Friday, January 23, 2015

January 17-23

I was trying to describe what a country of physical contrasts Israel is to one of my students, who hails from China. The first major contrast is its size. In a world where Israel is on the front pages of national papers on a regular basis, people who have never been there think that it must be at least the size of India or even Egypt, with millions of people. Learning that you can drive from west to east in a little over an hour, and from top to bottom in under 6 hours, and that Israel is only a little larger than New Jersey about a quarter of the size of Maine makes people really wonder how such a small place can have such impact. The second major disconnect is the diverse geography. Fit into this tiny land is a warm and exciting Mediterranean coast, a green and fertile northern portion, home to fine wines;   the cool, hilly spiritual capital of Jerusalem, and a vast arid dessert, full of canyons and rock formations. In one holiday driving less than a 250 km radius we experienced balmy temperatures, wind and sand storms, driving rains, and beautiful snowflakes, all in the same 5 day period.  Not easy to duplicate anywhere else, that’s for sure.

We left off as we were heading for Shabbat in Netanya with Gila, Ariel and Elisha. This was a time to wind down, relax and marvel at how quickly babies change and develop. Elisha has progressed to crawling, standing up, cruising and climbing on all kinds of things in a short period of time. We had fun playing with Elisha and I think he enjoyed not having to share attention with the other kids (but we definitely missed them).

Sunday was Bruce’s last full day in Israel. We spent the day in the sunshine, taking walks and enjoying a visit from Carol and David Novoseller, who escaped from Efrat to enjoy some coastal sun and great views of the sea. It was terrific to catch up with them. That evening was a real treat as well. We went to “Sorcerer’s Night” at a dinner theatre called “Punchline” in Tel Aviv. This evening of magic included visits from several magicians to each table for some close-up card tricks and other sleight of hand, followed by a one hour+ show which included some amazing memory tricks (Matan Rosenberg reciting the names of all 150 people in the audiences after talking to them while showing off his cards) and an ESP demonstration (including having a sealed envelope with 7 random numbers that matched the numbers chosen by 7 random people!). It was a great show, all in English, and definitely worth the price of admission! I think they do weddings and bar mitzvah’s as well…

Monday was a day of tidying up and closing down the apartment, and one more family dinner at Ariel and Gila’s house before Bruce would be off to the airport and Barbara would go to Jerusalem for a conference. Here was another “only in Israel” moment. We did take-out dinner to let Elisha go to sleep at his normal time. Where did we go? To “Hello Teyman (Yemen)” a popular Shawarma place that is located “in the gas station on the exit for Coca-Cola Junction (direct translation)“.  Who eats at a gas station? Well, in Israel, you find good fast food in all kinds of weird places (and let me assure you, the shawarma is first class there). And what is Coca Cola Junction? The highway exit that leads to the towns of Givat Shmuel where Gila and Ariel live, and adjoining city of Bnei Brak has the country’s Coca-Cola Plant and Distribution center. So the exit is named for this famous bastion of “healthy” beverages!

The meeting in Jerusalem is the 4th International Conference on Pediatric Diseases Disability and Human Development.  There are major Canadian Connections at this conference. First, it is sponsored by Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman of the Onex investment firm and the Chapter’s/Indigo Bookstore chain. Secondly, there is a large Montreal contingent presenting at the meeting, including Barbara, Debbie Feldman, Neomi Dahan, and Dana Anaby representing both McGill and Université du Montreal. Thirdly, Israel is a country that has some tremendous resources for the handicapped, and one story I will relate had a surprise Canadian and family connection.
When we spent Shabbat at Barbara’s cousin Linda and Allen’s home 2 weeks ago, they told us a story that happened some 40+ years ago. It seems that an 18 year old student from Vancouver, the son of close family friends, was going to spend some time in Israel before going to an exchange program in Paris and then off to University, ultimately to study law. So Linda invited Carey Samuels to spend Shabbat with them. As luck would have it, Carey sat next to a Rabbi on the bus who asked what his plans were. When he was told that Carey was going to study French culture for a few months, he responded that he should really spend the time learning about his own culture. The Rabbi gave Carey his card and invited him for Shabbat the following week. He took up the offer, and slowly became greatly enamored with studying Judaism. He was a superb student and progressed rapidly in his new found field. This led to his giving up his plans of law school, immersing in Jewish study and marrying at a young age. 
However, the couple’s first child Yossi had a severe reaction to a badly prepared lot of vaccine, and became quite handicapped. Carey and his wife put tremendous efforts into giving their child all they needed. After several years and contact with many other families with special needs children, they realized that there was a tremendous need for programming and respite for families with special-needs children. So, they began an organization.  What began on a small scale has grown into Shalva, with state of the art facilities and highly innovative programs for handicapped kids. Today Carey Samuels, now known as Kalman and his wife Malki are the guiding forces behind this amazing organization. In fact Kalman spoke at the conference, and told his inspiring story. And to think it all happened because of a bus ride to Linda and Allen’s house!

Check out their website, and see what else is going on, especially the link to the new Shalva center to open in August of this year! Also, check out this video of the Shalva Kids Choir doing Leonard Cohen!!


Barbara’s presentation was on Thursday and was extremely well received. She then enjoyed a wonderful steak dinner at the home of newlyweds Bilha and Chai. The conference will be wrapping up Friday and then she’ll be back to Ariel ad Gila’s house for Shabbat and the flight back to Montreal (via Toronto) on Saturday night.  It’s been quite a ride over the last few weeks!

Best wishes for good health and speedy recoveries (Refuah Shelema) to
Zysel bat Bella
HaRav Chaim Yechiel ben Malka
Raizy Perton

Mazel Tov to Avi and Nancy Hazan on the birth of a baby boy. Mazel to  proud grandparents Rochelle and Jeff Rein (as well as Jackie and Pascal Hazan and Nancy’s parents, who I don’t think will see this unless someone sends them the link!)

A very happy birthday with extra hugs to the most amazing person in my life, Barbara. You make every day special!  

Friday, January 16, 2015

January 9-16th

As people working in a largely scientific field, it is not very often when we really take a hard look and try to appreciate the more artsy side of life. These areas may seem in fact dichotomous, but in truth, it is more like a left brain-right brain thing; both are available to you but it depends on how developed one side is over the other. Certain people have the amazing ability to excel at both (like Prof Ronnie Gehr, a frequent commentator on this blog), while others dabble at one and work hard at the other. This was certainly a week where we experienced and really appreciated the arts and music side of Israeli life.

This really starts with Shabbat last week at Barbara’s cousin’s, the Zysblatt’s. Linda and Allen (AKA Zysh) made Aliyah from Vancouver in the early 70’s and have been French Hill residents for 38 years. We have enjoyed visiting them many times and have shared simchas and watched their children grow to be successful adults. Both Linda and Zysh are retired Hebrew University professors, Linda in English and Allen in the Faculty of Law. Well, Friday night was spent with them and 4 close friends from French Hill, all but one who emigrated to Israel from Western Canada in the 60’s or 70’s! It was very cool to meet them, and since they had been in the country through many of its formative years, we heard stories about interaction with politicians and historical figures in the life of Israel.  Among the highlights of the weekend were some incredibly delicious and artfully presented dishes that were served by Linda. These were actually her daughter Nomi’s recipes, part of her catering repertoire.

Now the arts part. The Zysblatt kids are all adults now and extremely successful in their own right. There are no lawyers; rather, Elana is a sculptor, married to an artist who works as a home designer and builder, living in Vancouver; Daniel is an award winning journalist and film maker, based in Indonesia; and Nomi is a musician, who has developed her culinary skills and runs a successful business making designer frozen treats called Paletas as well as being a successful caterer (as noted above).

On Sunday night we had the pleasure of attending one of Nomi Zysblatt’s concerts, at Café Bialik in Tel Aviv. Nomi composed almost all the music played and does her own arranging. She sings beautifully, and her songs are primarily ballads with recurrent nature imagery: light and dark, rain and water, the seasons, fields and other descriptors of beauty.  She performed with a group of friends that included a classical violist, guitar, flute, bass and piano. She herself plays piano and guitar (at least) as well as terrific vocal. There is a link to a sample You-tube below.

To continue the theme, we jump to Wednesday, when we visited Ein Hod. This is an artist colony, nestled in the hills just south of Haifa. The town was founded in the 50’s and many of the artists live there and have their wares displayed in stores and galleries. We visited a shop where the artist dyed silk and other cloths and then printed on them with gold foil. She also made gold and silver clasps for scarves, and her husband built furniture, and photographed Israeli cloudscapes. Another shop was the home of the Magal family, the second generation of ceramic makers who paint with glaze, which leads to a spectacular effect in color once the glaze is heated to nearly 2000F. The shopkeepers were identical twin sisters who learned this remarkable technique from their mother and whose father was a painter who had come to Israel in the 30’s. Now the third generation, one of the twin’s sons, are also accomplished artists. Quite amazing; makes you want to get in touch with your more artistic side!
The week clearly went by very quickly, with some other terrific highlights. We visited with Ann and Jonathan  Homa and Bilha and Orly Fruchter on Saturday night, visiting the newly renovated “Old train Station” in Jerusalem. They all were doing really well. Since that was so much fun, we went to the old Train station in Tel Aviv the next evening, prior to Nomi’s concert. Monday was Ariel’s birthday, so we celebrated that evening at a new Grill Restaurant in Tel Aviv called Rafael. Highly recommended.

On Tuesday we got really spontaneous and invited old friends, the Selah’s and the Maliach’s, for a late dinner at our home. They both lived in Montreal at the same time (1999-2001) so it was a fun reunion. This was after some beautiful long walks along the boardwalk in Netanya, taking advantage of the two sunny days we have had in the midst of several days of rain. Since rain is good for the country, no complaints…

We are winding down to Shabbat, and Gila, Ariel and Elisha have joined us. It promises to be really nice and lots of fun.  However, we would like to share that we visited Rav Chaim (Howie) Rothman yesterday at the Bet Levenstein Rehablitation center in Raanana. Howie was a victim of the horrible attack on Har Nof and unfortunately is still in a coma. We visited with his family and sat at his bedside, hopefully to give some strength toward recovery.  At the exit to the center, there is a sign on the wall that translates to “A place of  hope”. I think that’s a poignant message after that visit and no less in the aftermath of the attacks in France and the turmoil going on around us in the world.

We wish everyone a meaningful and warm Shabbat Shalom

Refuah Shelema to Zeisyl bat Bella

Refuah Shelema to Rav Chaim Yechiel ben Malca

Happy Anniversary to Roanne and David Wiesz!

Happy Birthday to Zev Kessler!

Friday, January 9, 2015

December 29-January 9, 2015

We woke up this morning, looked out the window and we were treated to a beautiful display of light, fluffy snowflakes. It was about 2C, the snow was melting upon contact, and the air was fresh and crisp. Sounds like a winter wonderland, say, in Canada? If you guessed that, you would be wrong. I am describing the scene this morning in Jerusalem!

Now, snow in Jerusalem is not common, although this is the third year in a row that the city has been hit by a snow storm. In fact, the last 2 years, there was actually significant accumulation, and last year there were people stranded on the roads for days as the concept of winter tires, salt on the roads, or even snow plows is as foreign as, let’s say, pork (actually, there is more pork in Israel than winter tires). This year, to anticipate the worst, elementary and high schools were cancelled on Tuesday for both Wednesday and Thursday, and Hebrew University also cancelled classes till Sunday. Both major highways into Jerusalem were closed to traffic on Wednesday. Fortunately, no snow stayed on the ground, and we drove here yesterday in chilly rainy conditions, but no worse for the wear. The whole Middle East is being hit by unusually cold weather. Turkey, Iran and Lebanon have had significant snow accumulation, as has Northern Israel. Just to get an idea how unusual this weather it, this morning’s radio weather report had the weather announcer say to the Newscaster, “You will never believe the low for tonight…brace yourself…-3!” which caused the newsman to reply “Unbelievable” or some such exclamation! (thanks to Zeish for that anecdote!). Not too impressive for those back home in Montreal with a low of -38, I guess.

So, how did we get here? Well, this trip started way back on December 28th for Bruce, and on December 16th for Barbara. In the interim, there have been 3 weddings, lots of trips from Netanya to Givat Shmuel, time with children and grandchildren, and even a trip to the desert. Usually I would have broken this up into two installments, but last week flew by, so I apologize, but here come the highlights!

Three weddings in 10 days is pretty intense, and Barbara got to experience them all (and Bruce only the third). Gila’s sister Pnina married Rafi from England just outside of Beit Shemesh, Tali Faust married Gal in the vineyard of Caesarea, and Marnina Hermann from Toronto was married in Neve Ilan to Yehonatan. Israeli weddings are always great fun, with the ceremony being informal and people singing and dancing throughout the proceedings. All were beautiful smachot (celebrations) with great food, great music, spirited dancing and of course friends and relatives to see and catch up on all the news.

Most of the last week of 2014 was spent with our kids, as Elan, Nomi, Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav had come from Toronto to vacation and see Nomi’s family in Modi’in. They moved into our Natanya apartment to spend a few days with us before they returned to Canada. We actually got to go to the (fairly deserted) beach one afternoon (23C, but we are Canadians after all) and built sandcastles and played in the surf which was a blast for kids and adults alike. However, the temperature dropped the next day, the winds started to pick up, and our outdoor activities were reduced to visits to the park, and some trips to malls. Gila and Elisha joined us on Thursday, and Ariel came the next day. We had a great Shabbat together, with lots of family time and play time. The cousins really get along, and it’s really cute to see Nadav and Elisha, who are ten days apart in age, play together (only occasionally trying to kill each other over the same toy…)

OK, as we are in Israel, we need to talk politics. An election was called a few weeks ago, and the different parties are scrambling to develop their electoral lists. In Israel, as opposed to our system or the US system, voters vote for a party, and the Members of the Knesset are chosen based on the percentage of the vote the party gets and where the candidate is on the party’s priority list. The Leader is number 1, then others are ranked in order of preference from other party members. Then parties also add slots to make sure they have female representation, religious representation, non-religious representation, animal representation, what have you.  This can lead to some crazy situations, and lots of jostling, arguing, back-stabbing…and that is within a single party, before the mudslinging to the other parties. In fact, there are not a lot of new faces in this election, but what happens in Israel is that if you aren’t happy, you change parties, you merge parties, or you start a new one! So the electorate is generally completely confused, and all governments are based on minority coalition agreements. One player gets upset, changes direction, drops out…call a new election! So the circus starts all over again. Maybe next week we can deal with some of the more interesting characters involved.

Tuesday we headed south to the Negev Desert, to the town of Mitzpe Ramon, home of a giant crater/canyon. We decided to take a desert holiday, at the Beresheit Spa Hotel. The setting was awe-inspiring; desert canyons, sand and rock formations; we were surrounded by desolate beauty. The hotel itself was great, with all rooms being in small buildings with 4 rooms, including sitting areas, and some with private pools. The only slight downside was the weather; around 4-6C with winds of 70-80km/hr. There was a sandstorm and some real huge gusts of winds that could knock you over. In spite of that, we had an amazing time and would definitely recommend the hotel to whoever wants a real special get-away.

Leaving the south on Thursday we drove to Barbara’s cousins Linda and Alan Zysblatt, where we will be spending Shabbat on French Hill, near Mount Scopus.

As the snow continues to blanket Jerusalem, we wish everyone a warm and meaningful Shabbat Shalom!

A special Hello To Daniella, Monty, Tali and the Wagner’s, who are “toughing it out” in Florida, first at Disney and now in Miami (Baubiami?)!

We wish Refuah Shlema to Zysel bat Bella
We wish Refuah Shlema to HaRav Chaim Yechiel ben Malca
We wish very Happy Birthday to Ariel!
We wish a very Happy Special Birthday to Sylvia!
We wish a very Happy Birthday to Uncle Paul!

We wish to express condolences to those affected by the horrible terrorist attack in Paris. May good always prevail over evil.
Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Shabbat in Haifa Dec 5-6

Here I am, reporting from Israel again. Sounds like a foreign correspondent? Well maybe. It’s always great to be here, even for a short time. And when I say short, I mean VERY short, as in 3 nights. That’s a quick trip by any standards. I arrived in Israel Wednesday at noon, went directly to Haifa, where I am an invited speaker at the joint meeting of the Israeli Allergy and Clinical Immunology Society and Immunodeficiency Canada. This is the first time there has been a joint meeting between these Canadian and Israeli groups and this is hopefully not the last. We have a lot of common interests and many Israelis have trained in Canadian Hospitals, so the synergy exists between our medical communities.

Welcome to Israel-Part 1: As part of being invited, I was to be picked up by a driver. You know, one of those guy’s with the signs? For once, you can actually look for you name (although I am sure we have all travelled and half hoped there is someone holding a sign with our name to surprise us…doesn’t happen though). I am picked up by a 70ish Israel gentleman, who takes me to his van and wants to lift my suitcase. It is stuffed with things for Elisha, Ariel and Gila, so I know it’s heavy and pass. We take off and he is very chatty. Along highway 2, he asks if I want to stop for coffee. I say, no, it’s OK, let’s go to the hotel. He asks again 10 minutes later. Then he gets off in Hadera, and announces with a smile that he called ahead, and we are stopping for coffee. I look for a special café or restaurant. Nope, we drive into a residential area a few minutes from Hillel Jaffe Hospital. Then we pull up to a house. Who lives there, you ask? See, my driver grew up in Hadera, and though he now lives near Rishon, he has a friend from first grade that he always visits when he is in the neighborhood.  The friend is very nice, serves coffee, we chat for 10 minutes, my driver asks his friend directions to the Dan Carmel (even though he has a GPS) then we get back on the road. Supposedly there are 15 classmates from first grade who are in close touch with each other. No wonder in retirement Zvi, the driver, decided on this vocation. Only in Israel! (everywhere else you would be mugged, robbed and left on the side of the road).

Welcome to Israel-Part 2: Haifa is extremely pretty. It is one of those jewels that people really don’t appreciate. I am staying at the Dan Carmel, where Barbara and I have stayed for conferences before. Haifa is a city built on the Mt. Carmel mountain and ending on the shore of the Mediterranean. The hotel is right on the top. The beautiful Bhai gardens are just below. From the hotel window you can see the bay, the water and the mountains in the distance (see picture!) The view is spectacular. That coupled with the sunshine and temperature in the 20’s and it’s a great escape from -14 in Montreal. Too bad I leave Saturday night.

Welcome to Israel- Part 3:the conference organized a concert Thursday night, which was actually quite cool. It featured the Shem-Tov Levi Ensemble. Shem-Tov Levi is a composer and jazz flautist who wrote many songs that were popularized in Israel by the King of Israeli Pop music, Arik Einstein, who passed away one year ago. For my Israeli colleagues, it was not only an evening of great music but of nostalgia.

The conference went very well and my talk was well received. It’s fun to network with people in the field and we discussed common projects and healthcare problems.   Gila, Ariel and Elisha have come for Shabbat, so that will be special.  

This past week was the Yahrtzeit (memorial anniversary) for our dear mother, grandmother and great –grandmother Mollie Samuel, Malca bat Moshe. This weekend is the Yahrtzeit of our grandfather and great-grandfather Moe Aspell (Elimelech ben Menachem Mendel). In honor of these very special people, I am including a short D’var Torah.

This week’s Torah portion is Va’Yishlach. The Torah portion chronicles Ya’acov (Jacob) and his family’s entry back into Israel. There are many important events that are described in this portion; Jacob’s tense reunion with his brother, Esav; kidnapping and rape of his daughter Dinah, the establishment of a home in the land of Israel, among others. Throughout, there is a very strong sense of the importance of family. Prior to meeting Esav, whose threat to kill Jacob caused him to leave his home over two decades before, Jacob prays that G-d will save him from his brother’s wrath. Not only does he pray, but he splits his family of 12 son’s and 4 wives into 2 camps so one can escape if the other is attacked. What is remarkable is that in his prayer, he does not only pray for personal salvation, knowing that Esav’s vendetta may be personal, but he implores “Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and children alike.”  The Hebrew text mirrors the slightly awkward syntax of this verse; there is no pause or conjunction between V’Hikani (strike me down) and Eim al Banim (mothers with children). Thus, the meaning is clear. The responsibility of a father ceases to be himself once he has a family; the responsibility is now for everyone, indeed you are one with your wife and children; it is not “he will strike me and the mothers and children”  but all are one inseparable unit.

The parasha highlights the birth of Binyamin and the death of Rachel in childbirth. Rachel is buried near Bethlehem, and the site is marked till today on the road to Jerusalem. Why was she not buried in the family gravesite in Hebron, Ma’arat Hamachpela?  We are taught by the Prophet Jeremiah that Rachel laments over her children’s exile. The sages teach that when Israel was destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jews were exiled, Rachel interceded and begged for mercy for her children, and her prayers were answered.  This teaches us again the tight bond of a family.  A mother’s love has no bounds; it is the most natural behavior for a mother to do everything in her power on behalf of her family.

The place where Rachel is buried is marked and visited until today. People use it as a place of inspiration in times of trouble. Interestingly, it is the only time in the Torah when it explicitly says that a monument was placed to mark a burial. This custom today is universal; to have a memorial is to be remembered for generations.  As we mark the anniversary of the passing of our loved ones, we remember the powerful example that Molly Samuel set as a mother who would go to great lengths for her children and extended family.  May her memory always be a blessing for us and may we hold true to her values of family and generosity.

Shabbat Shalom

Barbara and Bruce

Happy 3rd Birthday to Talia Bella Mazer!
We wish Nomi, Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav a Nesiah Tova as the travel to Israel, and to Elan who will join them shortly!

Refuah Shlema to Zisel Bat Bella, Yirmiyahu Shimon ben Dvorah, and Ha-Rav Haim Yechiel ben Malca. 

Sincerest condolences to Nomi's father, Robert Goldberger, on the recent passing of his father Aryeh Goldberer. May his memory always be a blessing

And to my wonderful wife Barbara, I definitely wish you were not stuck in the cold so we could enjoy this wonderful shabbat together!

Friday, July 4, 2014

From Montreal to Mexico

These posts are usually crafted during travels, but almost always with some Israeli connection, either passing through a place on the way to Israel or actually being there. That’s where the name Mazer-in –Jerusalem came from since the blog started there. But there are always exceptions…like this week. We will take you from Montreal to San Diego to Mazatlán, Mexico, and back to Montreal. It’s been a fun week of conferences, teaching and exploring some new and beautiful places and learning new lessons.

The genesis of all this started about a year ago, with a colleague and friend from Mexico named Juan Antonio “Tony” Sacre. Tony is a pediatric allergist in Mexico whose daughters live in Montreal (studying at McGill and Concordia). When Tony is in Montreal, he visits us at McGill and the Children’s and at Meakins Christie. We often discuss cases and medical problems as well as family and life. Tony was elected secretary of the Mexican College of Pediatric Allergists and Immunologists (Compedia), and as part of his job was to coordinate the Annual meeting of Compedia. In our discussions, he suggested that he would like to invite me to speak at the meeting, in a resort in Mexico. I asked if I could bring Barbara and he said, absolutely! So began the journey…

The Compedia meeting was to be from June 25-29; but soon after our trip to Switzerland this March, I was invited to speak at another conference in San Diego on June 23-24; since the Mexican meeting was to be held on the Pacific coast, this would be feasible. So I set out for San Diego for a two day meeting at the University of California in San Diego in La Jolla on “GlycoImmunology”. Not to go into the technicalities, it was a really interesting meeting and an opportunity to meet some really good scientists. Of course, La Jolla is always a treat to visit.   The temperature varied between 17 and 22C, palm trees were everywhere and the setting was really pretty. We stayed at the Sheraton La Jolla, which coincidentally is across the street from a Ralph’s supermarket with a large Kosher take-out and deli and a Trader Joe’s. We were also a 20 minute walk away from the La Jolla JCC which has a Kosher restaurant. So California travelers, if you are planning a few days in the La Jolla area, and would like to have convenient access to provisions, this is the place to stay. Barbara arrived on Tuesday afternoon, had some time around the pool, then we shopped (more about that later) and went to the JCC for dinner. We were due to leave at 6:30 the next morning, so we called it a night somewhat earlier to be ready to go to the airport.

The next morning, we were on our way to Mexico. We learned that the resort in Mazatlán was unable to work things out with a Kosher caterer, so we brought some schnitzel and turkey cold cuts, which a local Chabad Rav had said would not be a problem. Of course, Mexico has crazy laws about food, and we were told 10 times on the plane to declare all foods, so we did. And guess what? Our chicken was confiscated. No amount of cajoling or explaining about kashrut or illness or pain of death would let them let it pass. So, we were transferred from the airport to the Emerald Bay Pueblo Bonita resort on the beach of Mazatlan, sans chicken! We did get to keep rolls and Yves fake meat, so all was not lost. It did lead to us eating lots of fish wrapped in aluminum foil, which worked out well, except for the night the chef wrapped 2 cans of tuna in foil (don't ask....)

We stayed at the Peublo Bonita Emerald Bay. The resort is secluded, built just above the public beach, right on the Pacific Coast. It’s full of beautiful gardens, pools, and spectacular sunsets.  It would be an amazing place to take long walks, except that it was 34 degrees outside (with the humidex it’s 42!). OK, so we took short walks, used the pool and especially appreciated the air conditioning. All the hotel rooms are large suites with bedrooms and large living rooms with kitchenettes. The windows face the ocean and the lovely sunsets. Pretty spectacular.

As faculty at the conference we have been treated really well. Wednesday night, the opening program included a cocktail party, a group of traditional dancers and a “Banda”, a traditional local band. There was quite a show. On Thursday, the professors were taken to a restaurant in a home built 151 years ago, including a fig tree growing through the roof of the first floor into the second floor.  I spoke at the conference on Thursday and Friday and the talks were very well received. There were lots of questions during and after the presentations. The crowd was very Latin American, enthusiastic, ebullient, and very fun loving.

We had a great, quiet Shabbat, with some down time to hang out and read. In contrast, the conference had their closing dinner Friday night, with dancing till 3 AM! These guys have lots of energy!

So what is so special about Mazatlán? We found out quite a bit on a tour of the city Sunday afternoon. The city is nestled along the coast and really was developed in the 1800s. It has an 11 km boardwalk along the beach which is filled with people, especially after dark (considering the heat). Like many Mexican cities, it has many plazas and squares and especially monuments, to everything from the city’s name (Mazatlan means “Deer”) to the continuity of the Family. There is even one to the city’s most famous industry, the Pacifico Brewery. Now, how does a land known for Tequila become the home to many excellent beers? There was a huge influx of Austrian and German immigrants in the latter half of the 1800’s. Three German immigrants started the Brewery in Mazatlán. And, as you know with the coming of Europeans, there has to be a Jewish connection…

This brings us to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Center of Old Mazatlan. (“What?” you are saying, “He’s lost it, too much sun….that name does not sound remotely Jewish!”) This cathedral is truly beautiful, as cathedrals often are, very ornate, and full of religious imagery. However, there is a difference. When we arrived, our guide asked what is unusual about the Cathedral? Look at the stained glass window in the picture. See it? Each stained glass window, 28 in all, are crowned with a Magen David, a Star of David. This is in tribute to three Jewish families, who, in the late 1880’s and 90’s aided in the construction of the church with large donations and contributions of the marble for the floor and other things. The 28 windows? In honor of the 28 days of a typical lunar month in the Jewish calendar. Now, I am sure that in many circles, this would be considered a sacrilege. Personally, though, I think this really represents a Kiddush HaShem, a sanctification of G-d. This is proof of the good that can come from people working together, and respecting each other. According to Wikipedia, in the 1800’s there were barely 200 Jewish families in all of Mexico. In Mazatlán, it would have been surprising if there was even a minyan (10 Jewish males required for communal prayer). On the other hand, the agrarian community of Mazatlán was likely not overly wealthy, much like today. So when the Catholic majority built their house of G-d, the minute Jewish community chipped in and the gratitude is forever etched in the magnificent stained glass for all to see.

Mexico was a great place to relax, enjoy the sun and learn about another culture with tremendous joie de vivre. However, in this very trying week, with the loss of three precious boys in Israel and escalation of violence across the entire Middle East, we can learn a lot from the stained glass in Mazatlán about co-operation, mutual respect and helping one’s fellow man.

May we all be blessed with a peaceful and warm Shabbat

Barbara and Bruce

PS: Many thanks to Pancho and Rose-Marie for making sure we stayed out of trouble

Happy Fourth of July to all our US friends (and our kids living in the US!)
Happy Birthday to Steven Fiter
Happy Birthday to Andy!
Happy Birthday to Cousins David (Weinstein) and Karen (Morrison)
To my beloved wife and best friend, Happy Anniversary!

Refuah Shlema to Zysl bat Bella

Monday, April 21, 2014

Passover 2014, Part 2

Close your eyes…picture yourself flying over desert, seas, ancient ruins, mountains, forests, lakes and castles, then across oceans, rocky cliffs and large cities…and at the end of the journey, you have arrived in a place with friendly faces into the loving arms of family. Imagination? Perhaps, but actually, this was what we did in the middle of the week, flying from Israel to Toronto to end the holiday with the rest of the family. Now to fill in the blanks!

The Passover Seder: Last Monday seems like a long time ago, considering the busy week, but we will wind the clock back to the Seder night at the home of Geula and Yitzhak Twersky. I have written about the Seder each of the past 4 years, and reflected on the amazing educational event that it is. It is much more than telling the Passover story of the Exodus of the Jewish People from Egypt.  Done properly, it is truly a re-living of events, an opportunity to place oneself right into the story and feel the power of the experience. The Twersky home was a terrific and unique example of how to accomplish this. Gila has 9 brothers and sisters and 8 of the children (plus Ariel and Elisha) were there for the Seder. Geula had procured a “bag of tricks”; a large sac of toys and games that mirrored themes in the story and were given out throughout the evening to the kids. There were also new books, Haggadot that told the story of Passover, given to the younger siblings. The Twersky teens also prepare a Passover play for all to take part in; a terrific adaptation of the music of Annie to the Pesach story!! As we talked and sang into the wee hours of the morning, everyone seemed to gather more energy as the evening went on, not less!  

The next day we were invited to lunch at the home of Chani and Reuven Or. The Ors were our next door neighbors for almost 2 years in Denver. When we were all Denverites, their then teenage daughters were our babysitters and their sons were playmates for Monty and Elan. Fast forward to the present, and there are a lot of grownups and 12 grandchildren! Besides catching up with Reuven and Chani, we had a lot of fun talking to the rest of the family, reminiscing and marveling at where the time has gone. Of course, seeing our own kids and grandchildren means that we are caught in the same time warp!

The Festival of  Freedom: One of the beautiful things about our trips to Israel is the joie de vivre, excitement and liveliness in the streets. This is no more apparent than during Passover, when the weather is perfect, most people are on holiday and just about everyone is out on some type of “tiyul” (Hebrew for trip or outing). The streets and squares are packed, the restaurants are full (as if we don’t eat enough on this holiday) and things are really buzzing.  Passover is called the holiday of Freedom due to the Exodus from Egypt. Outside of Israel, it seems that everyone is still slaving in the kitchen or in the supermarket, preparing for the holiday for weeks in advance. In Israel, the sense of freedom is palpable as you marvel at the masses of people travelling everywhere.

Oleh Leregel: OK, now it’s time for your bible lesson.  Lets’ check Exodus Chapter 34, Leviticus, Chapter 23 and Deuteronomy ,Chapter 15. What is the main theme in common? There are three Jewish holidays, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, which were marked by the entire nation gathering in Jerusalem from the Ancient Biblical times until the destruction of the second Temple in 70AD. These holidays were the Shalosh  Regalim; the three festivals that one walked to Jerusalem to gather with the rest of the nation. Although this is no longer part of the official celebration (until such time as the Third Temple is built!) people still flock to Jerusalem on the holidays. Wednesday, before we left for Toronto, Barbara, Gila, Ariel, baby Elisha and I went to Jerusalem and met with Lynda and Alan Zysblatt, Barbara’s cousins. We had lunch just outside the Old City and then walked to the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall. We were joined by thousands of people, Israeli’s and Tourists, streaming through the streets of the ancient Capital. It was an amazing sight, as we jostled to descend to the plaza where the Western Wall is situated and joined groups in prayer next to the Wall. It’s very humbling to think that you are next to the structure that belonged to the Second Temple and that has outlasted over 2 Millennia. This was an appropriate way to say farewell to this leg of the trip, as we headed back to Netanya to pack and prepare for the flight the next morning.

Shabbat: We arrived in Toronto on Thursday evening, just in time to help with dinner and to tuck Shoshana and Shlomo into bed.  Friday was a catch up and prepare for Shabbat day, which led into a reunion with the other side of the family! Shabbat was spent at Elan and Nomi’s home in Toronto, and Monty, Daniella and Tali joined us, along with Nomi’s parents Karyn and Robert and sibs Adina and Daniel.  Just seeing everyone was great, but watching the kids play together was phenomenal. This was made even more special by seeing Nadav, one week post-op, looking amazing, drinking, playful and smiling like a six week old should! The comment of the weekend was Shlomo’s exclamation this morning that that was the best Shabbat, ‘cuz he could play with his cousin! I think we would second that; having our kids and their kids around makes all of these the best possible Shabbat. 

So we are now entering in to the end of the Passover holiday, which in general corresponds with the Easter Holiday, so hopefully everyone reading this will have some special time with their friends and family as we move through this long weekend!

Wishing you a Chag Sameach and Happy Easter!

Barbara and Bruce

Monday, April 14, 2014

Passover 2014

So, here we are, a few hours before Passover. This is the fourth year that we are spending Passover in Israel. Passover, or Pesach, is the holiday of freedom. The Jewish people were taken from slavery to freedom, going from a broken people to becoming a nation. The concepts of Passover are amazing universal messages: no man should lord over another, no man should own another, no nation should think that others are beneath them or inferior to them. The Seder tonight reenacts the Exodus from Egypt, and the acceptance by the Jews of the responsibility of being a nation; to build a society and to serve G-d. I think these are messages that are no less important today as 3000 years ago; in fact, maybe more so. When we look at the world today, people clearly have not embodied what had been taught millennia ago.

The past 10 days have been ultra-eventful, so get set! We left off in Switzerland, in the lovely town of Interlaken. We were attending the 7th International IVIg Congress which was a small meeting of about 200 researchers in Immunology and related fields. The unifying theme was the use of intravenous immunoglobulin in treatment of diseases. I recently published a paper that received quite a bit of notice at the meeting, so it was a lot of fun to discuss theories and practicalities (and politics) in the field with the others. We had a really nice Shabbat, with nice mild weather, perfect for a long walk to one of the lakes, which took up a good part of late Saturday afternoon.  The lakes were nestled between a series of mountains, making it quite idyllic, a lot like Aspen (but not quite as built up or affluent in the town).

Sunday morning, we were off to Israel, taking the first train of the day from Interlaken to the Zurich Airport. Not only is it super convenient to take the train to the airport, but the luggage drop off is in the train station, so you are free of your bags in minutes. Then off to the terminal and a flight to Israel, landing at 2:30.  The next major stop would be Bilha and Chai’s wedding, with a few minor stops in between….Car pick up, Netanya to drop off our bags and get dressed , Givat Shmuel to pick up Ariel, Gila and Elisha and then to the wedding hall. Luckily, the wedding hall was a five minute drive from Ariel’s house! That made things work out just perfectly. The wedding was gorgeous, with many highlights, including the fact that Bilha’s brother Yacov was the Mesader Kedushin,  the presiding clergy for the wedding. That made it all the more meaningful. There was a nice cohort of Montrealers, both present and past, who came to celebrate with the Fruchter family. Of course great food and terrific music topped off the evening.

The next two days were ideal grandparent days. Since Gila and Ariel are both in school (although Gila has been off for maternity leave) they took advantage of the “free” child care to have us hang out with Elisha. As you can see by the accompanying pictures, he is a real sweetie! He is beginning to be playful, looking at toys and following, an occasional smile…perfect 6 week old behavior. So, we strolled him around the local mall and around campus. He played his part really well too, sleeping or lying contented unless he needed feeding.  Definitely a classy baby.

Mixing a bit of business with the pleasure, I visited Tel Aviv University and gave a lecture to the immunology group,which was well received. My host was a superb immunologist named Ariel Munitz, who’s work I have followed as he trained with a good friend, Marc Rothenberg.  Here is a new security wrinkle. You don’t just press up or down to call an elevator in the medical school building. You tell it which floor you want to go to and it tells you which elevator to take. When you get it there are no buttons to push. I am not sure why that is helpful, but it was a great conversation piece.

The rest of the time was punctuated with visits with Sylvia and Haim Fruchter in Netanya, and with Michal and Ronen Sela and family on a beach outside Netanya. Sylvia and Haim were in post wedding mode, visiting family and friends and criss-crossing the county. We picked up Gila and Ariel and the baby on Thursday to give them a bit of a pre-Passover holiday near the beach. We took some very nice sea-side walks, hung out and had a really nice Shabbat together.  Sunday included Passover preparations, although this year, things would be a bit different for us, as we were not hosting the Seder, but rather we are joining Gila’s family for Seder on Monday night. We’re very excited about spending the next couple of days in Neve Daniel. Check out an article about Geula in this week's Jerusalem Post and her painitngs!

Of course, life is not always about vacations and fun. A few people noticed that I didn’t send out a post in the customary way on Friday afternoon. This was because at the time we were a bit pre-occupied about things going on in Toronto. Our youngest grandson, Nadav, had been vomiting for a few days, and was evaluated at the Hospital for Sick Children. They diagnosed a small intestinal obstruction (pyloric stenosis) which required a small surgical procedure on Wednesday night. He improved nicely, but as of the beginning of Shabbat in Israel, we did not know if he would be discharged.  We are happy to report that he left the hospital on Friday midafternoon, and based on a great Skype call yesterday, it is clear that he is back to normal! He fed really well Saturday and Sunday . Shoshana and Shlomo were super happy to have their little brother (and parents) home and everyone was back to the daily tasks like shopping and cooking for Passover! Kudos to the nursing and medical staff at Sick Kids for a job very well done!

So, Thank G-d, everyone in the family is at home (or at least in someone’s home!) and will be celebrating Passover with loved ones; we with the Twersky’s in Israel, Elan and Nomi and co. with Nomi’s family  in Toronto, Daniella, Monty and Tali with the Wagner clan in Toronto, my mom in Edmonton with my sister Roanne, etc…! As we sit around the Seder table discussing the Exodus from Egypt and the concept of freedom, we will pause to be thankful for both the ups and downs of life, because without the challenges, it may be hard to truly appreciate the good things.

Wishing everyone a Happy Passover, and Chag Kasher v’sameach and a Happy Easter!

Barbara and Bruce

Mazel Tov to Bilha and Chai on their marriage last week! Mazel Tov to our great Friends Sylvia and Haim 
Fruchter and family on this wonderful simcha!

Mazel to to Ashi and Dassy Stenge and Grandma Gail on the birth of a baby boy!

Mazel to to Moti and Sarah Stenge and Savta Gail on the birth of twin boys! Busy week!!

Happy Birthday to R’ Elan in Toronto
Happy Birthday to David Weisz in Edmonton
Happy Birthday to Josh Samuel in Montreal!