God is watching out for me in this new year. On the first day of January 2021, I had arranged to interview someone for a freelance story I’m writing. At 9:30 a.m., the interviewee called me to ask if we could push the interview a half hour later. “Yes,” I said, genuinely relieved. You see, I’d forgotten all about it. And now I had a half hour in which to prepare. That was some kind of divine intervention.
Then, on January 3, I received my first vaccination against COVID 19. Not only that, but my 23-year-old daughter also received her first shot. I am grateful to the Israeli medical system (and our neighbor Dr. E) for giving us this opportunity to become vaccinated ahead of schedule. Israel’s Magen David Adom (Red Cross) has also successfully conducted a campaign to vaccinate all residents of senior homes across the country, including Mom’s. That makes me feel that God is with me.
Things didn’t necessarily get better though. The infection rate is going through the roof world-wide. I haven’t seen Mom in a few weeks. I’m still seeking work to fill my days, still eating too much chocolate and giving in to my self-oriented desire to do nothing of significance. I dissed God by breaking Shabbat in a small yet intentional way. And I also broke this third lockdown’s restrictions and traveled to my son Rafi a few hours away.
Actually, it turns out that along with deliveries and construction, babysitting is an acceptable exception during the lockdown. My husband Jeff and I drove up to Rafi’s house thinking we’d be stopped at a road block and turned back. Apart from heavy traffic (yes, there are many cars on the road), we encountered no barriers. The kids were so happy to see us. Jeff drove home later that night but I stayed for the next few days to help out while my daughter-in-law trekked off to work (only special education classes are functioning, and she’s a speech therapist), and Rafi juggled on-line classes and caring for his two boys.
It is hard work entertaining two young, energetic children of disparate ages. I took the kids to the park when Rafi attended his classes. I had forgotten how difficult it was to watch two active boys climb park equipment in different locations at the same time. Rafi was with us for some of the day, too, but my presence allowed him to focus on his studies. As we put them both to bed that first night, I turned to Rafi and said, “Just think, we get to do this all over again tomorrow.”
Rafi loves his sons. He is an extremely good and compassionate father. But his emotional equilibrium is being tested over and over again during these extraordinary times. He needs a break and none is in the offing.
As I traveled home by train, I felt the desolation of this pandemic. Barely any travelers were in the station with me; all the shops were shuttered. What was once a bustling thoroughfare was virtually silent.
In my daily life, I am insulated from the hard, sometimes brutal decisions that friends and family have had to make to maintain their emotional balance during this pandemic. This time, I came home slightly bruised by what I’d seen and felt.
It’s a good thing that there are wise people to learn from when we feel on the edge of despair. Jeff and I are taking an on-line course through a Jewish education institute called Ayeka with Rabbi Aryeh Ben-David. Aryeh loves to quote Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel and a founder of religious Zionism.
Rav Kook wrote that both the good and the bad drives within each of us should be used productively. In fact, the negative drives are most often the ones that push us to a place of powerful activism. And if the negative drives overwhelm us or throw us off course, we have it in us to get up, brush ourselves off and use that negativity to return to what we know is right and “with greater vigor and spirituality ascend, and one’s soul will shine brighter and stronger.” (Kovetz 1:720)
What a fantastic message to receive on a day when everything seems dull and wretched. It makes me realize that perhaps God has been there all along waiting patiently for me to recognize the Divine presence that is supporting me through it all. It’s still up to me to change my ways but it’s nice to know God’s in my corner.
The opposite of making dessert is making something that I will never eat. For me, that would be zhug, a fiery Middle Eastern condiment made from hot peppers and fresh cilantro. Trust me, this dish is spicy hot. My recipe comes from Rachel, the Moroccan woman who worked as a housecleaner for my parents for about 15 years. She was a lovely, voluble woman; she was kind and sympathetic to Mom as Mom became increasingly confused due to her Alzheimer’s. When she knew I was coming to visit, Rachel would bring a small container of zhug for me to bring home to Jeff. Rachel retired only a few months before my parents moved from Netanya to Beer Sheva. We’ve lost touch but I think she’d be pleased to know that I can successfully reproduce her zhug.
My daughter tests the strength of green peppers by touching them to her tongue. That way she knows whether to put in two or three for an effectively hot dish. You won’t find me doing that. In fact, as I make it for other people, I don’t mind if it’s really really spicy.
2-3 hot green peppers, sliced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until thoroughly ground. Spread on bread with humus (or anything else you fancy) and eat.
Photo by Liora Green