Under Two Weeks Out

I bought a container of milk the other day and the expiration date was 6/8. That’s our moving day, and all of a sudden this all became very real. So real that as I placed an Amazon order just now — though delivery date says under two weeks — I typed in our new address (which is a non-address, by the way: just “Weissman, Sde Ilan” — that’s how small the moshav is), just to be safe.  

Some shelves are coming down, and some furniture is gone, as if we’re a stage crew dragging our feet reluctantly through the task of tearing down the scenery of a much-loved, long-running show that’s had its final fun. Yet I’ve also attacked our stuff with a sort of vengeance: I’ve purged, sold, kicked curbside and gifted much of the detritus that nine people can accumulate over years, so much so that I had casually chucked a set of drossy travel candlesticks, rescued from the dump by a kind neighbor who polished the silver and returned them, having found them embossed with our initials. Maybe it’s a lesson that I shouldn’t be so cavalier with “tossing the old, embracing the new.”

I gave my last shiur (for a while, at least) this past Tisha b’Av. That was terribly sad for me — who knows when I will be able to articulate myself in Hebrew to the level required to start teaching again? Or if that will ever even happen?

Around a year and half ago, I spoke for a while with a rabbi from Tzfat. He was born and raised in Memphis, and then learned for many years in the Gush. He moved to Sde Ilan to serve as the moshav’s rabbi for eight years, becoming more and more Breslover until the lure of Tzfat drew him to the upper Galil. This rabbi advised us (warned us?) that moving from the Merkaz to Sde Ilan would be like making aliyah all over again. The more I think of what’s in store, the more I appreciate his comparison. 

If the moed of Tisha b’Av essentially requires one to face reality head-on and doesn’t allow for compromise or retreat into comforting artifices, then this Tisha b’Av represented, on a personal level, the awareness that it is extraordinarily difficult to break away from the lives that we’ve built for ourselves, no matter how much glee I’m getting from filling garbage bags with all of this stuff that we just don’t need. I watched a few minutes of the Nefesh b’Nefesh feed via Facebook this morning, marveling at how people, entire established families, wriggled right before my eyes out of the cocoons they’ve known their entire lives to open their wings for the first time into a brave new world. We’re deeply in their shadows, the scope of our move far less drastic than bonafide aliyah — but I do feel a shared experience when looking at a mother’s face as she descends the plane, profound excitement and anxiety mingling in the tremble of her smiling mouth.

Tu b’Av, “the holiday of love,” is a few days from now. Tisha b’Av brooks no avoidance of facing the magnitude of what we have lost and what we stand to lose. Yet built into the timeless rhythm of our moadim, appointments with time that connect us with the Borei haOlam (the Creator), is the release of Tu b’Av. Tu b’Av requires that we emerge into nechama, living a brand new paradigm, finding comfort even within the difficult (sometimes agonizing, sometimes exhilarating) journey from the past to the future.

These liminal days between Tisha b’Av and Tu b’Av mark (for me, at least) a huge settling into a new paradigm, a dawning realization that this is, indeed, it. The days are picking up speed and rumbling fast towards closing a hugely significant chapter in our lives. Here is the challenge that I’ve laid out for myself: hold on fast to these moments, don’t hurry to the next unwritten chapter — don’t just chuck everything out (though most does have to go — really, how many copies of The Revolt does one family need? We must have had five.) Sit for a long time at the cafe to breathe in the Jerusalem evening air, and don’t take for granted that you’ll be able to come back any time the mood strikes. Savor the Judean desert sunset, such a given over these last years, since it won’t be part of your landscape anymore. Most importantly, in the mad whirl of farewell parties and spontaneous drop-ins, be present with the close friends and wonderful people who have made up your day-to-day world for the past number of years — and make sure to bring them along with you in your memories, as you face the blank pages of the new chapter you’re about to write.

The Kids Are All Right

All of a sudden, here we are. A little less than two months out, and only now getting around to posting about the most important factor in this whole move: our kids.


Most of the inquiries I’ve received over the past year concern the kids: how are they taking to the forthcoming move, what will they be up to next year, steps we’ve taken to prepare them for this. Changing direction mid-stream is complex enough for Ira and me, but factoring in the weighty decision to change seven other lives (some of which are at critical junctures) is itself a whole other cornfield of hypotheticals.


It’s one thing to be cavalier with your own life choices. Once you become a parent, though, you’re responsible to put the best interests of your children as a critical, if not the primary, factor in making those choices. So while it is true that none of our kids came to us with the novel idea of picking up and moving to a farm in the Galil, this move is most definitely with them in mind.


These kinds of decisions (like choosing a spouse) are multi-factored. Ira is committed to reconnecting to the earth and having our land sustain us; I’m driven as a mission to settle the periphery and connect others to the beauty, history and richness of the Galil. We want these, and more, for our children. We want them to learn how to live off the land, how to treat animals compassionately and knowledgeably while they are in our service, to be so rooted that they intuitively understand the many stages between seed to table because they see and care for the growth around them every daily. As natural as these things should be for us all, they aren’t for our family, and this we want for our kids.


We want them to fully live the practicality of farm life as a Jew in his land, meaning that the many halachot guiding and shaping our ongoing relationship to the earth and to our animals should be second nature to them. If they graft to extend the orchard, let them do so with an awareness of כלאיים; let them know exactly which herbs require separation of terumot and ma’asrot, and what peter rehem means practically. We want them to see the Galil as we do: a great and wide frontier, still underdeveloped and definitely underpopulated by Jews, abundant in potential and opportunities that they can make for themselves.


Perhaps, as well, they’ll come to appreciate the tolerance that we’ve seen within different communities in the north — a sort of silent understanding that we must be true to ourselves before we can yield to the demands of the group. Along with the slow and sweet pace of life farther away from the bustle of the merkaz comes the privacy and space to fully grow into yourself. There’s much less of a cacophony of social and religious expectations that may otherwise drown out your own still, small voice as you’re finding your way to love God, and to serve Him.  


So that’s why we want this, because we dream it for them. Now — as to the “tachlis”: how are they taking it?


I’d say remarkably well. Obviously, it’s hard to leave their close friends and the routines that they’ve been used to for years. Also, I can sense that the anxiety of moving to a place where there are very few English speakers (if any) is getting to some of them, though all of our kids are sabras and speak a fluent hebrew. Since our neighborhood in Maale Adumim has a very strong anglo population, though, many of their closest friends and definitely the families that we are closest with are English speakers, and the dawning realization of abandoning that “safety net” is causing some worry.


But at the same time, our kids come by their sense of adventure naturally. They realize there’s a lot to look forward to on the farm, on the moshav, in their new schools and in meeting new friends. There may be a newness, but there is also a familiarity. They are not olim, they speak and think in Hebrew, they’re excited about playing an active part in designing the house, caring for the animals, planting with their father, joining me on digs, learning new things.


Following are some elements/concrete steps we’ve taken to ease the transition:

1. We talked about our dreams early and often.



Our kids have been hearing about how much we’ve been wanting to move to the Galil for years now. True, we used to talk about it wistfully, as if it were indeed going to remain an unactualized dream: “Oh, how nice it would be to move here! Could you imagine living here?” We’ve been explaining the appeal that the Galil has to us — the “why’s” of making such a move — for quite a few years now. This has been an ongoing conversation in our home, so none felt that the move was abrupt or were particularly surprised.

2. Timing is EVERYTHING.

We’ve scheduled this move carefully to coincide with a transition year for most of the kids. Right now, Ruvi is graduating 12th grade, Bat-Chen is graduating 8th grade, Shalva is graduating 6th grade, and Chachi is graduating gan (kindergarten). They’d all have been switching to new schools in September even if we weren’t moving, and each would have been attending a school where they’d have to meet a whole new group of kids. Tziona is finishing up third grade; moving to a new elementary school that will take her from 4th-8th grades (the school at Kibbutz Lavi includes a middle school) is a reasonable transition. Boaz will turn two in a few months — he’s portable.

The one exception is Kayla, who is entering 11th grade next year. She is in an arts school in Jerusalem which suits her perfectly, and she won’t be moving to a different ulpana (religious girls’ school) in the north, but rather staying put. She’ll be boarding here with dear friends of ours, parents of marvelous twin girls who are Kayla’s closest friends. Like Ruvi, who will be in yeshiva next year, and Bat-Chen, who is attending Ulpanat Kfar Pines, Kayla will spend Shabbatot and vacations with us (along with their many friends. We’ve never “only” had the original 7 Weissman kids as our own — there are always “honorary Weissmans” who grace our home and bring lots of warmth and laughter to our lives.)

3. They’ve checked out their new digs.

We took the three elementary/middle school-aged kids up to poke around their new school in Kibbutz Lavi, to meet the teachers and kids, and to familiarize themselves with the campus. We’ve been up to Sde Ilan a few times for Shabbatot and just to hang out, so that the kids could already start to feel the pace and atmosphere that life takes on there. They’ve all been to see the nachala, to take in their inheritance and start seeding their own dreams for their futures.

Checking out the animal pen in their new school

4. Moving in the Whatsapp age is a whole different ballgame.

So many of our deepest relationships are nurtured by whatsapp. This technology allows for natural, sustained, and regular interaction, for remaining constantly present in each other’s lives even if we don’t live in each other’s proximity. The five people I speak with the most on a daily basis, outside of my immediate family, don’t live in my neighborhood. And my kids also regularly communicate with their friends via whatsapp.

Now, I know well there’s no substitute for actually seeing and spending time with old friends, which I’ve promised the kids they can do as much as is feasible (we’re only moving two hours away, not to another country!) But knowing that they can whatsapp and facetime with their beloved buddies is very comforting to them.


One final note on the matter: Israeli kids are independent kids, starting from a relatively young age. They feel a freedom and ease in navigating their world, more so than kids who live in more dangerous countries like the US, France or South Africa. This translates into a culture where many Israeli kids are totally comfortable taking public transportation both within and between cities throughout Israel, and are more confident and capable in unfamiliar situations. So while any parent would naturally be concerned in moving their child to a new setting, we’re somewhat less so. As parents who have only ever parented Israeli kids, we’re more excited than nervous for them, as they are definitely more excited than nervous for themselves.

And of course there’s Phoebe, who doesn’t get excited about anything, but will be moving with us nonetheless. Maybe the sheep will get a rise out of her.


Was Blind, But Now I See

“When Yitzchak grew old, his eyes weakened from seeing” (Genesis 27:1)


What a great example of a biblical verse with different interpretative possibilities! Did Yitzchak really go blind in his old age, or did he willfully turn a blind eye to certain unsavory realities that he’d rather not examine too closely? Or maybe what happened was that old age, not deliberate choice, turned things murky and confusing. The only thing that’s clear is that things became more complex for Yitzchak as he aged…or vastly simpler. In fact, there’s nothing clear at all about his weak eyes, and we’ll forever be uncertain about what exactly happened to Yitzchak.


I’m aging, too, just like Yitzchak, and this pasuk resonates in a particularly strong way over these past few months. For many years, I was staunchly in the “turn a blind eye” camp: I used to take great pleasure in deliberately glossing over the issues that others found irritating, annoying, or of great importance that required endless discussion. This approach served me well, as I could get on with accomplishing without being weighed down by the albatross of tedious analysis. I was never one for punditry: is Bibi good or bad for the country? Is Open Orthodoxy a legitimate option within halachic Judaism? Should the shul board convene to discuss matter X? I “weakened my eyes from seeing” early on, tuning out the endless talk on so many of these matters as hevel hevalim — totally useless, distracting me from serious productivity.


Take this example: around fifteen years ago, I was asked to participate in a panel discussion entitled “Women in Talmud Torah: The State of Affairs.” I declined, telling the organizers I didn’t want to talk about talmud Torah — I just wanted to learn and teach Torah. I didn’t want to analyze what was going on. I didn’t even want there to be a field called “Women and Judaism” — I was just a Jew who loves to learn and teach! What does the fact that I was born a woman have to do with it? I was truly confused, and had nothing to say on the matter (just like I have nothing to say about Bibi, or about Open Orthodoxy — and definitely nothing to say about shul boards, other than they take themselves far too seriously).

Well, now old age has set in, and my eyes have been dimmed in a different way. It’s getting harder and harder to feign naivete. Where I once stubbornly held fast to that “wide-eyed innocence” of my youth — where I looked the other way, overlooked a lot, looked beyond, pretended I didn’t see — now I see far too much. Maybe when Yitzchak’s eyes dimmed in his later years, it was from dejection — a downcast, disappointed consideration of affairs. Gone was the unjaded, enthusiastic vision of young Yitzchak — now, he had seen in excess, and his vision was clouded.


Govert Flinck, “Isaac Blessing Jacob” (detail), 1634

I feel old, and I’ve seen too much. Back when I saw far less, I’d have run the other way from participating in a discussion of women and Talmud Torah. Now, when asked, I trudge to that panel table with stories to tell, though I wish I was as I once was, with nothing to say.


It is specifically this time of year, leading up to Zman Matan Torateinu, when my eyes have been forced open to the politics of Talmud Torah. Over the last many years, I’ve experienced the gamut of what it truly means to be a teacher of Torah, who happens to be a woman: I’ve been asked to teach, then had my invitation rescinded, because the organizers decided women shouldn’t be on the roster. I’ve been told I could only open my shiur to women, not to a mixed audience; that I could only teach in the first slot, so that men wouldn’t have to walk out of the program when I took the shtender; that a man must teach parallel to me so that men wouldn’t “be forced” to listen to a woman; that I could teach, but not from the bimah; that I could teach, but not in the shul; that only men can teach on leil shavuot, but I may teach during the day if I wish. I’ve been told specifically by organizers of these events to dress a certain way, told that once a woman reaches a certain age and is no longer considered attractive, then more opportunities might become available, so I should wait patiently until my covered hair turns gray and then we won’t need so much hand-wringing over the propriety of it all. And all the while, I wonder: the Torah that I study and teach is not for women, it’s not about women — it’s about Am Yisrael. I’ve just finished years of work on a second sefer, unrelated to the first but still a work of Torah — should only women read these sefarim?


Some of these shiur policies have shifted over the years. Sometimes there’s a communal clarity which cuts to the heart of the matter, exposing these policies as guided by fear, insecurities, and fragile egos. Sometimes common sense prevails over silliness and absurd inconsistencies. Sometimes…but not enough, as often one step forward is followed by two steps back. And, to my sorrow, much of the beauty of Talmud Torah is darkened by the shadow of false piety.   


To be frank: I’ll be happy to leave this all behind me. We are moving to a place where the communal pre-Shavuot celebration is billed as a pageant of new babies born this past year, new families that have moved in, a quiz contest with questions like: “Who was the first on the moshav to stop milking by hand?” “Who had the first telephone on the moshav?” And, of course, an exhibit of the latest agricultural equipment with hands-on demonstrations. There’s an innocence in the description of that event that reminds me of a younger Yitzchak, and a younger, more countrified me.



What tikkun leil Shavuot will be like in Sde Ilan, I don’t yet know. But I’m very much hoping that my new neighbors will naturally and openly follow the precept of R’ Yehuda HaNasi:

אל תסתכל בקנקן אלא במה שיש בו

Do not look at the vessel, but rather at its contents.


May this Shavuot, and the ones to come, be a moed where our eyes are not dimmed, but are open, clear and bright!


I know it will happen within the next month or so.

He’s fiercely pushing that pusher, legs ponderously lurching forward boom boom boom, and cruising around the coffee table in smoother and smoother circles. He has discovered the wine bottles, placed without much thought in a low wine holder back when he could only roll from his stomach onto his back. He pounds up the stairs like it’s nobody’s business, pausing only to investigate the contents of the dog bowl, then back to his mission of reaching the top step and turning back to catch my eye (but he’s a timid one — won’t even try to slide back step by step).

I know it’s coming in a way I didn’t mark with his brothers and sisters.


With some of them, it was a “hurry up and get there” anxiety. With others, I didn’t even notice, busy either chasing a runner around the park or lost in the countless what’s-for-dinner mind wanderings. Someone else had the sentimentality to mark it — one was even caught on camera.

Chachi, Aug 2014

But in this liminal year, the year of transition, our last year in Maale Adumim, as I turned closets over to summer clothes on the one day that spring strutted its stuff before meekly yielding to imperious summer and — just like that! — the countdown to our August move became very real, where the pre-Pesach purge puts things in categories (what do we throw out give away sell put in storage hold tight care about leave behind) — I catch the passing of things:

Our last Sukkah party in the sukkah that Ira so lovingly built and tended these last twelve years and is now someone else’s along with this house, the dear, beautiful and joyous sukkah festooned with huge bunches of dates from the newly-shorn palms of the city, where we sang deep into the night with the sweet chords of Hillel’s guitar, where eternal moments were created every year with wonderful friends.

Our final Purim crawling the few familiar streets of our neighborhood in our converted “simcha mobile,” windows down and music blaring with colored socks on the downturned windshield wipers, swinging round and round the roundabouts with half the kids cheering and the others slinking down low in their seats.

The last few smachot, looking around at the familiar faces that I’m so used to seeing in shul, makolet, park, each one a dear soul, and knowing that I won’t be at their kiddushes and parties and shabbat tables in the years to come.

This week before Pesach where the boxes come out and nostalgia for things which have passed (Remember this gold cutlery set received as a wedding gift where the “gold” flaked off as soon as we toiveled it just three months after the wedding — it was our first Pesach set! — and laughed when we saw the back of the box with the $19.99 sticker still attached? Remember this afikoman bag — Ruvi made it when he was three. Remember this Pesach cookbook from the Shearith Israel Ladies Auxiliary 1977 that I stole from my mother’s collection with all of the recipes with German names like kartufel mit fleish and leb kuchen, back when we could eat all versions of gebrochts with abandon?)

Pesach, 2003
Pesach, 2007
Pesach, 2014

I’m not nostalgic, I don’t usually take pictures, I rarely keep things, but I’m glad I kept that afikoman bag as I glance over at the 6-ft almost-man who is doing a gibbush (try-out) next week for an elite army unit. Maybe it’s that I’m getting older, maybe it’s that we’re fast approaching a massive change with many unknowns, but I’m holding on to these moments as I let go of most of our things.


Back to my little man. This is it, and I know it: the final moments before full-out toddlerhood. The last few weeks of crawling and scootching around, of real-deal babyness, not the fake kind where I still call his siblings “my babies.” I can already see the dimples in his fat fingers morphing into knuckles, the sweet curls dusting the back of his neck just about long enough for a ponytail.


It might be today, or tomorrow, or next week, but I’m holding on to these last few hours of the shake-shake that a tushie does in a crawl before giving way to the lunge-PLOP of the first few independent steps. The blessing of this year in transition is to savor the full joy of this moment, right now, knowing it can never be again.

Torat Eretz Yisrael

It is the life we want, no more and no less than that, our own life feeding on our own vital sources, in the fields and under the skies of our Homeland, a life based on our own physical and mental labors; we want vital energy and spiritual richness from this living source. We come to our Homeland in order to be planted in our natural soil from which we have been uprooted, to strike our roots deep into its life-giving substances and to stretch out our branches in the sustaining and creating air and sunlight of the Homeland. Other peoples can manage to live in any fashion, in the homelands from which they have never been uprooted, but we must first learn to know the soil and ready it for our transplantation. We must study the climate in which we are to grow and produce. We, who have been torn away from nature, who have lost the savor of natural living — if we desire life, we must establish a new relationship with nature; we must open a new account with it. (A.D. Gordon, Our Tasks Ahead [1920])

When I learn, I like to savor the text. I read it, and then let it sit there for a few moments, hanging, potent and delectable, before I start dissecting the language and thinking deeply about the subtleties and implications. I try to allow for a pregnant pause when teaching, as well, so that others can share in that brief silence — I see them first reeling from the initial impact, then marveling over the concept. What a joy to watch others’ joy! It is always the text that delivers — entirely on its own, with only some short explanatory words tossed in here and there — and it is my greatest happiness to share such beauty with others.

Recently, I’ve been seeking out new texts. The selection above, for instance, from “secular prophet” Aaron David Gordon — that one required some time and quiet space for me to feel its full weight. It lacks the power of a biblical or midrashic passage, to be certain, but its relevance to both a period of history that I’ve come to deeply admire, as well as its current application to my personal life, have me gobsmacked.

When I guide, I let the land talk to me. It always has what to say, and I’m happy to listen, so that I have something to share with the people who have come to experience the land along with me. I make sure to give pause and proper silence then, too, so that others can take in the encounter on their terms. The land speaks with its perfect, nuanced language to each one of us separately. If we listen carefully enough, everyone understands what it is trying to say, each of us in our own way. I must take care, in teaching and in guiding, to let the text and the land speak for themselves, so that each person can develop and nurture his own unique relationship with what he is studying or the region he is encountering.

Recently, I’ve been looking at the land differently. My focus had always been archaeology, particularly the interplay of Bible and Land, as well as Second-Temple history and Land. Of late I’ve been devouring memoirs of the early zionists, principally of the fiery Second Aliyah period, and their modern contribution to our land, and analyses of soil and weather conditions in the north. This, for instance, is my riveting nightstand read (I’m not being facetious; it’s really fascinating):

“Changes of Settlement in the Eastern Lower Galilee, 1800-1978” (Arieh Bitan)

Torah and Eretz Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael v’Torah…תורת הארץ. The two are so deeply intertwined in my experience, though exposure to one began well before the other. Those formative years of Torah study were the ציונים בדרך, the signposts to a destination that I’d never visited. There was much I thought I understood, and much more that I knew I did not — age and circumstance hadn’t yet granted me sufficient exposure, training, maturity, patience or caution. (They still haven’t, in some aspects.) But making Israel my home planted me in the resting-place that those signposts all point to, clearing away much of the misunderstanding, steadily nurturing my desire to draw deeper and deeper from that מעיין נובע that is תורת ארץ ישראל.

What exactly is Torat Eretz Yisrael? Is it Torah taught in the Land of Israel, or Talmud Torah developed by scholars who are native to Israel? Perhaps it is something else entirely: an interweaving of text and land, where knowing the Land helps me know the Torah, and knowing the Torah helps me know the Land. Maybe only a deep, elemental knowledge of living on and in Eretz Yisrael — that easy and organic understanding of place that we associate with “being at home” — affords someone the opportunity to understand the Torah, and have a profound relationship with the Torah, in the most intimate of ways.

Decades back, we began our love story with this land, and now are starting a new chapter in our story, one that will be written in chicken coops and aquaponic hothouses, in boots dirty with manure and arms aching from olive harvest — and where the day-to-day will involve separating trumot and ma’asrot, the intricacies of the halachot of shmittah, the very real applications of pe’ah and ma’aser beheima.

…החקלאות, הלא היא אצל כל העמים רק גורם כלכלי חיוני פשוט. אבל העם אשר הנושא שלו כולו הוא קודש קדשים, וארצו ושפתו וכל ערכיו כולם קודש הם… – הרי גם חקלאותו כולה היא ספוגת קודש. (מאמרי הראי”ה ח”א עמ’ 179-181)
Agriculture is nothing more than an essential economic agent among the peoples of the world. But for the nation whose every aspect is the Holy of Holies, and its land and language, and all of its values, are all holy…, then even its agriculture is saturated with holiness.

I cannot help but feel that this next chapter must be one that will deepen our intuitive understanding of the Torah. It is one thing to be able to confidently speak of the nature of the places where our Avot lived, where the tribes settled and the events of the Torah and Jewish history played out. It is another to have firsthand, immediate knowledge of kedushat Eretz Yisrael as expressed through sustained exposure to mitzvot hateluyot ba’aretz (agrarian-based mitzvot).

The years I’ve been engaged in Talmud Torat Eretz Yisrael — learning, teaching, guiding, writing — have been filled with contemplative pauses, so that I can take in the full impact of what needs to be absorbed. Now it’s time to fill this new chapter with fresh texts to pour over and let steep.
Come sit with this poem by R’ Kook for a while, and afterwards let us talk of תורת ארץ ישראל:

Existence, whisper to me a secret!
“I have life — please partake —
“If you have a heart beating blood, not yet polluted by the poison of despair.
“But if your heart is closed,” whispers Existence to me,
“And my beauty doesn’t enrapture you,
Then turn away from me — I am forbidden to you.
“If every delicate chirp, all living beauty
Doesn’t inspire a holy song, but instead rouses within you a foreign fire
Turn well away from me, since I am forbidden to you.

A generation will rise
And will sing for beauty, and for life, and for endless renewal,
Nursed from the dew of heaven…
From the glory of the Carmel and the Sharon
The living nation will listen to the manifold secrets of Existence
And the delicate song and gorgeousness of life will be filled with a holy light
And Existence will be drawn to say:
My chosen ones, to you I am permitted!

(With special thanks to R’ Yosef Bronstein)

Little Boxes Made of Ticky-Tacky

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same.

There’s a green one and a pink one

And a blue one and a yellow one,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

I remember the moment when we decided to cancel our subscription to Mekor Rishon. MR is a popular newspaper geared towards the national-religious population in Israel, and was a virtual “right of passage” for new olim determined to practice their Hebrew (at least on the weekends) and be “in the know.”

We were sitting on the couch on a Friday night, each struggling with our chosen section, asking our kids how to translate just about every third word, when Ira announced, “That’s it, we’re done.” He hands me an ad printed in MR for a Joseph Kaufmann jacket with the tagline ג׳וסף קאפמן: המעיל הרשמי של המגזר״” (“Joseph Kaufmann: The Official Jacket of the [National-Religious] Sector”).

From the Joseph Kaufmann website

This was the final straw for Ira. “How can a migzar have an ‘official jacket?’”

His incredulity was a build-up of years living as a dati (religious) Jew, in a society where exhaustive introspection and analysis by different subgroups cause many to retreat to their corners in tightly defined and hotly defended “sectors.” Each sector has its own hashkafa (world outlook), its own schools, its own yeshivot, its own territory, its own haircovering, its own dress code, its own vacation spots, its own biases, and now apparently its own winter apparel.

We were at a crossroads, finding ourselves lost in the cramped discussions of skirt lengths, where was the proper place for a television set in the home (salon or bedroom?), hearing neighborhood teens described as “stronger” or “weaker” depending on their dress or kippah. Our local girls’ high school presents itself on parents’ night as philosophically “segurim”: closed, cut off from broader society, not geared towards students who might need or want to have difficult conversations about Judaism and halacha. And, of course, the inescapable “women’s issues”: should the girls have a shorter school day than the boys, because their involvement in Talmud Torah isn’t as rigorous? Can a shul allow for women to dance with a Sefer Torah on Simchat Torah? Must the mechitza have an opaque curtain from shoulder height-up, or is lace sufficient? Can a woman give a shiur to a mixed audience? Hours and hours of analysis, argument, discussion of confines, red lines, slippery slopes, tired tropes — there’s an artifice to all this talk, a self-importance we assign to our opinions, an emptiness to the endless dissections. We were suffocating under the narrowness of it all, feeling the heaviness of that Joseph Kaufmann jacket.

And the people in the houses

All went to the university,

Where they were put in boxes

And they came out all the same,

And there’s doctors and lawyers,

And business executives,

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.

We cancelled our Mikor Rishon subscription and, along with it, any investment we had made till then of time and headspace devoted to making sure that our little box of ticky-tacky looked just the same as everyone else’s (nothing against MR — it’s a good paper, and a great way to practice your Hebrew, but the cancellation was just part of a general distancing from the whole concept of migzareyut [sectarianism].)  We are working hard to break away from defining our relationship to HaKadosh Baruch Hu through social expectations and conventions. Halacha, yes — the contract Ira and I have with the Divine is through our behavior as Jews who are trying to abide to the best of our ability by halacha. But since the contemporary obsession with “types” and “flavors” overwhelmingly manifests itself in externals, we are firmly “post-sectarian,” past caring about the labeling assigned to and by sectors; we are moving beyond the artificial divides that leave us so unsettled.

(Do you also grow weary, if you are a religious Jew, when contemplating our silly sentimentalities, the grave importance we randomly assign to certain markers which place us in one sector or another? Where’s the variety of experience? Why are we encouraging our kids to go into boxes, and come out all the same — hopefully wearing the Joseph Kaufmann jacket?)

Imagine, then, sitting across from the principal of the school that we’ll be sending some of our children to next year, when he offers, unbid: “It’s important to understand something about the north that’s very different from people’s experiences in the merkaz. I, too, moved from the center of the country — Bet Shemesh, specifically — to assume this position seven years ago, and discovered something marvelous about life up here. We are one large school here at Kibbutz Lavi, encompassing the whole swath of what it means to be dati in our day, and we’re not reluctant about that reality or in any way pushing a pluralistic agenda from an ideological perspective. To be dati in our region is just to be dati, whatever that means to each family. Everyone gives in a little bit, everyone bends, so that we can all naturally and easily be together as one. You’ll sense it here, once you move. There’s an openness: to the place, to the space, and to each other.”

These are the heroes of Israel gracing the walls of the school at Kibbutz Lavi: Nechama Leibowitz, Miriam Peretz, Harav Kappach, HaRabbanit Kappach, Harav Shalom Mesas

Ira and I looked at each other then, smiles broadening on both of our faces, as we breathed out “yes, that’s what we’re hoping for.” We’ll continue to build our little box on the hillside, as we have these last two decades, but this time hopefully what we manage to nurture and produce will be far from the same.

One of our kids surveying his new home

Broadening My Reading List

I have always had alarmingly narrow interests, especially when it comes to reading material. My shelves are bursting with anything related to the following topics, and little else:


  • Bible
  • Ancient History (Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Levant)
  • Biblical Archaeology
  • Land of Israel
  • Jewish History, especially Second Temple-related materials
  • Of late, History of Zionism and the State of Israel


…aaaaaannnnnndddddd, that’s the sum and total of it. When I think of the great forest out there, I haven’t really tasted of the many fruits — my grove is more of a narrow, dense, thicket that I’m utterly immersed in, and don’t really want to leave, if I’m honest with myself. But venture forth I must, to sample those other fruits and bring them back to my grove. What to do with them once at home base, I’m not quite sure. Graft them onto what I already know? Whip up some tasty new, complex recipes? How the adventures of missionaries in Africa can help me understand and teach Sefer Shmot, I’m not yet sure, but my intuition tells me it’s time to find out.  


It had been years since I picked up a work of fiction, any of the classics, poetry (aside from classical medieval piyyut), poly-sci, anthropologies, humor, etc. Pretty pathetic, right? So on the eve of my fortieth birthday, I asked my Facebook hive to weigh in with suggestions of good reads that would expand my horizons. Thanks to wise friends and sage advice, I’ve added the following volumes to my library, among others: Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahanemann), The Craftsman (Sennett), The Historian (Kostova), Oryx and Crake (Atwood), Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (See), The Secret Life of Bees (Kidd), The Stranger (Camus), Ficciones (Borges — admittedly, I haven’t read any of his stories yet).


[What I’ll never get to, but the rest of my family reads in spades and more than makes up for my disinterest: science fiction and fantasy. The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. That’s one bustan (orchard) that I don’t think I’ll ever want to enter.]


Our move has forced my hand to stock a different type of reading material. Today’s cart from the Book Depository was so startlingly unlike any prior purchase we’ve made that I felt it deserved its own blog post. Here are my most recent acquisitions:

At least once a day, Ira and I repeat to ourselves: We know nothing. But maybe this time next year, God willing, we’ll know a lot more about just how little we knew at the beginning of this journey.

Would love if you shared a snapshot of your most recent book order!


On Leaving “Greater Jerusalem”: Our Final Chanukah in the Merkaz

Many olim (immigrants) consider proximity to Jerusalem when they are deciding on which community is right for them. “Jerusalem or Bust” is an understandable attitude for those who choose to leave their homes abroad and settle here; after all, Jerusalem is so broad as to encompass our collective national vision and aspirations, and yet so intimate as to rouse each individual Jew to a passionate, intensely personal relationship with the city. Thousands of years and as many voices have tried to articulate both aspects, the national and the personal; the most acclaimed and accomplished spend lifetimes trying to get it just right, and not everyone succeeds, though seemingly everyone tries. I’m not even going to try — there’s a still, small voice that has streamed forth from Jerusalem since the days of our forefathers, so very quiet and pure, inimitable and indescribable, and all I can do is listen.

“Old Jerusalem Behind the Olive Tree” by Alex Levin.

We are moving far away from Jerusalem, our capital city, currently a mere fifteen minute drive from our house in Maale Adumim. Our three older children attend schools in Jerusalem; I work there, and Ira frequents there. Our commute in via the Naomi Shemer tunnel crosses the Mount of Olives, and the height differential has us looking down at the Temple Mount if we catch a red light (and we’re not otherwise occupied by checking our phones — yes, even Har HaBayit can become pedestrian if it’s part of your morning drive). We live within the hallowed 15-mile radius of Jerusalem, a sacred space defined by the Talmud:

What determines a distant road (how far away from the Temple must you be so as to enjoy the deferment of Pesach Sheni, which allows one who is too far from the Temple the option of offering his Pesach sacrifice a month late)? From the town of Modiin and beyond, or a like distance in any direction — such is the opinion of R’ Akiva…R’ Ula said: From Modiin to Jerusalem is 15 miles. (Pesahim 93b)

From Modiin and inwards (towards Jerusalem), (all potters) are trustworthy regarding (the purity of) their pottery. From Modiin and outwards (away from Jerusalem), they are not trusted. (Hagiga 25b)

There is a marvelous conceptual link between Jerusalem, city chosen by the Divine as His own nahala, where the word of God issues forth, and Modiin, city of Hasmonean zeal and concern for the Temple, city of the first chag derabbanan, city of the first stirrings of the Oral Law symbolizing the spread outwards, and it is this: it is ok to move away from Jerusalem…but don’t stray too far. It is a blessed pursuit to engage our own critical faculties in studying Torah and applying the law, but any application or novel idea must always be rooted in our ancient sources. You can stretch Jerusalem’s holiness all the way to Modiin — you can develop and create and extend kedusha outwards. But there are outer limits beyond which the holiness of Jerusalem is unrecognizable. The essential message of Chanukah, where we confront the challenge of a beautiful and alien culture of the West that rivals Judaism in its quest for wisdom, is that our wisdom, our Torah, must always be based in the Torah from Zion, and the word of God which comes forth from Jerusalem.

We’ve carved out a niche at the entrance to our home here in Maale Adumim — a house that we didn’t build ourselves, but that has served our family’s intense need for a constant flow of life in and out of our door, which is never locked and rarely even closed. This niche is our homage to Jerusalem. It is inspired by hundreds like it dotting the Holy City, designed to display the chanukiyot of Yerushalmim to all passers-by. This niche serves as a symbol for us of solid rootedness in our mesorah as we are pulled towards initiative and development outwards.

Our new home is far from “Greater Jerusalem,” located instead in the region of the Tannaim and Amora’ei Eretz Yisrael, the landscape where Chazal (our sages) drew inspiration from the Written Law as they developed the Oral Law. We shall be as they once were: discovering newness and beauty in landscapes far away from Jerusalem, all the while determined to keep the Holy City as the centerpiece of our hearts’ yearning and focus.  Maybe we’ll build a new niche in our new home for our chanukiyah as a tangible memory of the City of Golden Light. Jerusalem is the city where we started out as a married couple almost two decades ago, and the city that will always beckon us back — and perhaps even welcome back future generations of our family so they may deepen their own relationships to our Eternal City.

This Chanukah forces the Weissmans to reflect on the gifts that the last eight years of living in close proximity to Jerusalem has afforded us. Here’s what the oldest five of us (the ones with intense and sustained regular exposure to Jerusalem) are prepared to share about what we will remember most strongly, and what we will miss the most:

Ira: Jerusalem is basically the source of all meaning in my life. It is there that I was moved to reconnect to my roots, overlooking Har Habayit in 11th grade singing Yerushalayim Shel Zahav. It is there that I found a sustainable, mature, intelligent derech in Torah with my dear Rebbe, Rav Matis, שליט״א. It is where Tamar and I began our life together in Eretz Yisrael (in mercaz klitah Beit Canada).

Tamar: I’ll remember the scent of Bayit ve’Gan, where I began my journey in Torat E”Y, and the scent of the Old City, where I began my journey as a wife and mother. Places that will never leave me, even as I move onwards: the 4th-floor stacks in the HU library on Mt. Scopus, some extremely memorable meals at the excellent restaurants there, the shuk, our very first apartment, R’ Matis’ shiur room in B”K Menachem Tzion.

Ruvi (age 17, 12th grade): You’re asking the impossible. Jerusalem is always in my heart, I’m there all the time, and though I’m leaving next year for at least four years, this city can never truly leave me.

Kayla (age 16, 10th grade): I’m staying on for the next two years in Jerusalem, so I’m not going to be missing it! But if you’re asking me what I love most about Jerusalem, it’s that every religion can feel spiritually connected to it, meaning that it is truly the holiest place in the world.

Bat-Chen (age 14, 8th grade): I will remember Jerusalem for its history that I’ve been studying for the past two years, and how everyone belongs to Jerusalem. You can find all different types of people there, and they all belong. Jerusalem is really important to me because we fought so hard and long for it, and finally it’s ours, and we only fight for something that’s very dear to us.

If I forget You, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her skill. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I ever fail to remember you, if I don’t raise Jerusalem over my highest joy. (Psalms 137:5-6)

We shall never forget you, city of Golden Light, city of the still, small voice! Chanukah Sameach.

When Your Mispar Zehut is Six Digits

The process of signing a contract to purchase a nahala requires a full stomach and empty bladder: be prepared to sit for hours, and bring along some Advil for the inevitable cramped hand. We literally signed hundreds of papers, four copies of a very complicated contract. The Reichs sat opposite us; when we each finished a copy, we’d exchange and continue the tedious signage.


Ira’s eye wandered to Chana Reich’s mispar zehut (identification number) and noticed that something was amiss: instead of the expected nine numbers which citizens of Israel are issued at birth, hers had only six digits.


“Why of course!” she said. “Do you know how old I am?”


It was at that moment that an element of this move surfaced, one that had lurked at the edges my consciousness over the long summer of negotiations and was now taking on real substance: the people who live in Sde Ilan, our new moshav, are very, very different from us. Many of them are old-timers, founders of the community back when the State was first established, born when the yishuv numbered fewer than a million citizens, necessitating no more than 6 digits.

draft card for Aryeh Ben-Gurion, one of the founders of Kibbutz Bet HaShittah, nephew of David Ben-Gurion

Fun Fact: Legend has it that citizen #000001 was Ben-Gurion himself (not true — that number was randomly given to an ordinary citizen from Migdal HaEmek, who has since passed away).  

Ben-Gurion’s Mapai (Mifleget Poalei E”Y, his political party) membership card — here he was issued the first one. I love how under ‘occupation,’ he wrote: “agricultural laborer, currently Prime Minister”

We made aliyah in 2001, and we were given 9-digit identification numbers. Not only are the vatikim (old-timers) in Sde Ilan significantly older than us — they have lived through a history that we know about only via a collective national memory which we encountered for the first time as young adults, as a newly-engaged couple and newly-minted citizens of Israel. We both grew up as fully American Jews, neither of us much exposed to the history of the modern State of Israel in our formative years beyond the very rudimentary. Those missing three digits from our zehut numbers symbolize our late appearance on the scene. We have a lot of catching up to do.

Chaim Weizmann’s teudat zehut. Note that under physical description is written “solid,” and under hair color, “seivah” (good old age; a euphemism for white)

Many of the present residents of Sde Ilan are the children of the moshav’s founders, as well as others who joined the community upwards of 40 years ago. There are very few olim (immigrants). These moshavniks are people who either wrote the chalutz (pioneering) narrative themselves, inked by their own sweat and blood, or they are the sons, steeped in the stories, songs, and general culture of the “six digit-ers.” Many grew up with the Tnuva dairy trucks entering their family farms empty and leaving full; many saw calves birthed and sheep sheared and chickens slaughtered while themselves still in diapers. All of these moshav families have fought and sacrificed in all of Israel’s wars — in the battles preceding the War of Independence.


There we sat, with our nine digits, feeling for the first time the full weight and stark foreignness of Chana’s abbreviated mispar zehut. I thought of a Shabbat that we had spent on the moshav last year, hosted for the Friday evening meal by one of the Sons. He had grown up on the moshav, married and stayed on as a farmer. His parents were founders. His wife was from Metulla — her grandfather had been one of the founders of that town, back in 1896. Ira and I sat there in their living room, the “forever-immigrants,” having foregone any real assimilation into Israeli society until this point. Why did you move to Israel, they asked, out of real curiosity. I wasn’t sure that they had ever really spoken with an oleh before, and our past was their great unknown.


And yet, as I wrote my nine-digit mispar zehut over and over again on a contract that would bind me with these six-and-seven-digiters, I felt at peace. It will be hard diving into a complete immersion of language and culture that we have, frankly, been somewhat buffered against by the safe anglo/borgeois cocoon of the cosmopolitan Merkaz. (Our older sabra kids, though, exasperated by their parents’ “anglo ways,” cannot wait!)  I can’t say that I’ll surrender my mother tongue completely, since I’ve had forty years of speaking, writing and thinking in English, but I will submit to a place that does not offer the comforting safety net of familiarity. Our future is with a community that speaks no English and has few, if any, non-native-born Israelis among them.

You can’t measure a Jew’s connection to Eretz Yisrael in six or nine digits — each and every one of us who cast our lot with our nation and receive a teudat zehut is really Citizen # 000001, as tied to this land as was Ben-Gurion. In time we’ll learn the slang, the innuendos, nuances and subtleties of a deeply native community, and all of that will just serve to make us feel more comfortable and at home in the moshav. To surrender fully to that adventure and challenge requires a certain grit and resolve; I’m still working on that. But the peace that I felt as a “6-er” entrusted us “9-ers” to carry on with her little corner of Eretz Yisrael was due to our sense of belonging to this Land, a belonging that surpasses our current adjustment challenges and is rooted in a time that predates that first issuance of teudot zehut by thousands of years.

“We Cleared the Land With Our Own Hands”: What It Means to Buy a Nahala from a Founding Family

I was a heavy eight months pregnant with our seventh child when we first met with Geveret (Mrs.) Reich at her nahala in Sde Ilan. I couldn’t walk much at that point, but never mind — had I been a spry college student overseas for a kibbutz adventure, I probably wouldn’t have been able to keep up with this octogenarian. Chana Reich is a slight woman, but her delicate stature belies an imposing stamina and a formidable will.

As Chana strode through her property in the heat of July, it seemed as though the years themselves were melting away. She had lived in Sde Ilan for upwards of half a century — she had seen the history that I cherish so deeply and am insatiably curious about unfold at a breathtaking pace. She proudly showed the details of her life’s work to Ira, while I hung back and took it all in.

(Ira later pointed out the absolute pleasure of listening to an old-time professional Hebrew teacher speak Hebrew — have you ever noticed how measured the pace of their enunciation is, how exacting the pronunciation, how sparingly and simply they communicate? It’s like butter. A S.Y. Agnon story read aloud. Worlds apart from the furious velocity of modern Hebrew, where I will always have to ask for the speaker to repeat himself, never quite catching his meaning the first time ‘round.)

After they toured the property, we all sat down in the dusty kitchen of the home she hasn’t lived in for a decade to talk about who we were, and who they were. Chana Tzippora Yaffe and Yaakov Reich met in the early 50’s at the newly-established moshav of Sde Ilan (established in 1949). She was a Hebrew teacher, recruited by the Ministry of Education to move from Jerusalem to the periphery where they were in desperate need of educators (she randomly chose Sde Ilan from a list, as she liked the name). There she met Yaakov, one of the six Reich boys who had moved with their parents from Haifa to Sde Ilan in the “From the City to the Village” campaign.

The Reichs were Hungarian survivors of the Holocaust who arrived in Palestine from Budapest shortly after the war. Yaakov and Chana raised four children in their nahala, two girls and two boys, none of whom stayed on as moshavniks. After Yaakov passed away, Chana went to live with one of her sons in Tel Aviv.

Chana and Yaakov Reich’s wedding license

Why does any of this matter to us? It’s not like we cared much about the family history of the couple from whom we purchased our house in Maale Adumim nine years ago — nor did I take more than a polite interest in the stories of any of the other homes that we have lived in. The difference lies in what this move means to us, what owning a nahala means:

ההבדל בין הקנאה ונחלה הוא עצום. המקנה מעביר, אמנם, את החפץ לרשותו של הקונה, אבל העברת רשות זו אינה יוצרת שום יחס אישי ושום קשר פנימי בין המקנה והקונה. מה שאין כן בהנחלה. המנחיל מעמיד את הנוחל תחתיו. והנוחל קם תחתיו של המנחיל. ומתוך כך ההנחלה יוצרת יחס פנימי בין המנחיל והנוחל.

The difference between a kinyan (purchase) and a nahala (legacy) is vast. A seller transfers the object to the possession of the buyer, but such a transfer does not create a personal relationship or internal bond between the seller and buyer. This is not true of a nahala. There, the benefactor appoints the beneficiary in his stead, and the beneficiary assumes the status of his benefactor. Thus, a nahala forges an intimate relationship between benefactor and beneficiary.
— R’ Yitzchak Hutner, Pachad Yitzchak (Shavuot), 16:10

The fact that we did not inherit this land, but bought it — and the fact that “nahala” as an Israeli legal term refers narrowly to a plot of agricultural land with residences for the farmer and his children, and not more broadly as R’ Hutner had intended it — changes nothing in the acute relevance of this passage from the Pachad Yitzchak. This land is both technically a nahala and is, far more profoundly, a legacy. We have been entrusted by the family that had originally tended this land to care for the field that will outlive us, and which we can never truly own, any more than they ever owned it.

The Reich’s relationship to the nahala that they built with the sweat and grit of real chalutzim (pioneers) — “you should have seen Yaakov and me, days and days with a wagon, clearing off the stones from the land so that it could be tilled!” — is a critical chapter in the story of this particular area of Eretz Yisrael, this specific place whose character has been formed through the ages by Yael, by Barak, by the tribe of Naphtali, by the Tannaim and the Crusaders and Salakh-a-din and Manya Shochat and David Gruen (later known as Ben-Gurion). There is much to tell of what this specific tract of land has witnessed, and much to dream about what will be with this nahala in the eager yet inexperienced hands of its new caretakers.

What buying a nahala really means is continuing a relationship with the land — through this, we realize the intimate personal relationship between those that have come before, and those that shall come after. Our dreams are Chana’s dreams — “I am giving the responsibility now to you — if you weren’t you, if I hadn’t met you and been reassured that you cared as deeply as I do about this land, that then we wouldn’t have a deal!”

The morning that we signed the contract, Ira and I went to Kever Rachel. Rachel Imeinu is most accessible to us — and since we are moving to her Naphtali’s nahala (tribal territory), we started our day speaking to God and thinking of Rachel. Is your throat still choked, Rachel Imeinu? The Reichs have cleared your son’s nahala from all of those stones and planted gorgeous olive trees, and now we will tend those trees and plant more trees, and learn and teach about being deeply rooted, no longer on the way, as you always were. Here we are, Rachel Imeinu — dry your eyes, come and collect eggs with us and laugh at the kids’ musical.ly videos about life with sheep and cabbages and chickens. Be rooted, finally — יש תקוה לאחריתך. Hashem, bless Your Land, bless those who are passionate about your Land, bless the faithful who observe the mitzvot You granted to those who tend Your Land. With this, we set out for Tel Aviv, where Chana Reich was waiting for us.

Next installment: When Your Mispar Zehut is Six Digits, plus How to Buy a Nahala