Friday, December 9, 2016

Shabbat December 9-10

If I would ask you what comes to mind when I say “Geneva, Switzerland” and “First weekend in December” what would you say? Skiing, perhaps skating, perhaps dog sledding, maybe even fondue? Would you thing of jogging through the streets of the old town? Well, last Shabbat was spent in Geneva as we started our week of conferences, Barbara in Lausanne and Bruce in Jerusalem. Which meant we started the trip in Geneva (why not?). The first Sunday in December in Geneva was the 39th running of series of road races, with hundreds of people participating. The weather was not exactly balmy, maybe 4C, but running kept people warm (or maybe it was the hot wine being served). There was a street festival, and the day ended with the annual Course de la Marmite (the Pot Race…. no, the cooking kind) where everyone racing dressed up in costume and paraded around after dark! But that was after Shabbat, so to really give a recap, we will go back to the beginning.

We arrived in Geneva about 10:30 AM after an overnight flight. We were staying in the old City part of Geneva, at a great place called the Fraser Suites. Right near all the action and lots of bus routes. Geneva Hotels and the airport provide passes for free public transport for as long as you are staying there. A great deal; the bus took us from the airport to the corner of our street. Barbara’s colleague Isabelle Gelinas was also staying in Geneva, on the other side of the bridge near the train station. What can you do in Geneva on Friday if you keep kosher? You can go to the one sushi restaurant, open till 2:30 in the winter! The weather was nice, so we took a 25 minute walk through various parts of town to the restaurant, had sushi and then walked back along the water through Le Parc Anglais.  Shabbat was early and we had not slept much the night before, so we called it a night fairly early. 

The hotel was a 5 minute walk from La Grande Synagogue, built in the 1850’s and on an appropriately named street, Rue de la Synagogue. It was restored several years ago by the Safra Foundation, and was very pretty. The Shabbat Morning crowd is not very big, usually about 20 people, but there was a community meal last week, which brought out about double the people. As we were still a bit jet lagged, Barbara slept in, and we had our meal in the hotel and then walked around the streets, getting to see the races, the street festival, large screens put up all over the city to watch the race, etc. There were tons of people out, till well after dark. Geneva is very compact, with pretty areas on both sides of the river. Since our last trip there in the late 80’s the downtown became much more American, with lots of stores that look like downtown everywhere! They even have Starbucks. The truth is that it is quite clear that the Europeans are not fond of Americans, but they have no problem embracing their consumer habits!

Sunday I left for Israel, and Barbara went to Lausanne. She was asked to participate in an International Occupational Therapy Think Tank on Driving Rehabilitation. She and Isabelle are among the worlds’ leaders in this area of research, so it was a great place for them to be, interact and discuss issues with others in the field. It was really interesting and the mountain and countryside setting was beautiful. Tuesday night, Barbara left for Zurich and flew to Israel Wednesday PM.

Bruce landed in Israel Sunday afternoon and drove to visit Ariel, Gila and Elisha. Elisha was so excited to see that Sabi had come out of the computer that he was doing somersaults! We played and read books and he was very entertaining!

I went to Jerusalem Monday afternoon to attend the World Immunology Scientific Congress at the Jerusalem Conference Center. This was the first time this organization ever held a meeting in Israel and was a political coup for a few very dedicated people from the World Allergy Organization and one of my favorite groups, Allergists For Israel. 650 people registered and the sessions were great. I organized one symposium and moderated another, and spoke at the Pediatric Asthma session today. All in all, it was a successful meeting!

Gila and Elisha came to Jerusalem yesterday AM and they wandered around and shopped with Barbara. Ariel arrived after work last night and we are spending Shabbat at the Dan Panorama.
More info, pictures, commentary with a Shabbat Update, next week!

We wish you all a wonderful, meaningful Shabbat!

Barbara and Bruce

Happy Birthday to Tali!
Happy Birthday to Shlomo Yehuda!
Happy Birthday to Shilo!

Lots of other kids too!

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Shabbat Chazon: Conclusion of Hawaii and Dvar Torah in memory of Micheal Samuel Z’L

All good things must come to an end, and so we have returned to Montreal after 3 more lovely days in Hawaii. We toured a bit more, spent a lovely and interesting Shabbat at the Chabad house in Kona (a mere 15 minute walk from our condo), met some rather unique individuals who have, in their retirement, made the big island their home, and spent a final day on Maui on a very hot (34 degree) day at a waterfall and then touring the town of Paia (seeking air conditioning wherever we could!). We then took the long (overnight) flight home (Maui-Vancouver-Calgary-Montreal) and then it was back to reality.

This was the end of a long and rather amazing trip, and it is juxtaposed with two more sobering events, the anniversary of the passing of Barbara’s father, Mike and the second most solemn day in the Jewish Calendar, Tisha B’Av. The ninth day of the Jewish month of Av is a day of fasting and mourning, the culmination of the three weeks of remembrance and mourning in memory of the destruction of both the first and second temples in Jerusalem. In this light I thought I would jot down some reflections that seemed appropriate.

Spirituality:  The sheer beauty and diversity of the Islands is a powerful reminder of our humanity and the immense respect we should have for the Creator of the Universe. As we floated along a coral reef on one of our snorkeling trips, looking at a stunning array of multicolored fish, the clear warm waters and hum of the waves, a line from Psalms that is in our daily prayers kept coming to mind: Mah Rabu Maasecha Hashem Kulam Bechachmah Asita; How great/many are Your deeds Hashem, All of them You have made with wisdom –the earth is full of Your creations. The beauty and oneness with nature is indeed awe-inspiring; and the native Polynesians who made up the Hawaiian people certainly had great respect for nature. Their connection to the volcanoes such as Muana Kea and the bays and reefs continually reinforced the importance of these life giving natural resources. However, our amazement and appreciation needs to be tempered with a very healthy respect for the power of nature and the frailty of our own beings. The same warm nurturing coves and corals could easily be tsunamis; the same volcanic lava that even today expands the island and provides the ideal soil for growing coffee and other foods has caused destruction and desolation in its path.

Cities of Refuge: In recent Torah portions, there was a commandment for the Israelites entering Israel to create 6 cities of refuge. They were to be used in case a person killed another accidently, with no intent and through no clear negligence, the guilty person could escape to a city of refuge (Ir Miklat) and thus be protected from the family appointed “avenger of blood” who would try to execute the killer (in this case unjustly). On Hawaii, we learned that they had a similar system, but for a different reason. We visited the City of Refuge at Puuhonua (Puuhonua O Honaunau), which was one of 6 on The Big Island of Hawaii and one of many on the islands. In the Hawaiian native religion, there was a strict code of law called the Kapu (taboo). For example, it was forbidden to cast your shadow upon a ruler or a member of his family; and men and women could not eat meals together, among others. If one transgressed a Kapu, the teaching was that a natural disaster would occur and the village you lived in would be adversely affected. The guilty individual would have to escape to the Honaunau before the village guards killed him for his transgression. This was often perilous, as the refuge was always in a cove and one needed both hiking and swimming prowess. There, a priest would absolve all those who survived the treacherous trip of their sins (a just reward). Ultimately, in the 1800s during the rule of Kamehameha II, there was a realization that one could transgress without a natural disaster happening (he had dinner with his mother and the Queen (his father’s favorite wife, not his mother, who was a bit of a rebellious soul). Thus ended the Kapu system and the cities of refuge. 

D’var Torah in memory of Mike Samuel, Michael ben Mordechai Z”L:
What do Hawaii and Tisha B’av have in common? The book of Eicha (Lamentations), is structured in a very interesting and unique way. The book is written as a plea to G-d; first blaming the Jewish people for their sins (more about that soon) and their shortcomings leading to the calamity. The next chapters beseech G-d and ask if the disaster of the destruction of the Temple and the exile are truly just punishments for the foibles of man. Yet, as the chapters transition, these intense lamentations show signs of optimism. Rabbi Hayyim Angel explains that there is a lesson we can learn from the poetry of Lamentations: the first 4 chapters are written as an alphabetic acrostic. However, in the second and third chapters, the Hebrew Letters Ayin and Peh are reversed, Peh before Ayin. Interestingly, Peh in Hebrew means mouth, and Ayin means eye. The lamentation reverses these letters to show that in the early chapters, the lament is all emotion, simply coming from the mouth (peh), and not really surveying the situation or using your ayin (eye). In the 4th chapter the order is restored, as the lamenters curb their emotions, and use their other senses to start to restore some optimism. This resiliency is crucial for survival. Resiliency was strongly personified by Mike and by his family. The 6 siblings did not lead and easy life, having lost their mother during their childhood and having to work for a living before completing high school. Yet these things did not curb the Samuel enthusiasm, their hard work ethic and their commitment to family and friends. Even during times of illness, nothing stopped Mike (or his siblingss for that matter) from persevering, rehabilitation, doing the utmost with his time. Insted of just using his Peh, his mouth, his emotions, complaining, he used his Ayin, his eyes and intellect, surveying the situation, know that with the help of G-d and the strength of family and friends, things would improve.  However, it is not enough just to push forward; we much also be mindful of where we come from. That is why a Yahrtzeit memorial for a departed one is important. We can celebrate a life, and learn from the special people who have come before us. We see the bad and the good and we know we can persevere. This mindset has kept our people alive for the past 3000 years, and allows us to go from one Yahrtzeit to the next, and from one Tisha B’Av to the next, with the hopes that before the next one, there will be renewal and peace.

Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbat and a meaningful fast (for those fasting)
Let this year be the last time we fast for the destruction of the Temple

Refuah Shlema to Zysel Bat Bella
Refuah Shlema to Noam Shmuel Chaim ben Yehudit

Happy Birthday to Yayi!
Happy Birthday to Aiden and Haley!
Happy Anniversary to Mara and Andy!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Shaloha and Shabbat Shalom!

Shaloha! We continue our 2-week sojourn in Hawaii! By the way, Shaloha is actually used as a greeting by Jewish Hawaiians. Google it. You will also find that it is the name of a Kosher Restaurant in Honolulu, on Ohau. No review this time, since we are not going there. However, we are on Hawaii, the Big Island, so big that all the other Islands in the State of Hawaii can fit into it. A place so diverse that it has almost all the different types of climate zones on the planet all represented on its 4000 square miles. (The internet can’t agree if the world has 11, 13, or 14 different climate zones, but Hawaii is missing those that are best represented by Montreal in winter and the Hudson Bay Area/Canadian Shield. Do you really think they want that?). We actually saw most of these climate zones in our travels over the past few days. So, that means there is quite a bit for us to talk about, and we have only been on the island for 5 days!

Is there Falafel in Paradise? When we last signed off we were seconds before candle-lighting in Maui. As mentioned last week, the synagogue was a bit of a long treacherous walk from our lovely condo, so we spent Shabbat staring out at the ocean, reading books, staring at the pool, having nice meals…very relaxing, and not at all boring. Food thanks to Omnitzky’s in Vancouver and the local fish and produce. Maui rolls up the sidewalks at about 8 PM, so we wandered around the waterfront and then prepared for departure the next day. We flew Hawaiian airlines to Kona, a 30-minute flight. Our condo was to be ready at about 4, so we picked up some provisions (Costco and Target, but Safeway and Walmart in Kona all have a good selection of Kosher products; I can even tell you where to find the Empire Chicken in Safeway). However, after a week of cooking, we wanted to try the Kosher Restaurant in Kona, called Falafel in Paradise. Now, an internet quandary: Google said it was permanently closed, and Facebook said it was open! What to do? Something old fashioned…we used the telephone. Sadly, we reached the owner who told us that indeed, it had closed a few months back.  Alright, back to the kitchen! Fortunately, we will be celebrating Shabbat by having home cooked meals at Chabad of the Big Island; they also deliver individual meals to several area hotels, so check out their web site.

What is the nicest beach in Hawaii? To answer that question fairly, you have to define what you are looking for. Wide sandy expanses? Wonderful snorkeling? Excellent surfing or boogie boarding? Unusual colored sand and rocks? Hot women? OK, leave out the last one, no guide book we read talks about that. However, we visited two can’t miss places. The first, Hapuna Beach, 20 minutes north of the airport, is known for its fine, perfect sand, brilliant blue water and lovely cove like setting. Since it was not winter, it was not even crowded. Better rent an umbrella though, it is uber sunny. Then, on our way to the Volcano National Park (more later) we stopped at Punalu’u Black Sands Beach. This marvel was created by the exploding of lava rock (basalt) by the cold waters of the ocean. The sand is really black!! The cove also has amazing snorkeling, and large sea turtles come up to the reefs to rest or swim. Really cool. What is fun about the Hawaiian coast is that there are beaches people don’t generally even know about or bother to go to. For example, there is a stretch of beaches off of the Kekaha Kai state park which encompass several small coves, salt and pepper sands on a couple (which we saw), and then Makole'a Black Sand Beach, which is a 30-minute walk along the coast (which we did not get to). The reason it is not so popular is a 1.5 mile drive along a road that looks like a lava spill that was not smoothed over. So after a teeth rattling drive, we only had so much hiking energy (as it was close to 6 PM…). The moral of the story is, don’t be afraid to explore, you never know what you will find.

Can you get a cup of coffee in Kona? Of course I am being facetious. This is America! Coffee is everywhere. But, Kona is special. We toured the Greenwell Coffee plantation, tucked 20 minutes south of where we are staying. The Kona Coast is an ideal coffee growing area: volcanic soil, 50-70 in of rain per year, warm temperatures. There are many coffee plantations, with Greenwell among the largest. We learned about Great Grandma Greenwell, the daughter of farmers. She had a degree in Botany, and she hand planted the first 100 trees herself at the age of 70. Never too late to start a new gig! The plantation has 65,000 coffee trees and either harvest or purchases over 3 million lb. of beans per year. We also learned that a coffee bean is the pit of a sweet tasting fruit and that most bean drying is done in the sun. And, when you buy coffee in Hawaii, buyer beware! For some reason, if you have as little as 10% Kona beans, it can be called a Kona blend (which does not guarantee it won’t taste like dishwater). However, 100% Kona beans produces a coffee with low acidity, tons of flavor and no bite. We tasted several roasts and flavor coffees and bought a few bags for gifts (if you’re lucky you’ll get one….). 

How do you like chasing rainbows? After the Punalu’u black sand beach we headed south along highway 11 toward the Volcano National Park. The park is home to two large Volcanos, Mauna Loa which is the world’s largest Mountain (if you count both the part above and in the ocean below the ground) and Kilauea, which is an active volcano. The road to the park meanders along the coast, but is a great road compared to the hair-raising coastal highways in Maui. We wanted to stay till after dark to see the “fireworks”, so we booked a room at the Volcano Inn (not to be confused with the Volcano House which is in the National Park and costs 3 times the price). Volcano National Park has something for everyone; rain forest views, rain, sunshine, huge lava flows (none hot in the park at the moment), giant craters, costal lava rock formations, all organized along 25 miles of roads with stopping points and hiking trails set up off some of the stops. At one crater, Pauahi, we encountered a bit of rain, then mist then…an amazing complete rainbow which haloed the crater and descended into the depth of the rocks. I am not sure the pictures can do it justice, but check it out! 

We continued the drive along “Chain of Craters Road” learning about natural lava trails, Hawaiian Volcano Goddesses (Pe’le), and Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs (lava rock carvings that were made to unify man with nature; they burying newborn’s umbilical cords there as a forerunner of good fortune) and then finished up at dusk back at the top at the Jagger Museum to watch fire rise up from Kilauea. Definitely a show worth the price of admission, even on a cool, rainy night.

Have you ever been on top of the world? Of course, there are lots of answers to that question, spiritually, emotionally, but at least for a few minutes we were literally physically on one of the largest peaks in the world. After our night in the rain forest (literally, the Volcano Inn has cabins in the rain forest, heated by solar power!) we got an early start and headed further south towards Hilo. We detoured a bit to see the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory (12 flavors, certified Kosher; I wonder which lucky person gets that mashgiach (Kashrut supervision) job?) and then onto the Saddle Road at Hilo to the 34-mile highway drive to Mauna Kea. The road from the highway to the visitor’s center is another 6 miles, and by the time you are there you are 9700 feet above Sea Level.  The road to the summit gets you up to almost 14,000. Not being properly prepared (we were under dressed for the 10 degree temperature and high winds), we hiked up a slope around the visitors center and saw…..way off into the distance. It is no wonder that the ancient Hawaiians were awestruck by this mountain, it’s spirit and the power of its majesty.      
Since (as pointed out last week) we are 6 hours earlier than Montreal time (not to mention 13 hours behind Israel), we figured we would post this early, so that we could indeed wish people Shabbat Shalom! The only problem is that you’re going to miss tomorrow’s kayak ride to Captain Cook, snorkelling with turtles and dolphins (if we are lucky), Shabbat and our last day on Maui on Sunday. Oh well, I guess we may have to write a new chapter with new pictures to share next week! 
It’s so beautiful, we wish you all were here (just not in this one bedroom apartment).

Wishing everyone a blessed and spiritually uplifting Shabbat!
Don’t be afraid to chase a rainbow!

We wish a Refuah Shelema to Zysel Bat Bella
We wish a Refuah Shelema to Noam Shmuel Chaim ben Yehudit

Happy Birthday to Oren
Happy Birthday to Aliza Kessler
Happy Anniversary to Lenny and Yayi