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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cookery Lessons anyone?



My five married daughters are all very accomplished cooks. But it wasn’t always like that .

Most of them, within a week of their wedding, were on the phone.

“Mum, what do you do once you’ve taken the plastic wrap off the hicken?”

“Mum, How do I cook hot-dogs”.

“Mum, how long do I cook hard boiled eggs for?”

An over-a-cup-of-coffee survey ( the most reliable sort of survey in my opinion), revealed that my daughters spent way below the national average pre-nuptial time in the kitchen. In fact you might say that they spent practically no time in the kitchen. Despite all my well worn, but true, clich├ęs about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach and pointed questions such as “ Would you recognize a chicken in the supermarket freezer cabinet?”, none of my subtle remarks drew them any closer to the cooker or even the kitchen counter-tops.


Like any good Jewish mother I went through a guilt-phase. Obviously I was a terrible cook and they didn’t want to learn anything from me. Maybe their husbands-to- be hate my food.

But it was pretty easy to discount these thoughts as the facts-on-the-ground showed otherwise. In fact their boyfriends spent more time in the kitchen sampling the contents of the pots and pans, than they ever did. So much so that I was sorely tempted to offer the guys the odd cookery lesson or two, knowing just what they were in for once they married one of my daughters.

“ When the time comes that I need to learn how to cook, I’ll find out” was my eldest daughter’s comment. How much closer to the-time-that-she-needs-to-know how-to-cook can you be, than the month before the wedding. But of course then her reply was, “Mum I don’t have time now I have a million things to do before the wedding I haven’t got time for cookery lessons”.

When my next daughter fixed her wedding date, I subtly reminded her of her older sister’s lack of knowledge and experience in the haute-cuisine area of life.

“Why don’t you try some hands-on experience now while you’re still at home. Peel a potato, boil an egg, roast some meat. It can’t harm you know.”                                                                                   All I got was a rolling of the eyes and one of her you-don’t-give-up-do-you looks.

It’s not that they never, ever,  did anything in the kitchen. Each one of them had “their” recipe. One made a lasagna to die for, another made divine brownies, another made delicious chocolate-chip cookies and one actually loved making  salads.


But even if they were to swap recipes between them to expand their repertoire, their husbands would soon get a bit bored with the menus .

I often found myself apologizing to their future in-laws. I didn’t want them to get too much of a shock when they visited the newly-weds for the first time and were perhaps expecting to be served a normal meal

If it bothered them to see their precious sons being served noodles and ketchup for a main meal, and that only after their wives had stared long and hard at the instructions on the back of the pack, they never mentioned it.


It’s not that I never read those parenting magazines that suggest that the school vacation is an excellent time to instill some domestic talents into your children. We went through a phase of letting them have one day a week when each teenager was responsible for the day’s menus. That worked for about two days after which my husband and I decided that there were better ways of dieting than simply being starved to death by our children.

Of course there are some advantages to the situation. They came home for visits more often – in fact during the early months of married life, whenever they were really hungry which was pretty often.

And now as the years have gone by, they have picked up some delicious recipes.

In fact just last week I was thinking of what to make when we had visitors and found myself calling my eldest daughter’s house. “ How did you do those potatoes in that yummy sauce, everyone loved them? ”

She reeled off the recipe and just as I was about to put the phone down she murmured, “ Er Mum, how long do I cook hard-boiled eggs?”

Wednesday, January 27, 2010




January 27th is the date introduced by the United Nations in 2005 for commemorating the  Holocaust in which 6 million Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. This day was picked as it is the date of the liberation of Auschwitz, one of the most notorious of the Nazi concentration camps.

Nissan 27th  (April -May)  is the date  set  by the Israeli government for  Yom Hashoah veHaGvurah – Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day -  the time of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Tevet 10th  (January)  the Fast commemorating the siege of Jerusalem, is  the day declared by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel as a Memorial Day for victims of the Holocaust and the yahrzeit for those whose real date of death is unknown. It was considered  that a Fast is an appropriate day for commemorating  such a tragedy in our history and nowadays  we don’t have the right to institute new memorials into our calendar.

Are there too many memorial days for the Holocaust?                Should there be one day for everyone?

I don’t think so .

In the UK,an attempt to cancel the commemoration started  soon after the first  International Holocaust Remembrance Day  ( and ironically as a result of the London terrorist bombings by Moslems.) It was argued that commemorating the slaughter of millions of Jews might be offensive to the Moslems.  So far Britain has remained steadfast in keeping International Holocaust and Remembrance Day and in continuing Holocaust  education in British Schools.  

  But how long will it take  until they or  other European  countries bow to Moslem pressure and relegate the Holocaust to just another historical event – if they believe it happened at all.

As long as the date is still recognized, at least some official  commemorations are taking place amongst the non-Jewish population, despite all the  growing Holocaust denial and continuous Israel bashing.

What is important is that the Holocaust should be remembered for what it really was, the systematic slaughter of 6 million Jewish men, women and children in an organized attempt to completely wipe out the Jews of Europe and wherever else the Nazi boot could trample.


What is important is that It should be discussed, written about , memorialized, taught  and studied all over the world, amongst  Jews and non-Jews – no matter what  date they choose.

Yad Vashem Museum of History Ann Goldberg

Sunday, January 24, 2010


We’ve know for a long time  that a person’s mental well-being has profound effects on his physical health.

I first discovered this, personally, when my young son had his tonsils out in a British hospital many years ago. In those days a parent’s presence was neither welcomed nor encouraged

But I insisted on staying with him, accompanying him right up to the door of the operating theatre and  waiting for his return to the recovery ward.

Afterwards the doctor told me  that he would be able to go home a day earlier than the other children who had been operated on at the same time. Why?

Because he had you, his mother with him. It’s bound to make his recovery quicker and easier because he’s happier.”                        Put simply – a happy person heals faster.

Norman Cousins, one time editor of  The  Saturday Review ( and father of Jerusalem writer and author Sarah Shapiro) took this much further when he claimed to have cured  himself of the degenerative disease,  ankylosing spondylitis,  by using laughter therapy. Taking mega doses of Vitamin C and watching hours of  Marx Brothers movies, Cousins details his return to health in his book Anatomy of an Illness in which he says.   

"I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep."

He didn’t coin the phrase “laughter is the best medicine”, but he’s probably the first one to prove it’s efficacy.

His theory  now has scientific backing. After his return to health, he established  the Humor Research Task Force at UCLA Medical School to research clinically the effects of laughter therapy.

Scientists claim that it has been proven  now that laughter releases endorphins, the body's natural painkiller. It also brings about an increase in the number and activity level of natural killer cells that attack cells infected by virus and some types of cancer and tumor cells.

In general, laughter raises your resistance against infections by increasing the concentration of circulating antibodies in the blood stream.  In addition to all of this, laughter is also  a good cardio workout, increasing heart activity, and stimulating circulation.

But putting all this into practice is something else. Not everyone will sit himself in front of  screen and watch belly-laughing movies.

But you may be relieved to know that the laughter doesn’t have to be naturally induced by something funny. The effects of laughter on your body are just as good if the laughter is ‘forced’.  Your body doesn’t know the difference between real and fake laughter and you  get the same physiological and psychological benefits from both. There are more and more  laughter therapy workshops, a.k.a. laughter yoga, being set up on a world wide scale,where through various exercises and activities you spend an hour laughing – and your body and mind receive untold benefits.


However,  children can and do laugh at lot more than adults, given the opportunity and  Israel  is now in the forefront of  the  use of medical clowns to help with  the recovery of very  sick  children in hospitals. Nowadays their help is invaluable  as part of the medical teams in most Israeli hospitals, especially on the pediatric wards. .

CNN recently reported on Israel’s major  role in this field. Haifa University is now offering a three year degree course in Medical clowning. Once again Israel is the trailblazer in a field of medicine which deserves to be taken far more seriously than its name implies.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


It’s been one of those weeks when our horror of the tragedy in Haiti was coupled with pride at the immediate and invaluable help sent by Israel.

Haiti Oketz unit dog handling

Without fanfare, the Israeli army contingents arrived and set about their work.The Rescue Unit went straight to work with their highly trained Oketz dog handling unit, searching for and finding, survivors buried in the destroyed buildings.

And the medical team set up their state-of-the-art field hospital complete with operating rooms, respirators and imaging equipment.

Our field hospital , has, by all accounts, been the one light in the bleak medical turmoil where survivors of the quake are now dying in the streets for lack of medical attention.

The birth of a healthy baby boy, in a country where infant mortality is one of the highest in a ‘good’ week, was cause for a few minutes celebration before emergency work was resumed.

Haiti baby

Baby Israel in his mother’s arms shortly after his birth in the field hospital.

It’s true that their work is but a drop in the overwhelming ocean of horror and death but the well deserved praise that our teams have received has been almost universal .Read this and watch this.

What an international ‘kiddush Hashem’.

Once again it’s Kol HaKavod LeTzahal.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Arriving at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Emergency Room in the middle of the night with my young daughter wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Ambulance Driving in Front of a Hospital clipart

But imagine my surprise, when shortly after settling her in a bed in a small cubicle, a bearded face peeped round the curtain, smiled and said “I wish your daughter a Refua Sheleima, Would you like tuna or hard boiled egg sandwiches. I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got at the moment”.

At first I thought I wasn’t hearing correctly and the worry about my daughter had affected my mind. But then I remembered that this was Jerusalem and we Jews know that whenever there’s a problem, eating almost always makes it better -food nourishes both the body and the soul- especially food delivered with such good wishes and such a smile.

The non-stop volunteer food delivery is just one of the common sights in many Israeli hospitals.


Anyone who has ever spent a Shabbat in hospital knows first-hand just how much chesed (kindness) goes on to ensure that everyone has a real Shabbat atmosphere, whatever the medical experience. Candles are distributed to the patients and visitors are told exactly how and where they can get their Shabbat meals, where the shul is and where there is a Kiddush after the services.

My son-in-law was given a small apartment when he and his sister spent Shabbat in a hospital near Tel Aviv in order to to be near their father who was undergoing surgery.

We are told that “Olam chesed yibone” the world is built on chesed and wherever you turn, wherever you go you are surrounded by organizations and volunteers who regularly day after day, month after month embody the mitzvah and idea that each person’s deeds make a difference and can help put the world to rights

But I have to admit that I thought that this overflow of chesed was limited to Israel, for the obvious reason that the number of Jews needing and giving help was so much greater.

But I was very wrong.

This year, during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, my sisters and I found ourselves in London at the Royal Free Hospital in London taking care of our mother .

The important thing was to be there for her, but as none of us live in London we wondered whether there would be any possibility of finding a shul nearby / maybe having a Yom Tov meal at some point.

To our delight and amazement the first thing we were told about was the Shabbat room in the basement of the hospital. On the lower ground floor,together with all the other religious facilities ( a church / a mosque) there is a Shabbat room which is accessed by pressing the key-pad code ( the current Jewish year ) For those who don’t know what the year is, there is a note above the key-pad telling you the Hebrew letters and you just have to work out the numbers!

Inside the room there is a fridge with cold drinks, fish, cakes, salads, packets of sliced meat, grape juice, disposable tableware and when I went down on Friday, what seemed like all weekend Jewish newspapers from all over the world were laid out on the table.

But that wasn’t all. There is also a Shabbat apartment a few minutes walk from the hospital where several people can sleep and Shabbat meals can be ordered in advance and will be delivered and left on the hot plate.

You always hope you won’t need to make use of any of these wonderful organisations but it’s very comforting to know that they exist.

As my daughter said, when I expressed my surprise at all the facilities in London.

“Mum, Why are you so surprised? Where there are Jews,there’s always chesed”

Monday, January 11, 2010


Last week I visited the Kotel tunnels with a group of my students.

I always enjoy seeing the disbelief on their faces when new visitors to the tunnels discover just what a small percentage of the total Western Wall we can see from above ground and how long the real Wall is.

In the main large hall inside the tunnels there is a model of ancient Jerusalem and the Temple Mount ,with moving sections, showing how long and deep the wall really was and how over the years the Moslems gradually built their homes against the wall to cover it, in an attempt to ‘make it disappear’.
But it’s still there – all of it.
And we can now see all 500 meters of it.

There’s a section which is very long and narrow, with strong concrete supports on both sides.

Along the stone floor , in this passageway, there are two glass sections so that visitors can see all the way down to bedrock.
And there below we can see the actual stones that the Romans pushed off the outer western all of the Temple.
When they realized they couldn’t manage to completely destroy the whole wall they just gave up.
And those stones are still lying down there just where they landed on the day the Romans hurled them down as the Temple was being destroyed.

Another part of the tunnel brings you to the closest a Jew can get to the Kodesh Kodashim, the Holy of Holies, inside the Temple . You stand directly opposite the spot where only the High Priest was allowed to enter and then only on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the year.

We stopped here for a few moments to say our own private prayers.

Here in the depth of the tunnels opposite the holiest site in the world for Jews, we were closer to the Temple than we had ever stood – closer than we are at the Kotel itself.

Archaeologists had spent 20 years digging carefully beneath the Moselm Quarter, without causing any damage to anything above, discovering the hidden treasures of a time when we were privileged to have G-d’s presence rest amongst us in His Temple.

The Hasmonean aqueduct at then end of the tunnels.

And then we exited the tunnels …....... to reality.

The exit comes out onto the Via Dolorosa in the Moslem Quarter.

Here, non- Jewish tourists of every religion were running around happily shopping, eating and sightseeing - while our group of Jewish /Israeli students huddled in a corner awaiting our armed-guard to escort us home – back to the safety of the Jewish Quarter.

How sad reality sometimes is.

My fervent hope is that some day soon P.G. we will be able to wander around our own home where are ancestors walked thousands of years ago and from where G-d's presence has never left,, without needing an armed escort.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Snow in Manchester yesterday

We've been receiving a continuous flow of emailed snow-photos frm our family in the UK which prompted me to watch England’s Channel 4 news broadcasts on the internet , showing reports of snowbound Britain grinding to a total standstill .
There’s something irresistible about the white fluffy stuff which visits our shores so rarely.

Snow in Ramot - we do get it sometimes

I remember one pretty heavy ( by our standards) snowstorm, I think it was in 1998 ( feel free to correct me) when everything closed down. No schools, no public transport, no driving unless absolutely necessary …. And of course no deliveries to our local macolet.

The truck from ‘Angels’ bakery got as far as it could towards the entrance to our neighborhood along the main Ramot road. Then it opened up its doors and the driver sold what ever he had to whoever managed to clamber over the snow and reach his truck.
All our children who were tall enough to stand up in the deep snow scrambled as quickly as they could over the fluffy mounds to bring home their ‘booty’ – fresh rolls, pitot and loaves of bread which we happily shared with all our neighbors .

One of our daughters was newly engaged and I remember the cheers and excitement when her intrepid chatan appeared at the door having walked all the way from the center of town – aahh aint love grand?

There was this wonderful cozy feeling of being safe and warm at home, even while the kids were traipsing through the house with snowy, muddy feet. Carrots, buttons, hats, scarves and even jackets were disappearing at an alarming rate to dress the snowmen.
These were the few days when the ‘wellies’ ( Wellington boots) my husband and I still had from ‘ the old days' ,came in very useful and our kids were actually fighting over them instead of laughing at them as they usually did.

For some reason I always made hot soup on snow-days and even got out my knitting needles and started making scarves for the kids (don’t worry the snow always finished long before the scarves did and they waited for the next snow several years later).

Of course I’m talking about the days before most of us had internet and photos of our snow sculptures and igloos usually got distributed together with the pictures of the kids in their Purim outfits and lost some of that ‘we-are-here-now’ feeling .

I’m feeling a sort of longing for snow even as I write this, but today we're out in our shirtsleeves with temperatures of 20 degrees ….........….. and we can’t even manage any rain.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


A few weeks ago my daughter rang me.
“Mum you’ll never guess what happened. Someone took my baby stroller from the bus. When I went to take it and get off the the bus it wasn’t there any more. I couldn’t believe it."
“Oh I’m sure it wasn’t stolen . Someone was probably in a hurry and took the wrong one by mistake. I’m sure you’ll get it back again soon”

“Mum, I ‘d really like to think you’re right. But it can’t have happened by mistake. You see I was the only person on the bus with a stroller. I got on only a few stops from my house and the bus was almost empty and there were no other strollers there.
The bus driver and I searched all over the bus in case it had rolled to another corner or something, but – it had definitely been taken”

I really wanted to think it had been a mistake. I’ve always tried “ dan le’kaf zechus” , judge others favorably, but from the story my daughter had told me it wasn’t easy.

With five young children, the money for a new stroller would be difficult for her to find so she didn’t give up straight away.
First of all she rang Egged’s legal department to see if the bus company had any insurance to cover theft on the buses, but unfortunately they don’t.
For two weeks she searched the local newsletter’s lost and found column ‘ just in case’ but saw nothing.
So she bought a second hand stroller to replace hers, as it was just too difficult managing without one, and it certainly seemed that hers was gone for good.

Two weeks after she bought a replacement she called. “ Mum you’ll never guess what I saw stuck on the bus stop outside our house today. A notice saying “ A baby stroller was taken off the 52 bus by mistake on November 15th. Please call …….. to get it back”

Of course she immediately called the number to find out what had happened.

At the bus stop after my daughter had got on, two young women with children got off the bus. A schoolgirl and an old man got off as well. As the bus drove away the schoolgirl noticed that the stroller was still sitting at the bus stop and the two women were walking down the road with their children. She ran after them with the stroller thinking that they had forgotten it, but both said it didn’t belong to them. Obviously what must have happened was that the old man had tried to be helpful and had taken it off the bus thinking it belonged to one of them.

By now the bus had disappeared into the distance and so one of the mothers took the stroller home with her.

The following day she contacted Egged's Lost and Found department, told them what had happened and asked that if anyone calls in reporting a missing stroller they should be given her telephone number.
However my daughter never reported it missing to the bus company, as she hadn’t left it on the bus. The Lost and Found department of Egged deals with items that were forgotten on buses. But my daughter knew for sure that it hadn’t been left on the bus – it had been taken off the bus before she got off.

The young mother also contacted the local neighborhood newsletter to ask them to list it amongst the lost and found items.

When she checked the newsletter two weeks running and never saw the notice, she called the editor and discovered that there are so many items for that list that the editor limits the number he prints every week and it and it can take a month or more for an item to appear.

But this young mother was so determined to find the stroller’s rightful owner, she followed the route that the bus took, and at every bus stop from where she got off to the end of the bus route, she put up a notice.

And the next day, as she was waiting for the bus, my daughter saw the notice.