Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Ein Gedi Botanic Garden
Seek the serenity of a Judean Desert sky in Autumn at the Ein Gedi Botanic Garden

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dead Turkey, Frozen in the Time

THIS is what should have been taking place in my oven on the last Friday in November. THIS is what a proper turkey should be, and wasn't. We had no Thanksgiving this year.

I have instead a dead, divided turkey in my freezer. It has been there since the fourth week in November, and today is December 20.

It arrived as promised by Shimmin the Kfar Chabad turkey guy, via Eli Bardugo the mitzvah man who arranges the meat delivery every month.

Eli delivered it personally to my door, proudly set the special case on my table and stood there waiting expectantly. "It is just as you ordered, a 9-kilo turkey," he announced.

"And since I spent so long and worked so hard on this project," he grinned, "I just have to see the turkey we have all been fighting for."

Assured that I have been provided with a whole turkey, I am nonetheless apprehensive as I examine the case. It is flat and long – nothing there to indicate the beautiful round bird that I have been told would arrive.

It was with a sense of doom that I cut the cords binding the box and slowly lifted the cover.


It looked like a coffin, with the victim stretched out lengthwise, frozen solid, and cut in half at the waist. Not even sewn with special thread, and I am screaming again. Eli tries his best to calm me down, pointing out that it is indeed a whole turkey, as promised. "Look," he said reasonably," the spine has not been touched."

He was right of course. This victim of the Israeli Chabad-Lubavitcher poultry processing system had been humiliated in its final form, with a fragile bare backbone connecting the top and the bottom.

I knew it was just not meant to be, but I was enraged all the same. Shimmin the Schochet had broken his promise to me and sneaked this travesty of a turkey into the box and sent it to Arad without even a warning.

Again I am screaming. At this point Eli Bardugo is distraught himself, because I am hysterical and my husband is in New York – he has no logical male here to back him up, and it is already almost 9:00 p.m.

He is tired, bewildered, and again on the phone trying to straighten out the misunderstanding. Again, Shimmin the Schochet explains that the necessity of thoroughly koshering the turkey has precluded its eligibility for uncut status. I do not believe it, and I say so. If they can kasher whole chickens, I insist, there is no reason they can't kasher a turkey, which is bigger and therefore must be much easier to disembowel.

Eli offers to take it back, sensitive to my crushing disappointment and frustration with the entire system – but says he has nowhere to store the turkey. I in the meantime don't want to lay this burden at his doorstep; he has done whatever he could do, gladly and promptly, despite his lack of understand of the holiday. "I thought it was a gentile holiday," he said. "I don't understand why you as a Chossid are celebrating this thing, although I know there are others who do as well."

So I explain the concept and history of Thanksgiving, and my background growing up in New Haven, Connecticut.

I grudgingly agree to keep the turkey, for which I have paid more than $50. But I refuse to cook it.

Instead, I spend the next two hours denigrating Shimmin the Schochet and the entire system of Israeli schechting. "Stupid, stupid, stupid!!!" The mutters rise to a shout by the time an hour has past.

I empty the freezer, transferring the meat to a smaller one lent to us by Avi and Lili, and find a way to stuff the corpse into the big freezer, now transformed into a morgue.

"I am not touching that turkey," I inform the kids. "There will be no Thanksgiving this year."

All three of my little darlings are on the floor laughing their heads off. Gasping for breath, they repeat my litany as I wander around the house muttering "Stupid! Stupid! STUPID!!"

They try to convince me to cook it anyway. "Look Mommy, it really will taste just as good. I know you can't stuff it and make it that way you usually do, but we will still like it. Take it out of the freezer," my 13-year-old cajoles. "We will help you cook it."

No dice. So they bring out the heavy guns and call my second eldest daughter Coby, at boarding school in Migdal HaEmek some three to four hours away and tell her all the gory details.

After she gets the laughing under control, she too tries to command and then wheedle me into treating this turkey with culinary respect.

But I won't. It resembles a corpse delivered in a cardboard coffin. A body severed at the waist, right to the backbone. A little like the State of Israel once was and may be once again if the Palestinian Authority and the world has its way.

So it sat there, because I am the boss of the kitchen, and it sits there still. I will have nothing to do with it, and even my husband was unable budge me on this one when he returned from abroad.

Finally, he says he will cook it himself. I refuse to eat it. I will pay for it, I tell Bardugo, but I will not deal with it. They can do whatever they like.

Next year, I will know better. This year, I was STUPID, the shochet was STUPID and nebuch, Eli Bardugo was just uninformed – a situation which has since been rectified.

He has already begun the research needed to locate a proper turkey for our family. Bardugo is tenacious. He is The Man.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Raz and Adva's Duck in Better Days

The Mysterious Case of the Duck in the Night

What do you do when confronted first thing in the morning with a veritable snowstorm of fluffy white duck feathers sprinkled around the backyard?

My husband and I were stunned. And dismayed, because it was clear there had been violence in our peaceful little corner of the Negev in the night.

Within a short time we tracked down the source -- a dead duck lying pitifully in the parched brown earth of our backyard. Its feathers were matted with blood and dirt, its poor little legs were stretched out and stiff.

A strange sight, to be sure, but one made even weirder because it was without its head. This made no sense.

"It looks almost as if it were shechted (ritually slaughtered)," said my husband thoughtfully. "Look at how it's been gutted."

It did look a little like a split chicken with its feathers still on. We looked around for the head. It was nowhere to be found.

I looked long and hard at our dogs. Sussie, the older and gentler of the two, innocently returned my gaze. Brooklyn, on the other hand, was skulking guiltily among the drooping leaves hanging from the broken branch of our olive tree. She raised her eyes as she lay there, chin on the ground between her two front paws, trying to make herself inconspicuous.

"It doesn't make sense," I said aloud. "Even if she did murder this poor bird, there should be blood on her muzzle, no? Besides," I added with a rising sense of panic, "WHERE IS THE HEAD?"

We searched the backyard, we searched the front yard. We frisked the dogs, we asked the cats. We peered through the chain link fence that protects our backyard from the yawning ravine that meanders behind our house in the wadi below.

No head. "Even if Brooklyn ate it," commented my husband, "there should at least be a beak."

Finally we decided that maybe Brooklyn had found it in the wadi and brought it into the yard. I went down to the desert to investigate further, and on the way stopped off at Raz and Adva's house – the one next to the wadi, with the two dogs, a cat, three chickens, two roosters, a few chicks, and a duck.

"Did you lose a duck?" I asked Raz.

"Why, yes," he responded with a smile. "Did your dog get it?"

My jaw dropped. "I don't know. We think that might be….. Could it be? We didn't see a head…." Confused, my brain whirling with all the possibilities, I wasn't sure where to take the conversation. "We found it in our backyard." I felt bad.

"It might have been a sho'al," he said soothingly. Raz is a very peaceful person. He exudes serenity. He is about half my size, with beryl eyes and caramel dreadlocks down past his shoulders. His wife Adva is twice his size, equally friendly and could be his spiritual twin. Is, in fact. It's a perfect shidduch. Their new baby looks like them both.

"What is a sho'al?" I wondered if it was ferocious enough to rip the head off a duck.

"It is a foxe," said Raz in English. He had to repeat it a couple of times before I realized he meant "fox".

I was doubtful. "Do we have those here?" I had never seen one in our wadi. Dorbans (huge African porcupines), yes. Camels, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, snakes, scorpions…yes. Foxes?

Adva joined us. "Of course we have them," she said impatiently, "but it is also possible your dog got it. But don't worry," she added hastily, seeing my face fall, "it's okay, it really is." She looked sternly at Raz. "I told you not to leave the gate open," she scolded him. He appeared resigned, but with no remorse.

I offered to pay for the duck, or buy them a new one. It's not like a car, I know, but what else could I do? Their duck was now dead in the dust of my backyard, and my dog had done the deed.

"No, no," they both said in unison. "Frankly, I don't care either way," said Adva with a shrug. "I didn't care that he was here, and I don't care that he is not here."

Raz smiled gently. "We didn't buy him. A friend gave him to us. We won't miss him." I thanked them for clearing up the mystery, apologized for my murderous pet, and turned to go.

He called me back, and said reassuringly, "Don't be so sure it was Brooklyn. I still think it was a foxe."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Midnight Rider

It's 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night and I've had a hard day and still have a long night ahead of me, because my husband is leaving for the airport at 3:30 a.m. to make an 8:15 a.m. flight to Los Angeles.

He appears at the door to my office, where I am still slaving away at the keyboard, wild-eyed. "I can't find my Israeli passport!" he says in a panicky voice.

I figure he has misplaced it, a not uncommon phenomenon in our household. And so I search, the kids (who are still up because Abba is LEAVING) join in and we tear the house apart.

No passport. We look up the regulations online at the Nefesh b'Nefesh all-things-anyone-ever-wants-to-know-about-surviving-the-insanity-of-Israeli-red-tape website, and to our horror we see that even though we were immediately given our identity cards (teudat zehut) we had to actually APPLY for the Israeli passport, which my husband never did. It didn't occur to me that it was ever an issue, because I already had one and so did the kids, by virtue of the fact that I was already a citizen before we got here.

Now we are frantic. But he has his documents proving citizenship and date of immigration (teudat oleh and teudat zehut) and his American passport and we decide it will be okay, until Rabbi Tauber calls.

In almost 20 years Rabbi Avraham Tauber has never missed. He has an uncanny instinct and calls within minutes of any major crisis. This is no exception.

It is now after midnight and I quickly explain the problem. "You can't leave the country without an Israeli passport," he informs me. "Call the Border Police at the airport. They will deal with it."

So I call them, and they give me the number for the Interior Ministry (which deals with passports and other official documents). A nice lady answers the phone and I again explain the problem. Thank G-d she understands English as well as Hebrew, though I detect a faint Russian accent. Even better. She will understand immigrant issues, first hand, I think.

And I am right. The Israeli system has second-guessed its citizenry and this time we luck out and get someone nice. "Don't worry about a thing," she tells me, "just tell him to get here an hour earlier and bring two passport photos. We'll take it from there. The price will be double because it's on the spot (she considerately does not mention the fact that it is the middle of the night) but he will have his passport." I ask how he is supposed to get passport photos at this hour. "Oh, that's no problem,'" she says airily. "There are photo machines on the ground floor."

Boy, these folks think of everything.

So my husband prepares to leave, his friend (this is truly friendship) cuts his nap short and arrives earlier and after six false starts in which my husband returns for various items, they leave.

I don't get the rest of the story until he is boarding the plane.

"I arrived at the terminal and went directly to the photo machines," he tells me nonchalantly, "and they are both out of order." This sounds like a bad movie. "Then I go up to the Interior Ministry office anyway, because I figure I may as well. And that was a good thing, because they also have a Plan C, if Plans A and B don't work out."

Now I am curious. What is Plan C?

"This was the best deal of all," he tells me. "The man in the office there said not to worry, and just wrote me out a temporary document letting me leave and re-enter the country. AND IT WAS FREE, BECAUSE I DIDN'T GET A PASSPORT!!!"

This is probably the most streamlined bit of Israeli red tape that I have ever encountered.

Now I know the trick: all you have to do to get something done here in Israel is:
1. Panic.
2. Be sleepless.
3. Call the police and say it's an emergency.
4. Go to the office in the middle of the night.
5. PRAY.

If only the photo machines had been working………….

Cooked Goose for Thanksgiving in Arad

It's that time of year again………

It was October and I thought I would get a jump on the annual tussle to get a turkey in Arad.

Since this year we began to order our meat from Kfar Chabad with the rest of the (Lubavitcher) community – and here it is brought in by truck only once a month – I realized I had to tell our meat guy I needed a turkey, a WHOLE turkey, for November.

He was very understanding, because Eli Bardugo knows Americans. He knows about this weird holiday in which they eat turkeys and he was perfectly willing to order me one, even though they "don’t usually come that way." He even said it wouldn't be a problem, because he orders directly from the schlock house itself.

I got a call from him right on time letting me know that my turkey was going to be delivered early, with the rest of the meat order, but "don't worry because it is exactly as you ordered, at least 9 or 10 kilos." Wonderful! I was overjoyed.

And then falls the axe.

"There's just one small thing. They have to send it cut in half….it'll be split with the top divided from the bottom. But don't worry" he adds brightly, "it will be a whole turkey."

No. I knew it was too good to be true. I blow up immediately, in Hebrew and in English, and I refuse to accept the turkey. Half an hour's effort to convince me that this is okay, and that the pieces will fit together just fine, seamlessly in fact, is useless. I am still screaming.

The man with the turkey says they have to cut it, he's not sure why, says Bardugo apologetically, and this is what they call a whole turkey. I scream some more about mentally compromised individuals who cannot understand their own language and the definition of the very basic word, WHOLE.

Bardugo is at this point promising to call the turkey guy and call me back, which he does.

The turkey guy is now promising to SEW THE TURKEY BACK TOGETHER AGAIN WITH SPECIAL THREAD. "Don't worry, you'll never know the difference," Bardugo assures me. "They are very good at this, and it will be just like a new, whole turkey."

Now I am really screaming, in Hebrew and English, A LOT of English, about how I don't need a turkey jigsaw puzzle, how the turkey guy is not a seamstress and how I am NOT going to pay for a cut up turkey. Period.

Bardugo is rolling at this point. I am glad he has a sense of humor, because I am shrieking.

He finally gives me the cell phone number of the turkey guy, Shimmin, who he says is very nice so I shouldn't scream at him too much. But it is best if I talk directly to him so we can straighten this out.

I call.

"I don't see what the difference is," says this nice man Shimmin. "We'll sew it up. With special thread even. It's not as if it will be in pieces." I tell him I don't CARE if he doesn't see what the difference is, I SEE THE DIFFERENCE and since I am the one paying for it, what I think counts. "I am not buying this turkey," I say to him.

"Then I have no turkey for you," he shoots back. "We did all the shechting for this week already, and I did this specially." I inform him that I appreciate his special treatment and NOT his cutting up of my whole turkey. And I repeat that I will not pay for this turkey, I don't care if he won't send a turkey, that I have been able in the past to get whole turkeys from Tnuva glatt before we started buying from Lubavitch and so I know they exist, and when they have feathers on them they are also whole, as far as I know. They do not walk around in pieces.

"I do not see the difficulty here," I say to him. "Take the stupid turkey off the line and DO NOT CUT IT. It is just that simple. I am saving you work," I tell him. "What is the problem here??!!"

He finally agrees that he will do this for the next shechting but I should talk to Bardugo to set up when to get the turkey and find a way to get it here. Probably not next week, maybe the week after.

I call Bardugo back and update him. He is still laughing about my dedication to this turkey. But good-natured man that he is, he promises to find a way to bring my turkey to Arad from Kfar Chabad after it is wrested from the knife-wielding hands of Shimmin. Maybe not next week. Maybe the week after, and he knows we are cutting it close (no pun intended) because Thanksgiving is right around then. I say I don't care, we will celebrate Thanksgiving late this year, BUT I WANT A WHOLE TURKEY.

He reassures me that I will have a whole turkey.

I hope I do because if I don't Shimmin's goose is cooked.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Emergency Personnel Try to Contain the Chaos After a Kassam Rocket Attack in the Western Negev

This was the scene tonight in the western Negev town of Sderot, home to 23,000 souls -- some 5,000 fewer than we have in Arad. One of the infinite Kassam rockets that have been fired at Israel by Palestinian Authority terrorists in Gaza struck pay dirt this evening, scoring the first fatality since last year. A 35-year-old woman gave up her life when the rocket hit her car as she was standing next to it, near a bakery. She bled to death from stomach and chest wounds on the way to the hospital. A child's worst nightmare come true.

Preparing for Battle Again in the South Land

I have been hearing the planes zooming over my house all day today. I know they are from the nearby air base, the “secret” one near Tel Arad that everyone on the planet knows about.

Dust devils get kicked up by the helicopters as they lift off and touch down in the fields tucked into the hills just beyond the road to Beersheva, but today’s devils are further south, in Gaza.

As I sit at the computer with my fingers flying over the keys, I am wondering where those aircraft are going. Sderot is about two hours west of here, not as the crow flies. I wonder how far it is by plane. After a week of incessant Kassam rocket attacks on the western Negev, it is no surprise that planes are flying here in the south.

Israel Air Force missile strikes on terrorists in Gaza have begun and each side is upping the ante by the day. I have seen this all before.

I remember last May and June, when we often heard the boom of tank fire in the evenings outside our house. We would walk down to the wadi, three houses down, and scan the hills to see where it was coming from, noticing flashes on the ridge by the road that leads to the western face of Masada. “That’s the army practicing maneuvers,” Avi explained offhandedly, attempting to normalize what was clearly target practice for use in the near future in Gaza. We told the kids that new soldiers learn how to use their guns this way. No big deal, we said, turning away.


It was only a couple of weeks later that 19-year-old IDF Cpl. Gilad Shalit was grabbed in that cross-border raid near the Kerem Shalom crossing by Hamas terrorists from Gaza. The kid is still there, if he is alive at all. I don’t know whether to pray for his life, or his death. Are Hamas terrorists as evil, as cruel as Hizbullah?

Tonight a woman died after her car was hit by a Kassam while she was standing next to it in Sderot, near a bakery. Two other people were injured and 12 more were taken to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon because they suffered shock. I really think the shock victims should be considered as injured when we make the tallies in the new pieces we write. Trauma lasts a lifetime. My experience as a clinical social worker has taught me that.

We haven’t had a fatality from a Kassam attack since last November – and that one was in Sderot too, mostly because the town is less than a kilometer from the Gaza border. An inviting target.

Arad is too far to be physically affected by all this action. The most we have had were a couple of so-called “near misses” by a terrorist or two, both of whom were caught long before they got close enough to do anything. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t psychological consequences.

The kids in Arad are talking about terrorists again and my own are afraid to go into their rooms alone. They’re afraid to be anywhere in the house alone, in fact, and they cry at the prospect of being awake when my husband and I are too tired to stay up. I can still remember when they used to celebrate that possibility as an opportunity to create mayhem, screw up the kitchen in an attempt to bake chocolate cake and dance around the living room half the night. That was in Brooklyn.

Now they talk about nightmares they are having, of terrorists attacking, kidnappers coming, robbers breaking in and houses blowing up. And they don’t watch TV, they don’t hear the radio and when I work my news writing shifts, the door is closed and the kids are not in the room.

We have no TV. We don’t play the radio. They listen to CD’s, most of which are with Jewish music, and see videos of innocuous movies like “Shreck”. The most exciting series they have seen on the computer is “Smallville”, and even then, none of the scary or suggestive segments.

And yet they are terrified. I wonder what the kids in Sderot are like.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

A Yishuv State of Mind


“Hello. I have your daughter’s phone.”

“Oh no….”

Faint chuckle.

“Tell someone to be at the corner at 8:00 p.m.”

Sigh. “Okay. Thanks.”

“No problem.”

At 7:45 p.m., I still had no volunteers, so of course I trudged out the door into the cold, dark, windy night. It was perfect weather for a murder, a kidnap, a ransom note. No rain to make things messy; just a frigid, biting cold to make it mean.

I headed toward the corner. A car stopped next to me. “Shalom!!” Moshe was at his brightest, which meant I was in for an hour-long conversation, wind notwithstanding, about the benefits of “Intra”, a fancy nutritional supplement that he believes will even wash your dishes for you. The truth is, the stuff does beef up the immune system; my husband’s gout disappeared because of it. But the enthusiastic insistence of my happy-go-lucky neighbor that the entire world will be saved by this liquid was just too much to handle on a cold dark night.

“Moshe, I gotta go. I’m supposed to meet someone…”

“We’ll get you to drink it one of these days!” he threatened with a big smile. “There’s no escape!”

Cheerful thought. As I turned back toward the corner, I saw the car, headlights blazing, peeling a U-turn with tires screaming in protest. The car slammed to a stop. A horn honked impatiently.

I kicked up the trudging just a notch. As I reached the car, the passenger’s window rolled down. A tired, slightly irritated young man glared at me as I leaned down.

“Here,” he said, clearly resigned. A muscular arm stretched toward me, brandishing the family cell phone.

“Thanks,” I said apologetically. “Give Shloime my best and tell him thanks for bailing out my kid.”

He nodded, a small grin escaping the scowl. The window rolled up. I turned away.

My husband was just getting home when I walked in the door. “Which one this time?” he asked.

“Esty. Apparently she left it on Shoime’s bus this afternoon. They called earlier, but she forgot to go to the corner at 6:00 p.m. and it was the last run. They caught this guy leaving to go home and made him bring it.”

We looked at each other. My children now own the cell phone-forgetting record for the Egged Bus Cooperative, Arad division. And the Egged Arad bus drivers, together, own the cell phone-retrieving-and-delivering record probably for the entire country.

Arad -- it's small town living in a yishuv state of mind. Ya gotta love it.