Friday, July 26, 2013

Tzfat Journal 3 July

So, last night (Tues) we had a lovely dinner of salad, hamburgers (I of course did not partake) and something else I cannot even remember. I was pretty tired from the good but heavy classes. There are now 4 of us learning to read/write/speak Hebrew, so the Yeshiva style class is getting more intense, but at the same time helping me to better my understanding of the language here. 
Our last class of the night was a Farbregen where we spent the first two hours discussing the meaning of this week's double Parsha (the readings that happen weekly on Shabbos) about Journey and 'Stick/Solidity' and how they can relate to each other, and to us from a character perspective. After the lively discussion there was some singing and lots of dessert/foods: 3 types of melon (watermelon, cantaloupe, and a yellow fleshed melon that had an almost sour taste, but was very rich) chocolate biscuits, more peanut butter macaroons, grapes, cinnamon sugar bread, and a challah type bread with peas and corn baked into it! Also a bread similar to pain au chocolat, but served cold. Thinly sliced but not made with philo dough. Plenty of it. It was delicious and different from rugeleh. 
I managed to get to bed at an actual decent hour last night; I was in bed by 11:30 and asleep just after midnight. I did wake up at 4am with a horrid headache, but I might have just been dehydrated from the exercise and hiking on Tues. I slept in today a bit, and ended up getting about 7 hours of sleep, at least a small consolation. It was fairly cold last night, but mostly due to the winds. I can see the low clouds and fog rolling in over the hills around sunset and it is still amazing to me. I think I have been in our dry desert too long! The water is mostly from the Galilee Sea, as best as I can tell. They say there is not much *rain* here, but it is to a degree humid and moist in the air. My skin is already freaking out over that. It is used to a very arid location.
Wed I tried some new things for breakfast: they always have tomatoes, cucumbers (the Israeli/Arab kind that are small but you can eat the skins.) Also eggs and oatmeal. Today I added on my plate some of the goat's milk soft cheese they have that is spread on rice-toast, and a drop of jam on top. It is not as sour as it smelled, but not really close to our cream or cottage cheese. Somewhere in the middle of those perhaps. 
Our first class today was on the role of women in Judaism, how important we (women) are, and what Mitzvahs are unique that only women can perform. It was a lively discussion and next class there we will be speaking on why there are misconceptions that women are 'not equals' in Judaism. The teacher is a woman and seems to be a very cool feminist. There are also mitzvots that are not *required* of women, but they can do if they please; for example, putting on Tfillin. The teacher said there were about 14 total, but we will go over them in the next week's class. It was an interesting take on things that I really did not know, but is utterly fascinating to me. It is a different way to look at being "empowered" in this religious setting/culture. 
My next class was on the specifics of how women have certain responsibilities in the Jewish world and home, and today specifically on Shabbos and lighting the candles. There was also mention (not in too much detail) about how women are technically seen as above/more spiritual than the men, thus why women's mitzvot carry more "weight". The men have to *work* to reach the level women are already at. Next class we will go over some issues of 'modesty' which is far more than just clothes. I am interested in hearing about that topic. I believe there is also a "Tznius" (Modesty) code for men, but I will have to ask about it in class. There is a distinct 'separation' of the genders here and I am still to a degree getting used to this. Some things here are just *not* equal, and it takes a lot for me to really process that; I am still working on finding a way to accept it when I am here as more than just a concession to the culture. Having so many men in my life being such influences on me (and many doing "women's work") has perhaps given me a different perspective on things than for example someone here who was raised in an Orthodox environment, and grew up accepting all the cultural gender norms, as it were. 
 I also had a class by a nice Rabbi on the importance of health and activity in Jewish life, and how we need to start to try to always think in a positive way, even under negative circumstances. Obviously mostly easier said than done. However, there were some nice readings to go along with the lesson that help to frame the mind and specific thoughts, and speaking of taking care of the body we have; while not getting obsessed with our physical looks or needs. There is a balance everyone needs to find, and it is different for each person.
One of the things I have noticed and really enjoy is that so far all the teachers; the Rabbis and the females tend to use both genders when reading or quoting from sources; such as "our forefathers & mothers" or the "Patriarch and Matriarch"  and will insert a "she" after "he" when reading from the Mishna, Torah, or Siddur. I am quite impressed with that. In our Tanya class yesterday we ended up getting into a bit of astrophysics and discussions, which just made me so so so so happy. I have another Tanya class this afternoon, and then a voluntary class tonight after dinner that I can attend down the street at the synagogue by one of the boy's Yeshiva schools. We also have after dinner our last class is an open Q & A with the head (elder) Rabbi here. I am not sure if I have anything to ask, but I know it will be interesting to listen. 
Also, the fruit market across the street is amazing and for about $0.25USD I can get a serving of just about any fruit in season. They also have a large selection of dried fruits and local nuts. Plenty of good things for my brain and body.
I have offered to help bake challah tomorrow with one of the Rabbi's wives, as we are all going in small groups to different local homes for Fri Shabbos, so we will be bringing or baking some bread for the school here for Sat eating. 
I miss everyone, but am less homesick specifically, as I am getting the schedule down and it is starting to feel like a nice routine, which I tend to thrive with. 
No real photos to share today, but if I get the chance, I am going to try and time it so I can go up on the roof at sundown and get some photos.  
I am enjoying myself here on many levels, and learning so much. I am also getting a bit of time to be able to just think without many distractions, which is a welcome change. I am really only regretting not taking with me more photographs of Wash, however, as I am missing him so acutely and being able to be near "him" and our home. 
I believe we have a slight chance of rain here this weekend, and if we do I will of course share as much as I can with you all. 
It has been a most interesting almost full first week here, and I am trying so hard to just do as much as I can, see as much as I can, and try all sorts of new things. I want to come back from this time here with something more tangible than just memories, a way to help my own self, and to really be able to hold onto some positive internal changes. I think I am on my way to doing just that. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


I quite dislike how monitary woes can bother me while I am trying to learn and grow and focus on myself. 
Also disliking that I have to battle my utility company when I return home, and that I have no idea how to pay rent, phone, or Internet when I return. All things I will need for job searching. Even affording a bus pass right now is beyond my means. 
I am trying to not worry, but failing. 

I just want a break from this constant stress I have been dealing with the last 4 years. 

I am not "starting over" I am thrown back and have to find my way, uphill, in the dark, through thickets just to get to A starting point; a new one. Because I will never be able to be "over" my husband, and I never should have to- or be told to. I am having to change my ENTIRE life, still dealing with the literal and figurative baggage of Wash. 

I want to get to a healthy place. I want routine and structure. I want to share our story, my story, his; with everyone I can. 

I am sick of being thought of as an "invisible" widow due to my age, or the children we tried for and could not have, or the length of my marriage (which should not be ANY factor at all, but apparently is). I am tired of being told that I am "still young". I am all too aware of my age- in a physical sense and in terms of how much I have *lived* in my life. 

I want peace. I want to truly be (fully) happy again. I want to not think about the horrid debt I am in as what Wash passed along to me. I want to remember the good. 

I want to learn to trust again. I am terrified of that, but I desire it. 
I miss the simple things like hugs, holding hands, sharing a meal- or at least not cooking for one. 
I want comfort. 
I want Security; even if that alone comes solely from my own self. 

It is hard work, this; Widowhood. 
It is hard, hard, and often sad work. 

I want to smile again and mean it, often.

I am starting to get some of that here, in Tzfat. I will have to deal with the rest when I return to my other desert home. 

I am thankful for the love and strength he gave to me, and every day for the friends and caring ones who support(ed) us, and my own self. 

I dream about the day I will wake up happy again. I have to Hope it will come at some point. I have nothing else but Hope. 

I am Pandora, clinging to the last bit in the Box. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tzfat Journal 2July

So, Monday we had a great class on the Tanya in the afternoon which was intense, but really challenging in a good way. Dinner was light, but good: salads with potatoes (sweet potatoes boiled in an oil based pepper sauce) and chicken. I went out after out last class of the night which was an impromptu class on balancing the good and bad intentions and urges we all have to become closer to G-D. I went walking first with another girl, and we did a circuit of the whole top of Tzfat, then I came back and reviewed notes with two of the other girls. We discussed some things from the weeks before I got here, so I learned a bit more background. After that I went out with 3 other girls and we hit the "foods street" and had some pizza (sauce was VERY sweet, but the cheese was soooo good) and just talked. I learned a lot about some of my classmates, and I had a good time opening up about my own past. We then stopped to get some ice cream (Parve for everyone not me, because I did not eat meat, so no need to wait on dairy!) and I tried a few flavours-all good- but settled on "Israeli Coffee" which was a mix of espresso and cardamom.
We did another long walk to help digest and burn some calories and ended up checking out a little store (pretty much like a tiny Circle K) down the block. Ran into some really... pushy/flirty Israeli guys, but thankfully we just stayed in the store until they left. Nothing to worry about.
I ended up back at MA a bit after midnight, and only read until 2am or so. An early night for me!
Today (Tues) we were supposed to leave for a local tour at 9am, but our guide was running late. So, we ended up actually heading out after 10. We stopped by the grave of Rab. Y. Ben-Cairo and stayed to pray there. It was a moving experience for me. It was unlike any other meditation I have ever had; I felt so still and so able to focus my entire mind on just one prayer, one thought of Peace, and I felt so quiet on the inside. I hope to repeat this again before I leave. From there we went up a local mountain (really just a bit further up than the main city of Tzfat) to Yavnit Mount. It was like being in Northern Arizona. Pine forests. The smells up there were just so wonderful and clear. There were flowers blooming, and birds, and so many butterflies today! We took a long hike up to a few different vantage points and were able to see the valley below Tzfat, the hill that borders the Sea of Galilee, and the hazy south part of the Golan Heights where the Israel border ends. Further on the walk we were able to see into Syria, a portion of Lebanon, and just past a bit of mountain; Jordan.
We ended by visiting the graves of two local Tzaddeken who are buried in a cave more than 2800 years old. There is still a portion of the retaining wall left up from the Roman invasion in 70-74CE. (I have plenty of photos I will send along, do not worry.) The cave was not terrible deep or long, but very cool temperature wise, and was lightly maintained by the Israeli Antiquities Department. It was a truly hard to describe event. Standing in a place that people had visited to pray at for almost 3000 years. Mind blowing.
We also saw the border guards' station (in front of the retaining wall are the IDF barracks) which has been a defence outpost for almost 2000 years straight. Currently it is managing the "iron dome" which protects the border and border cities like Tzfat from missiles. Our tour guide told us about the bombing going on over the last 20-30 years: including having a SCUD missile land in her backyard! Literally. Blew out parts of the kitchen, left huge holes from shrapnel, and shattered 22 windows and the frames. They had a shelter and her children were all playing in the front yard, so no one got even a scratch. I cannot even imagine the moments of terror that would produce.
The last class before lunch today was on the "Song of Songs" and how even those who have just begun to study are blessed by G-D; it is the fierceness of the heart to learn Torah, not just the actual studying. Pretty interesting. We have another class on the same topic on Thursday.
For lunch today we had grilled eggplant/aubergine with a sweet turnip/potato like vegetable. Also a salad of quinoa and mixed fresh vegetables with a tasty vinegar based dressing. I went across the street and also picked up a plum, nectarine, and mango to munch on for today/tonight. The fruit seller is quite nice and knows all the "girls" at MA and is quick to speak English to those of us not fluent in Hebrew. The foods there are just so varied and amazing; it is like the Farmer's Market across the street from my home! They also have prickly pear cactus pads and fruit, but it is called "paddle cactus" here. No saguaro, of course. The fruits are all in season and grown in the country. I saw a bunch of fields as I was coming in to Tzfat at the end of last week: corn, sunflowers, wheat, and of course, lots and lots of grapes.
Classes this afternoon will be more Torah reading then another Tanya class; which I am really loving so far. The same Rabbi who teaches us Tanya also teaches one night in the evening at a local synagogue, so as far as I know plans are for about 6 of us to go to the "extra" class he teaches on Wed evening. It is very dense material, with so much meaning in every single word, not just the overall sentences and stories, but I find that type of challenge to be something my brain really feels good about thinking on. Then after dinner tonight we have another Farbregin (Jewish joke- we will Far-Bring-It-On!) which will go from about 8pm to perhaps midnight or even later. I will likely call it an early night though and try to get a bit more rest after doing so much physical work in the last day and so.

I am sleeping very well, and I have 3 or more girls who are all taking turns to help me learn to read and speak Hebrew. I plan to go down to a store tomorrow on my break and get some "kid" workbooks to help me practice. The food is good, and I am trying to eat something new/different each day, and saying "yes" to one new thing each day too. I am often getting out of my comfort zone, but that was a reason why I came. I might be scared or nervous, but I am here to do and learn and experience as much as I can in the time I have here. I am getting more used to the schedule, which means it feels like the days are starting to pass a bit faster. I am not sure yet if this is a good or bad or neutral thing.

I will be sending along photos from the hike today, and when I am back I will go over them all in detail. I also took a short "panorama" movie today too; the view was just too beautiful to leave to still photographs alone.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Tzfat Journal ent. 1

Alright, so my first Monday here! Second full day of school/classes.
There was a farbregen (celebration) for a girl who has a birthday last night and they started around 9pm laughing and singing and eating and finished around 3am. I went to bed early, as I do not like long jet-lags. I could hear the other girls singing outside my window as I fell asleep though and it was so beautiful.
It has been chilly enough at night here with a good wind that I have a light comforter I sleep with. During the day we just keep the windows open for most of the classes; only one room in part of the newer building actually has A/C. But, for the large part it is not needed. The highs are only barely 90sF, and the lows hit the lower 70sF. There is usually a breeze coming in from the mountains around Galilee which also keeps the city cooler. I did see a lot of stars coming in a night when I arrived. Seems not much light pollution here. I hope to have a chance to really star-gaze later on.
Food has been good; keeping Kosher and vegetarian is really not at all a problem here and there is plenty for me to eat. We have hard boiled eggs , tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, cereal, lebni (like a thick sour yoghurt) and oatmeal that we can choose from for our breakfasts. Lunch is usually some kind of salad or plates of mixed vegetables, there is usually a fish based dish to the side (today was tuna) and something that was pickled. Cucumbers, beets, cabbage... I am trying to try one new food or dish per day. Dinners are filling and there is a large salad, some meat dish, fresh bread from a bakery down the street, eggs or a cooked bean dish, and there is never enough hummus. (Truth. Never enough hummus. It is just too good.) Some days we also have a soup dish. Usually carrot based. Dessert has been copious: fresh melons and other local fruits- delicious beyond mention (grapes, mangoes, plums, pears...). There are some Israeli sweets, candies. A sweet-bread of some kind (like a softer ruggeleh), salted baked crunchy pita... so much good food. The wine as well is just amazing. It is all made in Israel, some of it close by to Tzfat (in the Golan region), some closer to the South. There are pomegranates growing next door, and the garden here has squash and melons growing, grapes, and we have at least 3 fruiting olive trees on property. I have been told two of the olive trees in the front are at LEAST 2000 years old, as dated by an expert. The trunks are more than a metre in dia. and have an ancient look to them, while still growing leaves and fruiting.
Classes today covered our weekly Parsha; which is two this week actually. My Hebrew lessons are continuing and I'm starting to recognize a few short words outside of just the Aleph-bet. Since I am in the 'lower' classes (for people who have not studied much before, or have not gone to a Seminary before, or do not speak/read Hebrew fluently) I had lessons this morning on Halachic laws- today we went over some of the most common issues that come up on Shabbos that are not halal (proper). Next week we will go over cooking rules (called Kashrut). We had some history of Israel today too, mostly discussing the 15th Century BCE and the movement of the Western European Jews from the expulsion during the Inquisition (both of Spain and Portugal) migrating to Israel. Some of the lessons next week will also focus on the local geography. We are to study the geography of Israel from the Torah days and the current. These are real tough classes; I am taking pages and pages of notes for each class. I have one notebook but I will likely need two or three more before I complete my term here. I am not upset about this; I really enjoy a challenge mentally and these classes so far seem like they will challenge, in a good way.
Since it is the Yardheitz (death anniversary) of a Tzaddik (Rabbi or very respect person) today we have a field trip up to his grave at a local cemetery, and dinner in his honour tonight. I think my student/tutor class this afternoon will be on the Tanya, unless I can convince someone to study Hebrew again with me. We have more Tanya classes per week than any others, so I am guessing there will be a lot of material to cover, or else it is dense. Either way, I am excited and hope that it becomes something I enjoy.
I am sleeping well, eating well, and wake up early enough to have plenty of hot water for my shower. (I have a small WC in-suite with a built in shower.) Laundry however, is 10NIS per load, which means for now I am doing most of my gentle washing in a bucket in my bathroom. I am ok with this; Boy Scout Camp was much "rougher"!  
  I know it is hot back in Phx, but I am so glad I am not there! I will try not to rub it in too much.
The library is large and wonderful; both in English and Hebrew. I still need to try a little harder to socialize with the other girls. I am still bad at that and most of the time just don't know what to say or contribute. But, I still have time to work on this. There are a couple girls who seem to be making an effort to get to know me, so I am going to try to open up and gain some friends.
From the roof I can see so much of the city, and the architecture is a mixture of hundreds of years old buildings and homes, and new additions from this century. We ended this past Shabbos up on the roof, watching the sun set behind the mountains. I need to try and find the time to come back up and take photos of this to share; it is a breathtaking sight, truly. The stained glass here is incredible and I hope I have time to find and ask a tour guide locally about it. The doors here, many of them are painted blue, which has significance, but I am not sure yet of what. I can ask though, and I plan to. I think it is related in some way to Kaballah. There are a few main paved roads, but most of it is made of small cobble-stoned streets or stairs; plenty of room for a bicycle, people walking, or a horse, but not so much cars. I rarely hear traffic even though we are on a paved street in front. However, I find it amusing that drivers here communicate by honking. Often and loudly, but since there is such little traffic it does not disturb me that much.
The "Artist's" section of town was fun to wander through. We did a walking tour through it on Friday before Shabbos. Some of the things are just breathtaking; there are watercolours here, silversmiths, jewellers, and many local craftsmen. I have seen such beautiful carved or smithied meuzzehs I want to take them all home! I will fill in on this past (first) Shabbos experience soon.

I am trying hard to focus on myself, and personal growth here and not just mope about missing Wash, or the kitties, or my "safety" and known life back home. Which is hard, but needed. Mentally and rationally I know I need this to grow, to adapt, to let myself find the "me" that exists without him, but emotionally, I do wish he was around so I could share this with him, tell him about the buildings here, show off the architecture and what I am learning in classes- everything one would share with their best friend and partner. So, it is a hard adjustment to know I lack that. But, I am working on it.
Love and Peace from the Holy Land

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


I am having a hard time right now. I miss Wash so badly. I miss my husband. I miss my best friend, having someone to talk to who really cared about me. I miss being able to share everything that is going on with him, or share in the expierience. I spent most of today just crying, which sucks in a total fast (Tisha B'av no food or drink for 25 hours. Even water) because my sunburn from this weekend left me dehydrated. I prayed at the Wall a bit longer than my fair skin could take it seems. I am still blistered on my neck and shoulders and back. And I was wearing 3 layers of clothing! 
I will be back there this weekend too it seems, the whole class is doing a Shabbaton for the weekend. 
Things like that I miss being able to tell him about. I miss his comfort. His hugs. It has been 13 months since the very last time he initiated a kiss with me. Longer still since he last had romantic intent. 
It seems like yesterday and forever. My own wibbly wobbly take on time, it seems. It just feels surreal and so WRONG that he is gone. That I am here. That we are not together, and will not be again. This is the painful part of widowhood, not just the emptiness at night, but not having a friend to talk to. No one here knew who he was. Good and bad, that. 

I even miss Gaius-Wash. 
I miss his smell. His hands. His ears, and the colours of his beard. All gone. My Love, gone. 

I dislike mourning around people who have never had loss like this. I am happy for them, but at the same time, it is hard to relate to anyone. 
I miss hearing him say my name. 

I miss not feeling so entirely alone. 
Bottom line, Hope or no, I am alone. 
Zoe without her Washburne. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Shabbat Shalom

This time tomorrow I will be in Jerusalem. G-D willing I will be praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) before Shabbos sundown.  I am still amazed and happy. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Looks like I will be in Jerusalem this Shabbos weekend. My plan is to go and pray at the Kotel. I am just beyond words at the thought. 
I am amazed every day here how (mostly) happy I am. I have not had this many good emotions inside me since long before Wash passed away. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Photo journaling

Photos from the roof of the dorms overlooking the city and average lunch. Day photos overlooking the lower edge of Tzfat and fault line. Also photos from Mt Yavnit overlooking North Israel, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and the lower Golan. Evening sunset also taken from roof. A burial cave site about 1900 years old. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Short Takes XX

Sunset this past Sunday. Such a beautiful city. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Second Shabbos in Israel was wonderful. I am pushing myself hard to get out of my comfort zone, try new things, learn all I can, and make friends. So far at a bit over one week here I would like to think I am succeeding. Longer post to come, I have class in 8 hours and have gotten only a few hours sleep since thurs evening.