Saturday, March 10, 2018

Shabbat March 9th, 2018

Hello from somewhere in the Atlantic! This Shabbat Shalom message is coming to you from a cabin on the Norwegian Jade, floating along the coast of Mexico. We started this voyage from Miami on Monday, and after a day at sea, we have been in Cozumel, Costa Maya and Belize. More on that in a bit.

Last week in Orlando was the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Annual meeting, a conference that is the largest American Allergy meeting and one that I have attended pretty regularly since beginning allergy training. Now, we could regale you with the latest in food allergy, asthma and biological immune modifying therapies, but.. we won’t. What I do want to touch on is the really nice Shabbat we spent. For the last 30+ years, there has been a group that has gotten together at every American Allergy meeting, called Allergists for Israel. The group was started by a Colorado allergist named William Silvers, and was originally a small group of people who wanted to raise money to improve the training opportunities for doctors in Israel who wish to become allergists. It has grown considerably and at every meeting we have a large continuing medical education event on the Sunday (complete with a Kosher meal) and an attendance of over 200 people. However, Shabbat is really special. Every Friday evening at the meeting, over 150 people get together to share in a “Kiddush”; have some wine, some hors d’oeuvres, to chat and to mingle. Those who wish, join a group for evening services as the event starts, and those who keep Shabbat strictly stay after the Kiddush for a Shabbat dinner. We have tefilot (prayer services) on Saturday morning and evening as well. The executive administrator of AFI, Beth Goldfarb and her husband Richard, are incredible at organizing every aspect of these programs. What is very cool is that while we have been going to these events for many years, the group has continued to grow and evolve. At this year’s Shabbat meal, we sat with Mark and Tali Braunstein, Baruch Jacobovitz and Meir Saadya and his wife Tehila. What do these people all have in common? They are friends of Monty’s! Meir was his lab partner in first year University, Baruch and Monty have been friends since Camp Moshava, and the Braunsteins were in Buffalo at the same time as Daniella and Monty. So AFI is attracting a whole new cadre of young allergists with connections to members of our family!

On Monday we left Orlando bright and early and flew into Miami. The cruise line has busses at the airport to facilitate the transfer to the port. We arrived at the port at around 12, just as check in was starting. The cruise experience started immediately…we were confronted with a sea of people, all milling around, pushing forward to get to the precious check in counter and then get on board. In fact, it was pretty orderly, but the lines were long and the it took over an hour to get from the end of the line to the check in. The lines behind us did not look like there had been a dent made in it; according to the crew there are 2500 guests and over 1000 crew on the boat. This makes it a medium sized cruise ship; some of the new ones hold 4-5000 people. It’s really like a small city; restaurants, entertainment, gyms, pool, sauna, spa, library, casino, even a chapel (presumably for those who spend too much time in the casino). For those who are cruise veterans, none of this will be news, but to those who have not cruised, it’s like being at an all-inclusive but the beach or port changes daily!

Of course, the first question people always ask us (perhaps after “Where are you going?” but not always) is “What are you going to do about food?” This is a common theme on our travels (see Hawaii blogs, August 2016). The truth is, we have been on two cruises, both on Norwegian, and there has not been a problem. In fact, this trip, the boat has a member of the staff who is assigned to take care of all special meals (allergies, vegan, diabetic, etc, and even Kosher). Jocelyn is incredible; she is omnipresent at all of our meals, makes our menus, shows us products that are on the ship that have kosher certification, basically has been our personal maître d! The boat stocks a selection of kosher frozen meals (soup, main dish, desert) and there is also plenty of fruit, vegetables, yogurt, bagels, lox, cream cheese, even lactose free milk! So, all good here so far. Of course, the truth is that non-kosher cruisers get a pretty good deal too, from the looks of the plates in the dining room or the buffet!
A few words on our stops so far. Monday and Tuesday were spent at sea, and we arrived in Cozumel, Mexico on Wednesday AM. The weather has been great, and it was 27C there, and sunny. We signed up for a trip called “Glass bottom Kayak and Snorkeling” which sounded like fun. For some reason, we were the only ones on our boat who thought that combo was worth signing up for. Boy did the others miss out! We were treated to a private guide named Jesus, who took us out in the glass kayak to see fish and coral. He then guided us through a private snorkeling session, where he gave us a running commentary on the fish and formations, occasionally diving to the bottom to point out or awaken a sting ray, snapper, puffer fish and other marine creatures. He even grabbed a huge conch with a live creature inside. Talk about personal service! Then we relaxed with fruit and a margarita (included) and hung out along the beach. Not a bad way to combine adventure with chillin’ out.  We went back to the port to take a stroll in Cozumel proper. The island depends 100% on tourism as the main source of economy. In keeping with that it seems everyone who lives there is selling something; tequila, watches, jewelry, spices, you name it. We wandered past the shops and stalls, as we had seen that Cozumel also has two kosher restaurants. We actually found a store with Israelis selling cosmetics and dead sea products and, we were given directions. So, we had lunch at vegetarian Café Rimon, where we had real Mexican burritos, and then visited the Chabad House of Cozumel, which has a meat restaurant and programs for the small community and the tourists that come by. Very friendly and welcoming!

Thursday we docked at Costa Maya, which is a port owned by a private company that owns other proprietary stops that cruise ships use. There are a bunch of stores selling the usual wares, Starbucks (with good Wi-Fi) and lots of restaurants and a private beach. We actually took a tour of Chacchoben, which means “Place of Red Corn”, an ancient Mayan town. There we learned about Mayan civilization, their temples, their worship and lifestyle. The Mayans were very much into the concept that torturing the body is good for the soul; their priests had to have crossed eyes, teeth destroyed and engaged in blood-letting (more details if you want to be grossed out). Human sacrifice supposedly guaranteed the victim a place in heaven. Mayan civilization, with its astrology, astronomy and understanding of medicinal plants did not really survive into the second millennium, although there are many of Mayan decent living in Mexico today, especially in the Yucatan peninsula where we are visiting.

Friday we will be in an area off Belize called Harvest Cay, where we toured the savannah and visited a rainforest where we took a river tour by tubing. It was a lazy river ride rather than the Colorado Rapids, but still a lot of fun and we got to see a new, very pretty country. 

Shabbat will be quiet, and then Sunday is a day at Sea, and we arrive Monday AM and will disembark, spend a good part of the day in Miami and then head home.

We wish you all an amazing Shabbat Shalom!

Barbara and Bruce

PS: we have some great pictures to post but the internet on board is too slow! Check back next week and there will be pictures too!

Mazel tov to Davi and Adina Levkovitch on their wedding in New York this week. L’Chaim!
Mazel tov to Aviva and Josh on the birth of a baby boy! Special Mazel tov to Bubby Lori and Zaidi Alvan!

Happy Birthday Isabelle!

Happy 4th Birthday Nadav!
Happy 4th Birthday Elisha!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Sylvia Fruchter- Shloshim February 15, 2018 from Barbara

I would like to say a few words about my dear friend Sylvia. She and I became friends soon after we were married, about thirty-five years ago. I say ‘friends’ but actually we were much more like family. We brought up our children together and got together for all the chagim. This was not simply a question of who invited who each year, but involved working together to make sure everyone’s needs were considered and all the details were taken care of. We worked as a team and it was seamless. Of course, even after all the lists were made and the tasks were distributed, Sylvia always added to it, just in case.
As we all know, Sylvia had an extremely close connection with her family and friends. The number of people who attended her funeral here in Montreal and the burial in Israel is a testament to the large number of people she touched during her life, a life cut short much too soon. She was such a caring and thoughtful person; always knowing what to say to make her friends and family feel that she was genuinely interested in what was going on in their lives, even when she was very ill. Her strong connection to others went far beyond her close family and friends. With Haim, their home was open to just about everyone and Sylvia truly enjoyed connecting and learning about people from different backgrounds, with unique and interesting stories. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from, you were always welcome at the Shabbat table or simply for a cup of tea and cookies. The fact that so many people cared so deeply about Sylvia, speaks to the way she made everyone feel appreciated and loved.
There are not too many people who gain happiness from the happiness of others. No matter how she was feeling, Sylvia seemed to be truly delighted when she heard about special things happening to others. Anyone who ever had a look at her refrigerator knows that there were always multiple invitations to bar and bat mitzvahs, engagements, weddings and other simchas. As someone who spent so much time in the Fruchter home over so many years, it always amazed me that there so many old friends that I had never even heard about. Whether it was the group from Bais Yakov, from seminary, teaching at Hebrew Day School, Solomon Schechter, Sylvia maintained these friendships over many years.    
Sylvia taught me so many things. She taught me simple things, like how to make humus, and also showed me more important things, like the value of true friendship and how to prioritize and focus on what is really important in life. I think her ability to keep focused on what she most valued; her family, her friends, and her community, along with her inner strength, provided her with peace of mind and the ability to handle this last most difficult challenge with dignity and faith.
Sylvia did not lose her battle with cancer; she succeeded in confronting her illness because of who she was and the life that she lived. She also brought out the best in people. Her community of friends rallied around so beautifully and helped out with so many acts of chesed, acts of kindness. This was a reflection of the love so many of you had for her, as well as a testament to her merit and worthiness.
It isn’t possible to put into words how much my friendship with Sylvia means to me. Even when it is no longer possible to be there anymore for your friends and family, my dear Sylvia, you seem to think of a way to keep on taking care of us and making us feel special. Thank you for the beautiful birthday present. As always, you know exactly what I need.
I feel that we have all been blessed to have had Sylvia in our lives. Haim, Bilha, Yakov, and Orly, and the rest of Sylvia’s beautiful growing family- I pray that the values and lessons that we all learned from Sylvia will provide you with the comfort and the support that you will need over the weeks, months and years ahead.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

In Memory of Sylvia Fruchter A'H

A Dvar Torah in Memory of Sylvia, who passed away on her birthday, January 12, 2018

The parasha this coming week is B’shalach, which describes the completion of the exodus from Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea and the culmination of many miracles that G-d performed for the Jewish People as they escaped slavery and bondage and began their journey to freedom. The verses in the parasha describe the fear that the Israelites had as they approached the Red Sea, with the hooves of Egyptian Chariots gaining on them. The descriptions conjure up visions of utter chaos, with over 2 million people feeling like they are on the brink of disaster. This fear was there despite all the miracles they had witnessed and all the plagues that had befallen their Egyptian captors but had not affected them. G-d speaks to Moses in Shmot (Exodus) Chapter 14, Verse 16:

וְאַתָּ֞ה הָרֵ֣ם אֶֽת־מַטְּךָ֗ וּנְטֵ֧ה אֶת־יָדְךָ֛ עַל־הַיָּ֖ם וּבְקָעֵ֑הוּ וְיָבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָֽׁה׃
And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.

Then verse 21 continues:
 וַיֵּ֨ט מֹשֶׁ֣ה אֶת־יָדוֹ֮ עַל־הַיָּם֒ וַיּ֣וֹלֶךְ ה' ׀ אֶת־הַ֠יָּם בְּר֨וּחַ קָדִ֤ים
 עַזָּה֙ כָּל־הַלַּ֔יְלָה וַיָּ֥שֶׂם אֶת־הַיָּ֖ם לֶחָרָבָ֑ה וַיִּבָּקְע֖וּ הַמָּֽיִם׃  (כב) וַיָּבֹ֧אוּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל בְּת֥וֹךְ הַיָּ֖ם בַּיַּבָּשָׁ֑ה וְהַמַּ֤יִם לָהֶם֙ חֹמָ֔ה מִֽימִינָ֖ם וּמִשְּׂמֹאלָֽם

Then Moses held out his arm over the sea and the LORD drove back the sea with a strong east wind all that night, and turned the sea into dry ground. The waters were split, (22) and the Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

What appears straightforward here is actually the subject of a very rich midrashic tradition, with the subtext of what went on in those crucial minutes at the Red Sea. All the tribes were paralyzed with fear, each one encouraging the other to be the first to go into the waters to try and escape. Finally, Nachshon Ben Aminadav from the tribe of Yehuda walks into the water and to the point that he is almost submerged when the miracle happens, the sea is split and the people are saved. (There are several versions of the midrash quoted in various sources, this is a paraphrase). The midrash tells us that the sea would only split when an act of faith-Emunah- showed that there were worthy ones in the midst of the nation of Israel.

It is just over a week since the passing of our close friend Sylvia Fruchter A”H, Zysel bat Moshe Yoseph Hacohen v’Bella. Those who have followed our travel blog may have noted we have been praying for her to return to health for over 5 years. It saddens us tremendously that we have lost a person who meant so much to her friends and family. I would like to share a few reflections, beginning with the story of Nachshon. In most versions of the midrash, Nachson wades into the water until it is nearly over his head, and prays from the depths for God to help him. We are taught by Nachshon’s example that we are required to have a mixture of both faith with courage to deal with problems. This embodied Sylvia completely, not just during her battle with cancer over the past 5 years, but throughout her life. As a preteen, she helped he mother who ultimately passed away at a young age from cancer; she moved with her father from Romania to Israel to Montreal, being both high school student and homemaker; and after marrying Haim, they returned to Montreal to take care of her father. As they built their life together in Montreal, there were obviously other challenges, but Sylvia had one way to deal with challenges: with a smile, with a positive attitude, with faith that things would improve and with courage to take the steps needed to not just wish things were better but to make things better. Even during her treatments, she had such tremendous optimism and clear faith in the professionals taking care of her. This was rewarded by some close calls with periods of tremendous recovery, and allowed her family to share happy occasions such as the birth of Lev, the marriage of Bilha to Chai, the birth of Adi and just watching Shilo grow!

Although someone with so much responsibility early in her life, and medical problems over the last several years could have easily said, now, it’s my turn for someone to take care of me, she did the opposite. If you were a member of the Sylvia’s circle of friends, you knew there was always someone you could count on for help, for advice, or for just an encouraging word. Barbara and Sylvia spoke often; I can say very truthfully that one thing that I will clearly miss is the cheerful “Hello Barbara” when Sylvia would call or answer the phone. There was always something in her voice that could brighten your day. It was amazing that this never changed, despite her illness, despite treatments, despite the ups and the downs: there was always a positive note and she had the uncanny ability to always lift you up even when you knew that things were not going well.

This wonderful combination of courage, positivity and faith has permeated the Fruchter household. Haim, Bilha, Yacov and Orly all are amazing friends, but also their warm, giving positive nature is reflected in their professional lives and in how they conduct themselves in all facets of life. It is clear that Sylvia’s example, mission and lessons will be carried on by her family, including her grandchildren. We should all be party to that as well; to be there for each other, to be positive and helpful and welcoming. It would be very a fitting tribute to Sylvia if we all just brightened someone’s day regularly like she did for so many of us.

Tehe zichra Baruch/May her memory always be a blessing