Friday, December 29, 2017

Shabbat December 29

Israel is a very inspiring place. It’s the seat of three major religions, the home to a 3500 year of history, a melting pot of Jews from around the globe. We have witnessed a country that was a mid-range economy, a purveyor of fruits and vegetables to Europe, a tourist center now become a world capital of high tech innovation with one of the strongest currencies today. 

Despite all that, we still see things and learn things that really make you see what tremendous heights people can reach. Take for example Kfar Tikvah, situated in the northern part of Israel, in between Haifa and Zichron Yaacov. Kfar Tikvah means the Village of Hope and was founded in 1964 by a German Jewish professor who had a step-child with special needs. As you know, at that time special needs adults rarely lived at home, often were institutionalized and rarely given tools to reach their potential. Kfar Tikvah was started to give a home, jobs, activities and support to special needs adults, and has now grown to a village of over 200 residents who live, work, have activities and get training there. The whole concept is super clever. The area is nicely laid out, the streets are named “colors” for easy recognition, there is a farming area and workshops and the facilities cover most needs, including medical care. To think that this village has been going string since the 60’s, way before most people were giving special needs kids and adults a real chance, is simple amazing.

Nestled away in Kfar Tikvah is the Tulip Winery. This boutique winery started 15 years ago and produces 300,000 bottles of high end wine annually. Several of the residents of Kfar Tikvah are employed at the winery which has had several award-winning wines in the past few years. Thanks to our awesome guide Yael, we got a full explanation of the philosophy of the winery, the care it takes to choose and use premium grapes and the production and aging process of the wines. Of course, then we tasted some of the wines produced at Tulip; they were superb, as was the friendly staff and the experience of watching them prepare holiday gifts being sent around Israel. This is a can’t miss place to visit, both for the excellent wines and the very inspiring story of the village and its mission.

That is just one of the stories we wanted to share from a very busy and fun week. And yes, the weather is very nice here, high teens and low 20’s, with one day of major downpours (Sunday), but the rest of the time really pleasant. I was toying with not mentioning the weather, considering the major cold snap that is going through North America at present. Israel does still rely on tourism, so a plug for the weather here is fair game, n’est pas?

After Shabbat last week with the kids, Barbara and I decide to take some time to stay closer to Netanya and catch up on some things. Sunday was cloudy and rainy, so a perfect day for staying home. On Sunday evening we drove to the Latrun area to the Shvil Izim restaurant on a Moshav Tel Shahar and met with Carol and David Novosellor. The rain did not really help our drive; going to the restaurant took 2 hours, but getting home after the rain stopped (and after rush hour) took 50 minutes including a stop at the airport to let David off, as he was flying to New York that evening. The rain did not dampen anyone’s spirits and it was a fun evening. Monday included babysitting for Ora and Elisha, preceded by a quick trip to Ikea in Netanya for some housewares (for us and the kids), and followed by a sushi dinner (inspired by the sushi dinner we had on Hanukah and Elan and Nomi’s!) I have spoke about Ikea in Israel before but we found out something new; the espresso and cappuccino appears to be “all you can drink” for the price of one cup (5 shekels). Another reason to just hang out at Ikea!

Tuesday's activities centered around a possible visit with Ariel for lunch near his law office in Tel Aviv. This was predicated on his schedule allowing a break that long. As it turned out, he was called into meetings and could not meet us, but we took advantage of a trip to Tel Aviv to visit a great place, the Artist Market at Nachalat Binyanim. This market takes place every Tuesday and Friday and is on a street parallel to the well-known Carmel Market, where residents of Tel Aviv can get their fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, and middle eastern delicacies such as Halvah (which we gladly sampled and bought). Interestingly, Barbara had read about a store which specialized in Vegan products, in her quest for non-dairy cheeses and other lactose-free products. After chatting with the halvah vendor, we asked if he knew the vegan store. He laughed and pointed behind him; we were standing in front of it! The store has a line of kosher Violife vegan cheeses and meat substitutes produced in Thessaloniki, Greece, that are really great. It looks like this will be one of our go-to places. Now, back to the artists. This market is full of all kinds of handicrafts: material, leather, jewelry, Judaica Art, toys and anything else you can imagine. The artists are friendly and many regale the visitors with stories about their lives and their work. It’s an impressive testament to creativity and a great place to shop for gifts.

We wound up Tuesday heading North from Tel Aviv to Raanana, where we met our friends Michal and Ronen Sela (yes, they lived in Montreal in 1999-2001). It was fun to catch up with them and see how their family was growing; three of their children and married and they have several grandchildren! The trip to Raanana was a great advertisement for Waze; there was a major accident on the major artery out of Tel Aviv, so Waze rerouted us to miss all the traffic. In fact on Wednesday there was an accident blocking Highway 70, which was our presumed route to Kfar Tikvah, to visit the winery. We were re-routed all the way around the back way via the tunnels near Haifa, but it sure beat getting stuck in traffic. Very cool technology, made in Israel….

On the way home from the north, we wandered around Zichron Yaacov, an artists’ town in the Carmel mountains. On the way into Netanya, we found the source of the best Herring in Israel (according to Ariel and a few others); a store called Prodag, in the old industrial area of Netanya. In fact there are two Prodag stores, down the block from each other. Amazing selection of herring, smoked fish, frozen fish and Israeli salads of all types. As we were going back to our car, we saw a store that appeared to sell religious articles. We were looking for a parchment to put into a mezuzah (the ornamental box on the side of doors in Jewish homes which contains the text of the prayer Shema Yisrael). The store we walked into turned out to be a parchment factory, one of the largest suppliers of parchment and producers of Tefillin boxes in Israel. We got a tour of the place, the tanning of hides and how the special parchment used for writing Jewish holy texts are produced. The factory also does educational sessions on Jewish Texts, preparation for families of boys who will be bar mitzvah at age 13, and many other things. So, you think you are walking into a store, and you end up walking into a world that teaches you new things!

We will be joining Nomi and Elan and the kids in Nevei Daniel for Shabbat, with Gila, Ariel, Elisha and Ora also joining. This will unfortunately be out last Shabbat in Israel on this trip and we will heading home to the (Brrrrr) cold and snow on Tuesday. In the meantime….

We wish you all a WARM and wonderful Shabbat Shalom
Happy 2018 to all!

Barbara and Bruce

Birthdays (in Chronological Order…)
Happy Birthday to Ziggy
Happy Birthday to Sheila
Happy Birthday to Uncle Peter!
Happy Anniversary to Sylvia and Haim

Mazel Tov to the Brandt and Hofman families on Yoel's engagement to Dina Morris!

We wish a refuah shelema to Zysl bat Bella

Friday, December 22, 2017

Shabbat December 22

Welcome to our post-Hanukah wrap up! It is said that if you put a group of monkeys together with a keyboard and have them type randomly, that eventually they will create a Shakespearean Masterpiece. I guess that is the hint that I received when I arrived in Israel on Monday, greeted by Barbara, Gila, Elisha and Ora, who picked me up at the airport and whisked me off to join Nomi, Shoshana, Shlomo, Nadav and baby Aryeh at Monkey Park to wander among the assorted chimps, lemurs, macaques, marmosets and many other species. Monkey Park is literally off the beaten track (a small dirt road gets you there on top of a hill) and it’s not a zoo, but rather a sanctuary and breeding ground for monkeys that have been in other zoos, labs, caught in the wild and recovered by animal care organizations, etc. It’s a large sanctuary, with areas that are enclosed and a whole very large section where the smaller monkeys (particularly Lemurs and Marmosets) can run freely. They will eat your food and steal your glasses if you give them a chance, so be sure to hang on to your things! The Park also has lots of playgrounds for the human species who also like to climb, and had Hanukkah activities, so it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

We stayed over at Ariel and Gila’s, lit Hanukah candles there, and had sliders for dinner from a chain called Burgerim. Fun food, good burgers with lots of veggies on them. Staying over in Givat Shmuel where they live meant that we could get up with Ora and Elisha in the morning, which was exciting for them and us! Then on to the next outing, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo, again to be joined by Elan and Nomi’s family. More monkeys of course, but lions, tigers, bears (oh my!) and a great collection of marsupials from Australia. Plus, a Noah’s Ark area with lots of animals mentioned in the Torah. The Zoo is really spread out, and there is lots of walking for the kids (and adults), but everyone had a great time and had plenty of energy for the playground!

Barbara and I stayed at Elan and Nomi’s home for the next two days, and Gila, Ora and Elisha stayed at her parents who live down the block. This meant Wednesday, the last day of Hanukkah, was also a play day and gave us more quality grandchildren time. We saw a cute puppet show and learned all about how to make paper puppets. After dinner Wednesday night, we headed back to Netanya, where we would be hosting Eddie and Michelle Schwartz, who were in from Baltimore for a nephew’s wedding, as well as their son Ezra, daughter Yocheved, and her daughter Avital. In fact, we did not see Yocheved and Avital, who caught a few hours of sleep and then went off to the airport. But we had fun with the Schwartz’s, wandering the boardwalk, showing them the city market in Netanya (best place to shop for Shabbat; fresh strawberries for about $2 a kg!

You are probably wondering whether there is tension being in Israel following Donald Trump’s announcement on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and possibly bringing the US Embassy to Jerusalem in the near future. It certainly led to consternation at the UN, with a Security Council Resolution and a General Assembly (non-binding) vote. With all the international sabre rattling, the truth is that in Israel the Parliament (Knesset) has been in Jerusalem since the founding of the country as well as the President and Prime Minister’s Residences. The Trump announcement did not change the current reality of the country, nor did he say that the Embassy would be in an area that was captured in 1967. So, no, it’s not really very tense here, people are happy about the recognition, but the reality has not changed and there was less protest now than when metal detectors were put near the Dome of the Rock after guns were smuggled into the Mosque.

We are getting ready for Shabbat and will have a full house, with Gila, Ariel and family, and Nomi, Elan and family all descending on our apartment in Netanya. We’re glad we have lots of mattresses! It looks like a super exciting Shabbat to come and there will be more to tell you next week!

Wishing you all an amazing Shabbat Shalom!

Barbara and Bruce

We wish all our friends who will be celebrating a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday Season!

We pray for speedy recovery and Refuah Shlema for Zysel Bat Bella

Happy Birthday to Shlomo!
Happy Birthday to Tali!
Happy Birthday to Zander!
Happy Birthday to Elaine!
Happy Birthday to Danielle!
Happy Birthday to Gail!
Happy Birthday to Debbie!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Welcome to the new arrival: Shabbat Parashat Lech Lecha October 27-28 2017

A new baby! A New Baby! Now that I have your attention, let’s set the stage properly. This week we have been blessed with the birth of a son to Nomi and Elan, new brother to Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav. This took place this past Tuesday October 24 very early in the morning. This has culminated an extremely busy and eventful spring and summer for all the Mazer clan. To start, Elan and Nomi left Toronto, where they had lived for the past 4 years, to return to Israel. They moved to the community of Neve Daniel, which is next to Efrat and just outside of Jerusalem. The kids have started in new schools and preschools and have integrated really well into the community. It helps that the neighborhood they moved into has several friends and acquaintances from the past, including Ariel’s in laws the Twersky’s, as well as their close friends Rabbi Jesse and Tara Horn and family and a Montreal family, Dr CD and Lisa Zlotnick. Plus the area is beautiful and breathtakingly picturesque, which makes adapting pretty easy.

Nomi and Elan are not the only ones who moved. Monty was accepted to Washington University in St Louis to train in their Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Fellowship Program. So, late June, Daniella, Monty, Tali and Ezra left their home of 4 years, Buffalo NY, to move to a larger, Midwestern city with a much larger and better equipped Jewish community. We have been out to St Louis twice initially to help them settle in their new place and then to celebrate Rosh Hashana with them. We had the pleasure of hearing Monty lead the Musaf Rosh Hashana service at the Young Israel of St Louis and meeting members fo the community. Monty of course is working the crazy hours of an ICU physician trainee, with lots of nights, weekends and extended time in the hospital. However, they were able to take a week off in October and visit between Yom Kippur and Sukkot, before spending time in Toronto for Sukkot. Tali is in a great new school and she is enjoying it. She spent our time in St Louis during the New Year Holidays keeping everyone on their toes, especially Grandma. Ezra is 18 months and is everywhere at once; full of energy and a bit of mischief!

Gila and Ariel did not move, but as you may remember, we welcomed Ora to the family in April. And so life took on a new dimension, with the long nights and exponential increase in work with two kids! Elisha is a great big brother and we will be seeing them this weekend as we celebrate the new baby in Neve Daniel

Now, more about the new arrival. Let’s start with Barbara/Savti’s arrival last week. Elan’s job in Toronto followed him to Israel and he is commuting to Toronto once a month to run programs for Mizrachi Canada. In his absence, Barbara went to Israel to give Nomi a hand with the kids. Her timing was impeccable; she learned the kids’ school routine and lunch favorites, and helped with homework for a few days. Then, Monday night, Nomi and Elan went to an event in Jerusalem and this led to them staying in Jerusalem and going to the hospital (well, I am not really sure about the cause and effect). By 5:30 AM, the What’sApp lines were blazing with the announcement of the birth of a  boy, 3.7 kg, pictures and a flurry of “Mazel tovs” from all over the globe. After two days in the hospital, the baby and Nomi came home. Barbara and Elan prepared for Shabbat and the special Shalom Zachar (Peace be to the boy) that we celebrate on the Shabbat before the Brit Mila/circumcision.

And Bruce? Well, I am actually writing this on a plane, arriving in Israel about 4 hours before Shabbat (with likely not much time to write after landing), so most of the events of this week have been written from a distant observer’s viewpoint. I can’t wait to actually be on the ground and enjoy the moment with everyone in person. Gila, Ariel, Elisha and Ora are joining for Shabbat as well, so it will be even more fun for all the cousins. (I offered to bring Monty and Daniella and family, but they thought it was a bit much for a weekend trip). In all, this should be a very special Shabbat and celebration of a new member of the family.

BTW, the El Al Pilot was Adam Rubin, a good friend of Elan's and a member of the Stoffmaker legion of great hockey players!

Mazel Tov to Nomi and Elan, Shoshana, Shlomo and Nadav!

Refuah Shlema to Zysel Bat Bella

Our sincerest condolences to friends who lost loved ones this week; to Susan and Ronnie Shondorf on the passing to Zelda Fox, one of my mentors during my training who encouraged me to become an allergist; to Ruth and Phil Farkas on the passing of Ruth’s mother, a Holocaust survivor, and to the entire Grunstein family on the untimely passing of Harry. May they all be spared further sorrows.

I would also be amiss if I did not recognize that this is the 20th Yahrtzeit (Anniversary of one’s passing) of Barbara’s brother Mark, Mordechai Aharon ben Michael. Mark’s brilliance and generous spirit lives in all who knew him, and he is very much missed. This week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, begins with God telling Abram (soon to be named Abraham) that he should leave his parent’s home and move to the land of Canaan, where he and his descendants would create a great nation. In the opening verse, it states that Abraham should leave his land and his father’s home to go to the promised land. Why did he have to do that? Why could he not grow into a great nation where he was? Clearly he was a meritorious person. And why the double phrasing? If he left his land did that not also mean leaving his father’s house?  I think one of the lessons is that Abraham needed not only to leave a geographic area, but he needed to go to a whole new area to properly spread his influence. Sometimes being in a too familiar environment makes one complacent; whereas in a new environment, where one is not known, there are no preconceived notions and the ideas you bring carry great weight. Mark left for parts unknown early in his career, going first to Rochester and then to Oklahoma State University, where his work, ideas and legacy left an indelible mark on the world of high energy particle physics. Could he have achieved that without branching out? Perhaps, but clearly his sphere of influence reached tremendous heights in his adopted home. We can reflect on the same paradigm with our children, seeing the impact that Daniella and Monty had in Buffalo, that Elan and Nomi had in Toronto, and that Gila and Ariel bring to Givat Shmuel. While it would be wonderful to have everyone close by, it is amazing to see what they have accomplished in their adopted homes.

We all miss Mark and all he contributed to his family and friends. We can take heart that his legacy lives on in his children Ken and Tamara, and in all whom he touched. Tehe Zichro Baruch.

Happy Birthday to Daniella.
Happy Birthday to Jenna. 

We wish you a wonderful Shabbat Shalom!

Barbara and Bruce