A look back at 2013
Most unique fundraiser: when I got invited to a swishing event I had no idea what it meant. And I wasn’t alone. Two friends, a Brit and an Aussie, joined forces to import something their friends abroad had done to create a do-good, guilt-free shopping experience. To swish: to donate gently used quality clothes and accessories and, for every item donated, take home someone else’s. This years’ proceeds from the entrance fee and raffle tickets were given to Habayit Shel Benji, facilities for the home for lone soldiers in Ra’anana.
Most emotional day: during our Friedman family reunion in Manhattan, we spent the better part of Saturday visiting two 9-11 sites. Our first stop was the Ground Zero Museum Workshop.Founded by Gary Suson, the official photographer at Ground Zero for the Uniformed Firefighters Association, it houses hundreds of his images as well as artifacts, some of which can even be held. The museum was inspired by his 2004 visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where he was so moved by the Holocaust that he decided to build a similar museum that would help visitors understand what went on inside Ground Zero.
After lunch downtown, we checked in for our afternoon tour of the 9-11 Memorial with a guide. Dressed in puffy down coats and every warm layer we had, we walked through the site and listened to a retired fireman tell us about his best friend and fellow fire fighter who lost his life on September 11, 2001. This man volunteers to lead groups in order to keep his friend’s memory alive.
Most frustrating flight: after dozens of emails back and forth to find a place neither of us had ever been, my French friend Berthe and I decided to rendezvous in Copenhagen for a long, late winter weekend. Upon checking in at the SAS airline counter at Ben Gurion Airport, I was told the plane was delayed. Three hours later we boarded. Once seated, the pilot announced we were going to fly north to Warsaw or Russia and land so the overworked crew could de-plane and change crews. Two hours later, he corrected himself and said we’d land in Athens and be put up in a hotel for the night. Shortly after, the pilot said Athens wouldn’t allow us to stay overnight so we’d land and await another three hours for a plane to arrive from Copenhagen. At 1:45am, we boarded. When I finally arrived at my hotel, it was 6am. My four-night trip suddenly became three, my day was dwarfed by intense fatigue, and I felt as if I had been released from airplane/airport captivity.
Most educational afternoon (excerpted and tweaked from my mom’s blog called Postcards from Jerusalem) : one day during my parents’ six-week stay in Israel, we signed up for a three-hour walking tour of south Tel Aviv. The guide, an American social worker named Lisa Richlen,has devoted her career to helping refugees. During our walk, we learned the differences between foreign workers, refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers and visited their main hangouts: the Central Bus Station, Levinsky Park and the Community Immigrant Library. We learned about their hard life before and after arriving in Israel. Most of them are from Sudan and Eritrea. Many of the Eretrians are laborers or caregivers sometimes hired for a short time and never paid. Some don’t wish their photos taken since they are political escapees. There is a lot of prejudice in Israel and it’s understandable but until those who wish to return to their native land are able to, they stay here. “They can die here or die trying to go elsewhere,” Lisa said.
Most bittersweet parenting moment: when Benjamin realized he was stuck sleeping at home during his three-year army service, he was miserable. Off and on, he moaned and groaned about being 18, then 19, and still living within our walls. Then, in May, he brokered a deal. Since he was earning a more significant salary thanks to a consulting job after army hours, he was willing to put in half for rent and monthly costs; were we willing to pay the other half? Both Philippe and I agreed that his approach was mature and admirable. By the end of that month, he had packed up his meager possessions and childhood furniture, loaded up the car and drove 3.5 kilometers away to the neighboring city of Herzilia, where he and two other friends had found an apartment. We agreed with an understanding: he comes home for dinner every Friday night, and he and his sisters find one night a month to eat out—our treat—at the restaurant of their choice.
Friends + family + intense summer heat + pool = fun
Best Shabbat afternoon: Daniella, one of her closest friends from New York visiting for a week and I left home at 6pm to walk to the beach in Herzilia, 8.8 kilometer away. Because the heat was so intense, we timed it to leave home about an hour before sunset with plenty of water and money. At 7:25 we arrived at Rainbow Beach to a sunset over the Mediterranean that made the tiyul worth it. The sweat trickled through our clothing and under our hats, and we drank in an effort to stay hydrated and cool down. Then we continued walking south along the main street to Benedict, All About Breakfast, open 7 days a week, almost unheard of in this country. After gorging ourselves on challah French toast, an egg in a tortilla and guacamole and other delicacies, we took the bus home, full, weak-legged and satisfied.
Most remarkable reunion: In 1985, during my junior year abroad in Paris, I made my first French friend, Veronique. Raised in a Parisian Catholic family, she befriended the Jewish kids in the school next door to her parochial school. As a teenager, she was dating the boys and spending time on kibbutzim in Israel. I fit perfectly into her life narrative, and she in mine. She eventually married her Israeli boyfriend, started a family and left for the south of France, while I made my way to Israel, married my French boyfriend, started a family and moved around. Last time we saw each was at a party my in-laws threw after our wedding in September 1990. Years passed. She found me on Facebook. We began to write. She came to Israel this summer with her two younger kids. We hosted them for Shabbat. Twenty-three years passed, and we talked non-stop, filling in the gaps, laughing, sharing our stories like old friends.
Most enjoyable Jewish holiday: when a newish friend mentioned that Rosh Hashanah was three days—Thursday and Friday into Shabbat—and that she and her family had decided to escape Raanana and spend it in Jerusalem, she casually asked if we wanted to join them. That was in June. Throughout the summer, Philippe and I discussed it, finally deciding to go. The five of us stayed at my parents’ place in the center of the city, while our friends stayed a few blocks away. Our family ate with my brother’s family on the eve of, then with our friends at our place on the first day, at the King David Hotel for second day, and alone at our place on Shabbat. We sneaked into the hotel pool on two afternoons. We walked through the City Hall and saw the art installations and went to the Western Wall on Friday night. On Saturday, Simone and I joined thousands of others at the Great Synagogue where I felt a rush of connection to this ancient Jewish place while watching men, women, children of all different socio-economic and cultural-linguistic backgrounds pray. Those three days in the City of Gold were golden.
Most anxiety-producing moment: when I pressed the ‘send’ button to apply for a low-residency Master’s in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier
Most exciting email: Dear Jennifer, I am writing to say congratulations on being accepted into the MFA in Writing Program here at Vermont College of Fine Arts! We are delighted to accept you.
Best Hanukkah: for the second year in a row, the girls and I met my mom/Grandma in a European city for a week of exploration and culture. Last year, Barcelona; this year, Amsterdam. We visited the Anne Frank House, Rembrandt House, Huis Marseille Photography Museum, Van Gogh Museum, Rijks Museum, Purse Museum, Stedelijk Museum of Contemporary Art, Jewish Museum and Portuguese Synagogue. We went on a free walking tour and learned about the people’s tolerance vis-à-vis Catholicism and Protestantism and Judaism; the Jewish quarter, the round-up and deportation; prostitution and coffee shops (as in where to buy cannabis and hemp). The girls and I attended a rock concert of Kodaline, a Dublin based band whose song All I Want moves me deep inside. We spent a morning with a Jewish woman who was a child in hiding during the war and listened to how the Dutch are reckoning with their role during World War II and the resistance. We ate a Dutch pancake, Indonesian, Indian, Thai and Asian fusion as much as we could. And, of course, our all-time fave: Le Pain Quotidien.
A healthy and peace-filled 2014 to one and all!