Saturday, January 2, 2021

Midlife Panache

Too cool for blogging about.

Today I started a new blog called Midlife Panache.

After 10 years of blogging as Midlife Singlemum, it's time for a change. I've explained it all on the new blog. Just click on the link. 

Thank you for sticking with me all these years while I muddled through single motherhood. Thank you for the comments and the likes on facebook. I'm not exactly at the empty nest stage yet but DD turned 12 and no longer wants to be featured on a blog. 

It's time to blog about me and the big wide world outside. Please come over and check it out. See you on the other side. 

Rachel (aka Midlife Singlemum)  

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Real Story of Chanuka, A fourth Election, And Why I Blame the Miracles.

Tonight is the eighth and final night of Chanuka. It's the Jewish winter festival of lights. We added presents because everyone around us was doing presents at this time of year so why not? There's no law against giving presents. 

Like every religious festival in every religion everywhere, there is an historical element, a religious or spiritual element, and a Pagan element connected to the natural world. 

The Pagan element is obvious. It's the deep mid-winter, around the winter solstice, and a time when we desperately need uplifting with a festival of lights and stodgy comfort food like latkes and doughnuts. The traditional chanukiah (nine-branched candelabra) is a similar shape to the seven-branched menorah in the Temple. It's no co-incidence that they both resemble a tree. Maybe it was meant to be the tree of life or the tree of knowledge from the Garden of Eden? Either way, here it is at the traditional Pagan Yuletide along with the Christmas tree that never appeared in the story of the Nativity. 

The historical background is that while the Jews enjoyed a large amount of autonomy under the Greeks during the rule of Alexander the Great, when the Macedonian Empire split and several generations later, in the 2nd Century BCE, the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV was more power hungry.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem there was another power struggle between the Tobiads (the assimilating Jews who embraced Greek culture, named after their leader Tobias), and the Oniads (the more othodox Jews, among them Matathias and his five sons, including Judah the Maccabee or Hammer). Both sides wanted control of the Temple. Tobias went to Syria to collude with Antiochus IV who made him the High Priest in Jerusalem, where he built a gymnasium in the Temple (apparently)!

Civil war ensued, Jew against Jew, and after two long years of battle and various stories of heroics on the part of the Oniads, Matathias and his five sons won, he rededicated the Temple to God, and Judah the Maccabee went down in [Jewish] history as one of the greatest warriors of all time. 

One of the heroic stories I was told in my youth, was about a woman called Hannah who encouraged her seven sons to sacrifice their lives rather than bow down to an idol of Antiochus. Is it only me or is this story somewhat suspect? And why do we still tell it in an age where this mother would be considered heartless, brutal and abusive? For that matter, we still tell the story of Chanuka as us against the Greeks. 

Moving on, the rededication of the Temple involved re-lighting the menorah which burned at all times to symbolize the eternal presence of God. So a good time to celebrate was when we light candles anyway and need a festival to break up the long winter. At some point the rabbis realized that all this celebration of a victory of war needed to be brought back under their jurisdiction. Lo and behold a miracle was added to the narrative. 

The oil for the menorah had to be pure olive oil. When they started cleaning up, one cruse of pure oil was found - enough to last for one day. Either because the nearest supply of pure oil was an eight day round trip away, or because the men were impure for seven days after touching a dead body so could not produce suitable oil until the end of the eighth day, they expected to be in the dark again after the first day. Miracle of miracles, the oil lasted for the full eight days until more oil could be procured. 

Now I don't mind telling the story of the miracle of the oil and concluding with, "and that, children, is why we celebrate Chanuka for eight days." It's part of the fun. Like Father Christmas on the 25th of December. (Btw, no coincidence that Chanuka falls on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Winter solstice anyone? ) However, just as the Archbishop of Canterbury might tell the story of the Nativity but would never include Father Christmas (or even Santa Claus) coming down the chimney of the cattle barn in Bethlehem bearing gifts - because that would be silly - so too should we differentiate between history and fantasy. 

There is a similar battle going on today for control of Jerusalem. We call ourselves the Left and the Right, but could easily rename ourselves as the Tobiads and the Oniads. It's the reason Israel is now facing a fourth election with no resolution. (If we reach eight elections do we get a festival?) The Ultra-Orthodox on the extreme Right see it as a fight against assimilation. The largely secular (or at least Modern Jews) aren't assimilating so much as rejecting fairy-stories told as miracles. Rejecting the fantasy world of religious despots for the real world that pays for their fantasies. 

We've not quite reached a state of actual civil war, but if we do, I will blame the "miracles."

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Bat Mitzva

It wasn't what we had planned by a long shot. However, a series of intimate events, which by their size hardly warrant being called events, turned out to be fun and ticked most of the boxes.

DD's class capsule (bubble) of half her class meet up in the school playground once a week for an activity. It's her first year in middle school and after two months of remote learning they realized that some students knew nobody in the class. The outdoor lessons, though educational, are primarily a social exercise to help them make friends. 

I secretly arranged with the teacher to bring in cupcakes and chocolate milk for their mid-morning break. I was given permission providing all food items were individually wrapped. DD was horrified when I turned up with the treats on Wednesday morning, about an hour after she had left home. "What are you doing?! Stop!" I left them to it as their break wasn't until later. A very happy DD called me on her way home. 

Cupcakes from Sweet Art Creations 
On Thursday evening we invited four friends from primary school to a pizza and dessert (more cupcakes) party. I disappeared into my bedroom and let them get on with it. The first half hour was spent zooming with the three friends who were avoiding indoor gatherings (and one who had moved to America). It was a great success and we promised to do it again (without cupcakes or gifts) as soon as the covid situation is over. Or in the park when the weather is more predictable.  

On Friday we recieved fruit platters from my sister in London and from a group of my friends here in Israel. And a bouquet of flowers, fancy chocolates and helium balloons from my sister-in-law, also in London. 

A friend and her daughter came to stay for Shabbat. We spent Friday night after dinner, playing Perudo and Rumikub. On Saturday morning we went to a Bar Mitzva in the morning and returned home in the afternoon for lunch and more board games. 

On Saturday evening we zoomed with the family in London. 

And finally, we have six guests coming to light Chanuka candles with us on Wednesday evening. This isn't strictly Bat Mitzva related but they were supposed to come for brunch on the Friday morning of the Bat Mitzva and DD's actual 12th birthday but two of them were in quarantine and another two were preparing for their Bar Mitzva the next day. The other two were staying for Shabbat so we postponed the brunch until Chanuka. 

As the shopping malls have opened this week, we are going shopping for clothes one day this week. I told DD she can have whatever she wants. After all, despite the temptation, it wouldn't be fair to use the whole of the Bat Mitzva fund, which I've saved up over the past two years, to pay my council tax and building dues for 2021. 


Saturday, November 14, 2020

Such Is Life

I'd like to say, "trying to stay healthy,"
but I'm way beyond that and now into
"trying to get healthy again." 

This week, after receiving two messages from blog-friends about my absence,  I realised that you can't just disappear from the blogosphere with no word of explanation to your blog friends. 

Apart from not having much to write about due to the current restrictions on going anywhere, seeing only a small circle of people, working from home, etc... I've been reluctant to write anything about how I'm organising the apartment, how we binge watch tv series together into the night, coping with zoom teaching, cooking and sewing, or any other pass-times that are keeping us contentedly jogging along during corona times. 

Even mentioning sitting out on our balcony and enjoying the view with a cup of coffee in hand seems like a slap in the face to those who live in less comfortable domiciles and cannot go out. A Reasons 2B Cheerful post at his time would just be rubbing salt in the wounds. 

Everyday I read on FB about people who've lost their jobs or businesses that they've spent years building up, about people who can no longer afford to pay their rents or mortgages and are afraid of becoming homeless, and people who can't afford to put food on the table. In Israel we now have 25% unemployment. Like everywhere, the tourist, hospitality and entertainment industries are dead, many shops and other commercial concerns are shuttered until further notice, and those who still do have money are not spending it anyway. 

Added to that the fact that I have an almost teenager who doesn't want me to write about her or post photos of her on the blog or occupy any space or speak or breathe. Fair enough but take out the 'mum' bit and I'm just Midlife Single, which is a bit sad and certainly doesn't define me. I thought of closing the blog down but I still want to write. I though of changing the name or starting a new blog. All still possibilities as I approach my 10 year blogiversay in January. 

So that's where I'm at re the blog. Here are a few other observations from my dining table in November 2020.  

1. Whilst actually teaching far fewer hours than in previous years and saving on the travel time, my online obligations to the school seem to stretch and take the whole day, even on days when I'm supposedly not teaching. 

2. Princess Diana died because she didn't wear her seat-belt. End of. 

3. Just call me Harry and wife are desperately trying to stay relevant in an organisation that they left. It would be like me calling the Head of the school I left a few years ago and asking her to include me in the school magazine. No one would care. The Markles are playing at being Royals in America and no one cares.

4. It's my daughter's Bat Mitzva (12th birthday) in three weeks and I'm waiting to find out the regulations for the next few weeks before trying to arrange something meaningful with fewer than 10 people. Or a few fewer than 10 people events. I'd like to take solace in the fact that this has saved me a fortune by not having a big party, but I'm not earning the fortune that would have [eventually] paid for it all.

I can't promise to be back next week, or even the week after. Probably another round up of thoughts and a brief catch-up in December. Which is a shame because I've just made it back into the TOTS100 top 500 and I'm going to slide down the scale again next month. Oh well. Such is life. 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Tonight I saw Mars And It's Beautiful

This is Mars with a crappy camera. 
To my naked eye twas beautiful. And red.
Late this afternoon DD's class teacher whatsapped a poster. In a nutshell, the planet Mars is usually 228 million km away from Earth. Tonight it is only 62 million km from Earth and is visible to the naked eye. The next time this will happen is in 2035. 

The poster said to look to the south. I went onto the balcony soon after nightfall, and I looked west. I caught a sliver of the southern view but my balcony essentially faces west. When I bought this apartment 20 years ago, I had no idea that I was swapping a closeup view of Mars one night every few decades for a nightly full-on sunset.

I was gong to give Mars a miss but I got involved in a whatsapp discussion which ignited my curiosity and motivated me to go down three flights of stairs to look for Mars. I looked south and saw two contenders but my whatsapp pals informed me that these are Jupiter and Saturn. I sort of remember seeing them before and they were bright white so this made sense. 

Apparently there's a star chart app but seriously, I just wanted to see it and go home. So sans app, I set out. If I saw it I saw it and if I didn't I'd wait until 2035 (peh peh peh, please God, thank God, all being well).

A whatsapp came in. "It's rising in the north and travelling by way of the east, to the south." South of where I live is Bethlehem. I decided not to follow the star even if I saw it because the beginning of October is ridiculously early for that sort of thing. Besides, I had no gifts to bear bring. 

The buildings were in the way and the street lamps dazzled. I walked down to the school playground at the bottom of the road. I looked up towards the NE. I definitely saw it. It was small and not white. If I stared long enough I could convince myself that it was red(ish). There was possibly a red aura about it - or possibly not.

Another whatsapp came in with a photo. 'Beautiful!' declared the caption. 

There was a teenage boy playing on his phone in the pergola. "Hey!" I called out to him, "do you want to see Mars?" Of course he did. He was as underwhelmed as I was. We agreed to meet back there in 17 years for the next showing (lockdown permitting of course). I said I'd wear a red flower so he'd recognize me. He said he'd bring more space on his phone so he could take a photo of it. We bade each other farewell, but not goodbye obviously. 

I went home. The rest of the evening passed and suddenly it was 02.30 (it's a school holiday this week so no early zooms to get up for). I decided to take one last look from the balcony just to see. And there it was! A little west of south (S by SW?) and in perfect view. Big (for a star), bright, and decidedly red. It was awesome. I keep going back to take another look. 

I may not have seen the Northern Lights or tasted real truffles (both near the top of my bucket list) but I've seen Mars and it is beautiful. How cool is that? 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Creativity In Lockdown - R2BC

I re-covered the sofa cushions at no expense.
Time for a Reasons 2B Cheerful. No linky this week but it's time to look on the bright side of not being struck down so far and having all this extra free time. 


DD's Remote Learning

We've only had a couple of days of distance or remote learning but so far she's doing it responsibly and independently. I'm reading about families with lots of younger children who require constant supervision while the parents are supposed to be working from home. And how one family computer has to accommodate zoom lessons for four children all scheduled at the same time. 

A friend wrote that the parents of her 1st grader told the teacher, "forget the zooms. Just give us the assignments and we'll do them with our kids when it's convenient during the day." I feel their pain and reward my one daughter with ice-cream. 


The Cushions

I had these four big sofa cushions that I bought because I got an unexpected voucher for 600 shekels when I purchased my new fridge a few years ago. These vouchers tend to expire, be forgotten, or are subject to ridiculously restrictive small print that no one reads. So I rushed upstairs in the shopping mall to Fox Home and looked for anything that I vaguely needed. 

I did need big sofa cushions but the only design included the colours orange, lime green and turquoise. I promised myself that I would re-cover the cushions in the future. How hard could it be when you already have good quality square shaped cushions? 

Reader, I am no seamstress and I don't own a sewing machine. However, I also promised myself that I wouldn't waste this lockdown as I wasted the last one. Using an old blanket with a reversible pattern, I made two slip covers for two of the cushions. I then used two pillow slips that had been gifted to me when friends left the country, to sew a panel onto the front of the other two. The strip of turquoise and the lime green backing are now perfectly acceptable with the blues. The orange is banished! 

Thank you Netflix for 31 hours of binge watching Outlander, allowing me to achieve this transformation painlessly. 


The Headboard

Another project on my list was do do something with the plain wooden headboard on my bed. I had already placed a quilt over it that my friend Amanda made for DD as a cot blanket when she was born. I gave away all of DD's baby things (except for some loved stuffed animals and teddies) but this quilt is too beautiful and personal. And it's about 15 cm too short on either end. 

I had an old woven floor rug (a kilim?) that I loved because of the colour but we don't use woven rugs. Unlike proper carpets, of which we have two, they can't be hoovered easily and they just get dirty and dusty on the floor. So I washed it in the washing machine, cut off the tassels, folded it in half lengthways, and sewed up the two ends. This sleeve fits perfectly over the headboard and comes down as far as the mattress. The quilt sits on top of the kilim and voila - an all washable, upholstered headboard. 


Coffee And Shul (Synagogue)

I had two days worth of Rosh Hashanna services without having to get dressed or leave my home. I sat on my balcony with a cup of coffee and heard the whole thing below in the street, including the blowing of the shofar (a hollowed out ram's horn). Now that's my kind of shul. 


Not Yet In Total Quarantine

We're in Lockdown but can leave the apartment for essentials. Quarantine is much stricter and more and more of our friends are put into quarantine at home every day. One nursery school teacher had subbed in three different kindergartens last week before testing positive. One of the families we cancelled going to for lunch over Rosh Hashanna is now in quarantine because the son had been in school with a tested-positive child. I hope none of the above will actually get sick and apparently 90% of cases are mild or asymptomatic. We're taking no chances and so far we've been lucky. 

So as Israel careers into total loss of control over the pandemic, I wish you all a good week. 


Thursday, September 17, 2020

State Of The Fed Up Nation

I've not blogged much for a couple of months because I didn't feel like it. We don't go anywhere and it's been over 30 deg C for the whole summer and the mercury's still up there. On the one hand, we're fed up at home (fed up in every sense of the words) but on the other hand, I'm thankful that I've not had to go out to work or anywhere in this heat. 

Israel is entering its second lockdown starting tomorrow at 2 pm, the eve of Rosh Hashana - the Jewish New Year. We got the rules a few days ago and they were vague enough that, as someone wrote on fb, you can't leave your house unless you need to go somewhere. 

The one clear directive was that we're not allowed farther than 500 m from our places of residence - except to go to work, shop for essentials, health care, exercise, to assist someone in distress, and various other caveats to do with prayers, children and special needs.

Fine. We have friends who live very close by as do many people. So we all arranged our two-day festival with meals together in each other's homes - not exceeding 10 people at any one meal. Then today - 24 hours before the lockdown, after we'd shopped, after many people have already cooked, after all arrangements have been confirmed, they clarified that we are not allowed to visit other homes (although we are allowed to meet in the local park),

Meanwhile there are thousands of ultra-orthodox men trapped in no man's land between Belarus and Ukraine because they thought God would open the border for them when Ukraine made it very clear that they are closed to tourists until the end of September. It's an annual pilgrimage to the grave in Uman of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. Basically it's a rave party for men and they won't give it up. And their rabbis told them not to give it up because these ultra-orthodox rabbis are power mad and won't be told anything by a secular government, secular doctors and, God forbid, scientists. It hurts because, as one of the leaders of the opposition, Yair Lapid said, we have all had to give up on our personal "Umans" this year. 

These hassidim, including lots of male children, are sleeping rough in the cold and relying on the red cross for food. Israel is telling them to return to Minsk where there are planes ready to bring them home but it'd be a shame if they left and then God sent a miracle - right? Did I mention that traveling on Rosh Hashana is forbidden (Like on Shabbat) so if they don't leave now they will be stuck there until Sunday night. 

The ultra-orthodox are a law unto themselves - they do what they like and bugger the rest of us. Two mayors of ultra-orthodox towns are among those waiting for the Ukrainian border guards to be touched by God. You couldn't make it up. 

So while I'm bashing these hassidim, others are blaming everything on Bibi Netanyahu. They're not wrong. He has put himself and his interests before that of ordinary citizens at every opportunity. But others love him because ...... they have reasons and I'm not going into all the politics now. However, the hatred on and off of facebook is astonishing. 

The Bibi bashers throw vitriol at Bibi and the religious respond with disgust that political demonstrations are permitted with thousands of demonstrators while the rest of us point fingers at their massive weddings and overcrowded prayer services and study halls. They're not wrong either - I also don't understand why demonstrations are allowed.

It's all political. Bibi cannot alienate his religious supporters by banning all religious gatherings, and democracy must be seen to be sacred, hence the demonstrations. Meanwhile the Yeshivas (religious colleges) are open while schools are shut. Ultra-orthodox men travel to Belarus to visit the grave of a man who died in 1810 while we (like many others) can't visit my mother who is very much alive.

I don't even know if a lockdown is effective or not. There are heated arguments on both sides. The only truth is that no one's opinion is totally subjective. 25% of the country are currently unemployed. If I had lost my own business that paid the rent on my family home or was in danger of losing the home that took me decades to buy, and I had more children to feed, etc.. etc.. I'd also be shouting about the unnecessary lockdown. 

But I wore my mask properly when supermarket shopping today while many didn't bother. My motives are not political. I'm scared of getting corona and I don't want to have to pay a 500 shekel fine if I'm caught. For these reasons I tend to follow the rules. 

I canceled our plans for the holiday weekend. Others are sticking a finger up to that and going ahead. I don't blame them and I won't judge. Everyone's situation is different. I'm an older, overweight, single mother and so I will err on the side of caution. 

So as we go into the New Year in a state of mud-slinging, blame naming, anger and hatred towards each other, I wish everyone a happy new year in lower caps.