base for further exploration of the Galilee, whether it’s towns or cities or smaller villages, moshavim, or yishuvim.  The point is to attract new inhabitants to the Galilee/Golan region.  Less than 50% of the people in the Soft Landing Program end up living in Mitzpe Netofa, yet the program organizers don’t consider this a failure, as the reasons for leaving are diverse.  If someone is going to be very unhappy at Mitzpe Netofa, it’s better for all concerned to realize it’s not a good match before they’ve committed to building a house.  One person I spoke with who was leaving who had really enjoyed living in Mitzpe Netofa looked for a job in the North but simply couldn’t find anything within commuting distance (they will be moving to Modi’in in central Israel after he got a job in hi-tech in Tel Aviv).  Another person realized they didn’t enjoy living in such a rural, small place and moved to Ma’alot, a beautiful city of 25,000 people near the Lebanese border.  Yet another tried to find work and was unsuccessful, and with broken spirit returned to the US (but these yordim assured me that had they found work and not exhausted their savings, they would have stayed, because they loved the residents and lifestyle in Mitzpe Netofa).

So what’s the downside of the Soft Landing Program?  Practically speaking, based on our observations, the caravillas were poorly maintained.  They’re hot in the summer and cold in the winter (no insulation); because they are rented and maintenance is the responsibility of the tenant, the yards are unfortunately completely overgrown with weeds and they have a generally neglected appearance.  Their location is next to the youth organization clubhouse, which is extremely noisy when meetings and gatherings take place, sometimes late on Friday night.  The majority of residents in the caravillas are very young families, with no immediate neighbors in our age range.  In short – – and yes, I’m spoiled! – – I don’t feel like I have the patience or desire to live like this, especially when this one-year “temporary” housing often stretches to 3 – 5 years (one person we spoke with had been living in their caravilla for 7 years!) while waiting for a building lot to become available.  (All building lots in the current phase are sold out; the next building phase, which will not take place for at least 2 years, is also sold out.)  I am also afraid that if we rent for many years, we will go through savings that could have been applied to a permanent home.

There is an alternative to living in a caravilla while undergoing the probationary period for acceptance, but it’s a more costly one:  renting a whole house or basement apartment from someone who has temporarily left Mitzpe Netofa (i.e. doing a fellowship abroad, doing work for the Jewish Agency or other non-profits abroad, etc.).  I am afraid that if we end up renting for many years, though, we will go through savings that will compromise our ability to buy or build a permanent home.  We met a lovely British couple who are our age that made aliyah a year ago, who are experiencing exactly this (remember what I said about age discrimination in Israel – – it is extremely difficult to find work if you make aliyah in your 50s and 60s).  And of course, if the owners of the rental house return, one is forced to look for new housing and move yet again.  But at least there seemed to be a precedent for older olim and wannabe Mitzpe Netofa residents to experience the Soft Landing Program outside of the usual caravilla framework.

We rented a zimmer in Mitzpe Netofa which was really nice; it led to a beautiful, private garden.

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It had every amenity, including a Shabbat hot water urn, instant coffee, cake, and milk in the small refrigerator.

20140523_165548_resized It was owned by a lovely woman who had built her dream house in Mitzpe Netofa 17 years ago with her husband; but shortly after its completion he was tragically felled by a terminal illness.  She converted the lower level of her house to a series of beautiful apartments that are used as zimmers and which provide her with an income.

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There was a printed piece of paper left on the counter by Mitzpe Netofa’s Aliyah Committee with our “Shabbat itinerary” telling us the names of the families where we’d be eating our Shabbat meals.  This gave us the opportunity to get to know both “Anglo” and Israeli families living in Mitzpe Netofa, and allowed us to ask many questions and address any concerns.  We met many unique and outstanding individuals with fascinating stories to tell.

Shabbat Itinerary (click to enlarge)

Shabbat Itinerary (click to enlarge)

The residents of Mitzpe Netofa have diverse occupations.  I met teachers; youth leaders; an archaeologist; a librarian; a retired plastic surgeon who is now a successful sculptor; a farmer; a computer guru who was involved with several start-ups and interested in my husband’s work experience; an employee of Raphael (Israel’s top secret weapons developer); and the retired military commander of the entire North, who lives in Mitzpe Netofa as well.  There is also a vintner whose wine is sold around the world (Domaine Netofa Winery); his grapes are grown in the Galilee and the Golan Heights, about 45 minutes away.

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The particular Shabbat we visited they had invited a guest singer, a Modhitzer chassid, to lead the prayers.  This was most defnitely not a usual event, since the yishuv is neither chassidic nor chareidi, and the usual chants are sung in more au courant tunes than those delivered by the chassid.  That said, I thought it spoke well of the yishuv that it attempts to expose its members to different cultures within cultures.  It’s part of Mitzpe Netofa’s philosophy to get exposure to an “other,” and respect and celebrate differences and foster cooperation.  (They even have a karate club with the nearby Arab village.  An Arab teacher teaches karate to the Jewish boys, and the Arab boys are taught by a Jewish teacher. These are everyday stories of daily life in Israel that you won’t hear about in the news.)  There were also many religious classes offered throughout the week in both Hebrew and English, by resident rabbis and female scholars as well as those who came from other towns to teach.

When Shabbat was over, we met privately with the rabbi of Mitzpe Netofa, a very young and gentle scholar who clearly loved the residents and whose admiration was definitely mutual.  One thing I appreciated was his honesty.  After discussing the many positive traits of Mitzpe Netofa, he didn’t whitewash the challenges and mentioned some of the issues affecting the community.  That said, Mitzpe Netofa is a very non-judgmental sort of place, with residents respecting each other’s differences, which greatly appealed to us.

I felt that Mitzpe Netofa was not nearly as selective or exclusive as Moreshet in choosing their future members.  Yet their required Soft Landing program accomplished the same thing in weeding people out, because only someone with tremendous commitment and patience would agree to live under temporary circumstances for so lengthy a period.

So what to do?  I preferred the location of Moreshet, closer to Haifa and Highway 6, although it seemed more culturally rigid and was not as socially friendly.  The reality is that on Shabbat, total strangers greeted us warmly in Mitzpe Netofa; in Moreshet people were more aloof and rarely initiated contact with people they did not know.  I am pretty sure that socially, Mitzpe Netofa would be a better fit for my husband, which of course is very important.  It’s a much more laid back sort of place.  But the thought of renting for years until something becomes available for us to buy is a genuine concern.  Moreshet will eventually grow to about 450 families; Mitzpe Netofa will eventually have 230 families.  Currently both places have 15 – 20 English-speaking families

We decided the best decision was to make no immediate decision at all, at least until we had more pieces of the application process complete.  We decided to go ahead with our application process for both Moreshet and Mitzpe Netofa, because we wanted to do whatever was necessary to fulfill the prerequisites to get the long process of absorption and acceptance into motion.  We would still be required by both places to take the dreaded Israeli psychometric exam, and acceptance to either place would hinge greatly on the results of this test.  Our feeling was this:  if we got accepted by a yishuv, great; if we didn’t “pass” the battery of tests, then it simply wasn’t meant to be.  We would not be disappointed, because we felt that we wanted to go only where we were wanted and accepted.  If living in a small, closed community was not an option, then so be it – – we would instead look at small towns or cities on a future pilot trip.  The main thing is to be flexible and remain open to a variety of possibilities, of which there are many.  Perhaps a yishuv was the wrong option for us altogether, since we’d have to add in the huge, necessary expense of owning a car, and in a city we wouldn’t need to own a car and would be closer to a major medical facility as we age (that is something that is very hard for me to think about as it is not my reality at present, thank G-d).  So much to think about!  Whatever we decide, we want it to be the correct decision; we are too old and too tired to be living like “wandering Jews” once we get to Israel.

Meanwhile, we booked an appointment with the Keinan Shefi Institute Testing Center in the center of Tel Aviv, to take place two days before we were scheduled to depart Israel, so we could get the required psychometric exam out of the way.

Little did we know what we were getting into!  It would prove to be the biggest “adventure” of our entire trip to Israel . . .

The Eagle Has Landed

Many people ask us, “What do you do for Shabbos?  Isn’t it boring being out there by yourselves in the woods for an entire Shabbos?”

We do have guests for Shabbos; sometimes friends or family from home, other times complete strangers; but it’s always interesting (we are members of shabbat.com – an international web host-guest “matchmaking” service  – check it out!).

This past Shabbos, we did not have guests, but it was certainly not dull!

At 6:15 this morning, I was awakened by a very loud noise outside my bedroom window.  I recognized the noises.  First there was a soft squeak.  Then there was a very loud, high-pitched screech.  Then flapping, like a bird taking flight.  But it wasn’t any old flapping. It was very loud and deep, like something HUGE.  How can I describe the sound?  If you shook out a bath towel on a windy day, it would make a certain type of fluttering noise.  But if you took an 8′ x 10′ tarp and shook it out the same way, it would not be a fluttering noise – it would be a low thunder.  Instinctively, I  knew immediately – it was an eagle!  But:  I was in a Nyquil-induced fog.  Stupidly lazy, I yelled at my husband:  “Quick!  Go to the window!  There is something out there!”

Bless him, my husband awoke like his pajamas were on fire and ran to the window, only to see a huge dark wingspan that looked as wide as our driveway (actually, the wingspan is a maximum of 7′) rising from the ground, sailing up into the sky.  That was it – mere seconds – and the eagle, grasping whatever little creature had squeaked when caught by its talons – – was gone.  A couple of years ago I’d seen a young bald eagle hanging around the bog at the bottom of the driveway – – when young, bald eagles are one color and look just like golden eagles; they develop their iconic white-feathered heads when they reach maturity, at about age 5.  But this was the first time one was seen directly on our property – – and right beneath our bedroom window!

A little while later, my husband was about to start davening, when he looked outside.  There, in my orchard, were two wild turkey hens, accompanied by two chicks.  When they sensed they were being observed, they ran quickly into the woods.

Yesterday – –  Friday – –  it had rained non-stop for 24 hours; a hard, unremitting, driving, pounding rain, falling in sheets; we got 6″ of rain and there were flash flood warnings on the roads.  But today it was absolutely perfect.  The sky was a deep azure blue; there was a stiff breeze so the bugs were few; the sun shone brightly and it was 77 degrees.  After davening and lunch we went for a walk, but upon our return I felt like I needed some more outdoors time.  Around 3:30 pm I was laying in the hammock, looking into the woods, relaxing.

Suddenly my dog gave a short, quiet, “Woof!” and ran towards the woods.  Much to my utter amazement, a moose cow was running through our property!  Again, the whole thing was over in seconds.  Had it not been for my dog, I would have missed the moose entirely.

Later in the day we walked over to the cabin  down the road to report the moose sighting to our weekend neighbors.  “Yes!” said the woman, “I was just out blackberry picking in our woods and I suddenly heard a noise.  I turned around, and there was a moose not ten feet away from me!  I don’t know who was more startled!  I looked at her, she looked at me . . . and then the moose simply walked away.  I am so excited!” she said, giving her husband a huge hug.

I don’t know what makes seeing a moose so exciting, but it is!  I never get tired of this experience.  How a creature so huge and ungainly looking can somehow move with such grace and speed, and camouflage itself so effectively so as to “disappear” in front of your eyes – – it’s both wondrous and endearing.

So that was our Shabbos . . . certainly not boring!

Survival of the Quickest

I was suffering from a bad bout of insomnia for several nights and finally I couldn’t take it anymore.  So Friday night, which was layl Shabbat, after dinner and some reading and endless tossing and turning, I made a l’chaim with Nyquil when the clock hit midnight.  I didn’t take more than the recommended dose because one shlug is all it takes for a wonderful night of uninterrupted sleep.

A Nyquil-induced sleep is a beautiful thing, but woe to anyone who is forcefully awakened out of this drug-induced slumber!  If you try to wake before your body is truly ready to be woken, you will feel yourself moving in a slow-mo fog, completely disoriented as you strive to greet the day.  Alarm clocks and previous-night Nyquil do not mix.  But the following day was Shabbat, and I had nowhere that I had to go and other than serving up my cholent, no real obligations to meet, so Nyquil and I had a midnight meeting.

Within moments the Nyquil had its intended effect; I slept a blissful sleep.  When I awoke at 9:30 on Shabbat morning I felt rested and well.  I still had plenty of time to daven the Shabbat morning prayers before kiddush and lunch, so I got dressed at a slowpoke pace and wandered into our dining/living room, where my husband had just finished davening shacharis.

“You aren’t going to believe what I saw!” he said excitedly.  “I didn’t know if I should wake you, but I was worried that by the time you’d get to the window, it would have been too late anyhow!”

It turns out that while davening, out of the corner of his eye, he sensed movement outside the window.  He looked at a tall tree 30′ from the window, and running up the tree was a squirrel.  Chasing the squirrel was a Canada lynx!  The Canada lynx was hot on the heels of the squirrel (do squirrels even have heels?) and my husband thought, “Okay, that’s it for the squirrel – he’s a goner.”  But at the very last second, the squirrel jumped across to a neighboring tree, which stopped the lynx in its tracks – the branch at the top of the other tree was far too thin to support the lynx’s weight.  Slowly, while looking across at the squirrel, the lynx inched its way back down the tree to the bottom, and then scampered off in search of breakfast elsewhere.

Canada lynx are extremely rare – in fact they are on the endangered list – – and many rural Mainers, including outdoorsmen who spend a great deal of time in the woods, will go their whole lives without ever having the privilege of seeing one.  This is our third lynx sighting in 3 years, although the 2 previous sightings were fleeting and at night.  It’s probably the same lynx that is calling this general area its territory, but wow!  It was actually on our property and in broad daylight!  I am so happy my husband was able to witness this natural drama.

“Are you upset I didn’t wake you?”  he asked, feeling a little guilty.

“I am sorry I missed it,” I replied, “but in the life-and-death battle of Nature, animals and mankind . . . Nyquil wins.”

You can find out more about Canada lynx in Maine, and how to tell the difference between a lynx and a bobcat,  by clicking here.

I thought I was the only one…

The White Mountains are not exactly a hotspot of Jewish life.  But the “P’s” told us, “You’d be surprised- there are definitely Jews hiding in these woods.”  Indeed there are, though the numbers are certainly small and many have married “out.”

Twenty years ago the “W’s” moved to New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington Valley from Pittsburgh.  Mrs. W, who worked for a radio station, was feeling particularly isolated, so she paid for a radio ad at the station where she worked that said something like, “Are you tired of being the only one on your street without Xmas lights?  Do you consider bagels and lox to be comfort foods?  If the answer is “yes” and you’d like to go to a Shabbat dinner, call this number.”

Forty Jews showed up that Friday night at the W’s home.

The evening was such a success, that the group decided to have a potluck Shabbat dinner in a different home each month.  It’s been 20 years, and 30 people still get together for Shabbat dinner on the last Friday night of every month.

Here’s the real kicker:  at that very first Shabbat dinner, as the night came to an end, the delighted guests began taking their leave.  Each and every one said the same thing to the Ws:

“I thought I was the only one.”

The truth is, there are Jews “hiding” everywhere, whether in big cities or way out in the woods in the middle of nowhere.  To their credit, this man and his wife reached out:  look at the result!  They are not frum, they don’t even keep kosher, yet once a month on Friday nights for the past 20 years, they have 25 – 30 Jews from remote areas of the White Mts. connecting and interacting, singing a few Shabbat songs, sharing a Shabbat meal.

Imagine all the Jews who think, “I thought I was the only one. . .”

Shabbat in the Maine Woods

I could really relate to this and next week’s Torah portions.  Avraham is out in the middle of nowhere, recovering from several life-changing experiences, and he decides to seek out guests.  So he leaves his tent doors open, waiting.

Well we didn’t leave our door open (too many bugs and falling leaves) but somehow we found Shabbos guests, the “P’s.”  And they are both Jewish!  Who knew?  They live two mountaintops away, and like everyone who comes and settles in this part of Maine, they are “interesting” (in a good way).

First, a bit about my Shabbat preparations.  I had forgotten to bring a small blech from our “home town” (the stovetop piece of metal that keeps our food warm), and I didn’t want to keep the propane oven running the whole of Shabbos (propane is expensive and we’re conservation-conscious).  That’s when I realized we could use the top of our soapstone woodstove!  The night was cold enough so that a crackling fire would make things cozy and comfortable, in addition to serving as a food-warmer.  I’ve attached a photo so you get the idea…

 

Soapstone Woodstove as a Shabbos blech (hotplate)

 

Back to the “P’s.”  It’s a second marriage for both, nearly 20 years strong.  Both were idealistic hippie-ish kids in the 70’s, children of affluent doctors and lawyers and academians, suburban Jews on the East Coast, and both were part of the “Back to the Land” movement that was prevalent way back then – a kind of predecessor to the “green” movement of today, when people bought cheap land on which they grew what they needed to eat and live, building teepees and cabins and yurts, sometimes living communally and sometimes as hermits, raising families and becoming generally self-sufficient.  Many couldn’t hack it – it was a hard life; some realized that there was little romance in having to toil at all hours in extreme weather; with little guidance or experience many found handling tools and livestock beyond their ken; for some the isolation was too great.  But those that made it became modern-day homesteading pioneers.

Mr. P came to Maine simply because land was cheap.  He bought an entire mountain – several hundred acres – and with his wife and a couple of babies they started to carve out a home.  And I do mean carve – literally.  By themselves, they started excavating a long, winding road up the mountain to their home site, cutting trees, removing stumps, smoothing, laying gravel up the steep incline.  The house itself sits on ledge – solid bedrock.  Mr. P had to shave the granite so it would be flat enough to place his foundation.  They were too far from power lines, nor did they have the funds to think about (or desire) having electricity, so they put in some solar panels and a small generator for the most basic needs they couldn’t do without.  And slowly, every day of their lives for 30 years, they toiled (and continue to toil) to build and maintain their house and property as it sits today.

The challenges were immense.  An experiment with a windmill tower as a power source ended when it was hit by lightening, and the entire house burned to the ground, leaving them with only the clothes on their backs (Mr. P and his 3 children were fortunately not home at the time).  The fruits of their years of toil were over in minutes.  Yet, the next day, he walked to the bottom of his driveway and found the back of his pickup truck piled full of food, clothing, toys, and written offers to help him rebuild – all from neighbors (“neighbors” in these sparsely populated parts can mean people living 10 miles away) who were just being “neighborly” in the way often-reticent Mainers are.

Mr. P’s marriage ended, but 6 months later he began his providential relationship with the current and like-minded Mrs. P.  She works as a teacher in a school for high-risk teens; Mr. P works as a private consultant and installer of solar-powered systems for people living off the grid, as well as a mason, a carpenter, a woodsman – a jack-of-all trades, completely self-taught.  They may not be “rich” but they pay in cash and have no debts.     They use only what they need.  They are happy.

Their life is not an easy one.  Their road up their mountain is too windy and steep to plow in the winter, so they park at the bottom and walk up in snowshoes.  Come November, they buy all the non-perishable food they will need for the next four months – huge commercial-sized barrels of rice, oats, beans, flour, powdered milk and condiments.  Mrs. P spends the summer canning and preserving the multiple fruits of their orchards and the vegetables from their large garden.  Any fresh food is brought up in backpacks.  Since bad weather is no excuse for not appearing at her work in school, Mrs. P must climb down the mountain to her car when it is still dark in the early morning hours, sometimes in blizzard conditions and gale-force winds, with a windchill temperature of –25.  While it’s impressive under any circumstances, it is all the more so when you realize they are in their late 50s.

We met the P’s when I was looking for someone to install our solar array, so we could divorce ourselves from the heavy hand of the power company.  It’s not that we were so into being “green” as it was a practical consideration:  we knew it would be expensive to power our home in the winter in Maine, and the power company could charge whatever they felt like for that privilege.  We were (and are) generally worried about what will likely be a very limited income for us once my husband retires (or G-d forbid, loses his job in the current economy) and how the heck we will pay for the most basic of needs (power, heat, etc) as we age.  So we decided we’d attempt to live as self-sufficiently as possible, and not let outside forces dictate how we’d power our home and to what extent, based on affordability.  Plus, here in Maine, the weather is so bad that power outages are a fact of life.  We have a back-up generator (powered by an underground propane tank) but it’s noisy and annoying and can take half a day to recharge the house’s batteries.  Solar seemed like the best option (yes, despite the severe winters, there are plenty of sunny days with brilliant blue skies, and solar power is based on the amount of light, not the amount of degrees outside).

The P’s invited me up to their place to see for myself how a self-sufficient household is run.  That’s when I noticed a yellowed photograph of one of their sons wearing a tallis – a classic bar mitzvah picture.

“Um, excuse me for asking – but are you Jewish?” I gasped.  I had yet to meet a single Jew anywhere within 50 miles.

Not only are the P’s Jewish, but they are very proud hosts of an annual Passover seder – where 40 Jews (and some with their non-Jewish spouses) gather amid lots of food, Manischevitz wine, charoset and the Four Questions!

“You’d be surprised to know how many Jews are hiding in these parts,” Mr. P confided.

So we invited the P’s for dinner.  They especially enjoyed the Shabbos zemiros (songs) and discussion about the weekly Torah portion.  We got another surprise when they told me about what a wonderful Sukkot gathering they had this year – for twenty people!  Apparently one of their Jew in the Woods friends had recently taken an interest in rediscovering his roots – and had been corresponding with a Chabad rabbi in NY via the Internet.  The rabbi offered to send some rabbinical students with a portable sukka… and the rest is history.  The Lubavitchers drove 7 1/2 hours up the 95 in a rented pickup truck that they had converted into a portable sukka – and over lox and bagels the P’s rounded up 20 Jewish souls to celebrate the Sukkot holiday for their very first time.

Life in Maine just keeps getting more and more interesting…

 

Our Shabbos table overlooking the Maine Woods