Of life in the shtetl; Tevye had a point

A fiddler on the roof…
it sounds crazy.
But here,
in our little village of Anatevka,
you might say every one of us…
is a fiddler on the roof.

Before I lived here in Israel, I lived in a tight-knit Jewish shtetl called New York.

Trying to scratch out
a pleasant, simple tune
without breaking his neck.

To narrow that down, I was part of a small Jewish community within a small section of a small New York City borough. Maybe this would all be different if I had actually grown up in Brooklyn.

We were a mish mash of lost and found souls – who has never been lost, who doesn’t desire to be found? – and one thing we all had in common was, I suppose, a sense of Jewish tradition. It’s how we got there and it’s why most of us stayed as long as we did.

And how do we keep our balance?
That I can tell you in one word:

A friend randomly sent me the Fiddler on the Roof clip today; I suppose you’ve guessed which one by now. It must be a decade and a half since I last watched the movie or heard the soundtrack, but while I was a kid, my family was kind of obsessed with it. For a family growing into some new traditions of its own, I guess it really spoke to us. Or maybe that’s looking at it too deeply; maybe it was just another exciting part of being a minority finding pop culture that fit so perfectly.

Maybe it was because we also totally had the butcher; the mikvah; the Judaica shop.

But after I watched the Tradition scene today, I felt something I haven’t felt in nearly nine years of living here, in Israel, in a paradise Tevye only dreamed about, if he could dream past becoming a wealthy man.

I felt nostalgia and longing for Diaspora. A sense of loss, a sense of missing out.

The strong sense that living as an outsider is the ultimate way to stay true on your inside.

Halacha and tradition came easier there, in the shtetl, surrounded by the majority. Ok, we’re talking about New York, not pre (or post) World War Russia here, and I haven’t forgotten the end of the play.

But… still. In our kind of modern, safe shtetl, explaining holiday schedules to your boss was a pain; declining edible treats from college classmates was awkward; never quite understanding Christmas while watching TV was odd.

We don’t bother them,
and they don’t bother us.

But it made everything else so much more… inclusive. We belonged, to ourselves.

Yes, of course, there were major downsides to the ‘shtetl mentality’ – why do you think I left?

However, Israel is the biggest shtetl there is, surrounded by the largest majority that could be. Together, all seven-something million of us, we certainly have moments when we laugh, we cry, we bicker, we build, we live.

As intimate as it can get here, it’s not as intimate as the shtetl I knew, the outsider’s shtetl, based on local traditions, based on the narrowed-down group of insiders you cast your lot with.

Traditions, traditions.
Without our traditions,
Our lives would be as shaky as…
as a fiddler on the roof!

Simply put, I kind of miss it.


American snapshots: new, old, cliches of cliches

Ok, that said, I cherish the quick snapshots I get hanging old school. Or new school, since we visited Florida this time.

Flying with kids… enjoying their curiosity…

The fruit lets you know…

The natives are still new to me…

The cliches who become even bigger cliches…

New places…

Old bedroom, old school…

And, really now, is there a term yet for when a first world country has surpassed its own first worldness?


My NYTimes debut: experience of an expat Staten Islander during Sandy

My New York Times debut: A journalist found my post on my experience of helplessness as a Staten Island expat, far away during the Hurricane Sandy disaster. After some emails and a phone call, my Staten Island-based mama and I became the lede of his article on New York expats taking action during crisis.

Here’s the article, in this weekend’s paper in the New York Times Giving section:

Tied by Heartstrings to Calamity

It was kinda cool to be on the flip side of reporting as the interviewee. Probably made it a lot easier for the writer, too. And I also got a kick out of collecting info for him to find other local Israeli resources.

The experience reminded me of my old reporter ambitions (which, since abandoning them, I’ve partly pursued here for the last 8+ years; so one might say). It got me thinking that I might want to revive that old life a little, perhaps staying online, maybe starting with guest posts? Might be fun to give it a shot.

Next stop… byline somewhere!

Heels in Israel, heart in Staten Island

Not over how odd it is to live in the Middle East and watch your North American hometown get knocked around by the Universe.

[Hylan Boulevard is a river... I used to cruise along Hylan for Staten Island Advance assignments...] 

For the past week, my heels have been in Israel, but my heart is in Staten Island. The forgotten New York City borough. I wish I could pick up and fly over and help people sort through their property… hand out warm clothes… pack food packages. Alas, it’s not to be, and all I can do is call my mother a few times a day and make a donation online and hope it helps.

Isn’t it supposed to be the opposite?

Thinking of my family and friends and neighbors in Staten Island, lower Manhattan, Queens, Connecticut, New Jersey, Long Island, north of NYC…

There are probably tons of lists, but if you got here, this is a selection of online donation spots and volunteer mobilization [UPDATED Nov 6]:

  • Staten Island Assemblyman Matthew Titone’s Amazon Wishlist - purchase items directly c/o the assemblyman, who is taking care to deliver them to Staten Islanders in need (other local groups in NYC listed here).
  • Red Cross Disaster Relief - The American Red Cross response to Sandy is very large and will be very costly, affecting a massive area spanning much of the eastern half of the country. Financial donations help the American Red Cross provide shelter, food, emotional support and other assistance to those affected by disasters like Hurricane Sandy. To donate, people can visit www.redcross.org, call 1-800-HELPNOW or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.
  • The Salvation Army Hurricane Sandy Relief Efforts
  • Jewish Federation of North America: Hurricane Relief Fund
  • Tablet has a comprehensive list for helping schools, communities, social services, and blood donation centers.
  • Brooklyn Based also has a long list of links for volunteering/donating.
  • JCORPS volunteering and events.
  • LBNY Hurricane spreadsheet for donations and mobilizing volunteers.
Plus Israeli local efforts by expats:

There are also local efforts by stores, companies and newspapers… Pretty much a matter of Googling it.

Thinking of my hometown. If you know of more online donation efforts, please leave in comments.

Hurricane Sandy. Gaza rockets. It’s raining, and it’s tragic.

Being a New Yorker outside of New York when disaster strikes is hard. I think we have some sort of mutated DNA that makes us deal with crap in a different way. A New York way. Like Hurricane Irene last year, only yeah, this time New York skepticism didn’t win out.

Obviously, this is a monster of a storm, doing incredible damage we’re only beginning to comprehend as the images come in from across the east Coast. Since the weekend, as I read friends’ posts about prepping for Hurricane Sandy, and spoke to family members hunkering down at home to wait it out, I couldn’t help but think of Sunday morning, when I heard that schools would be closed for southern Israeli students so they could stay in bomb shelters to wait out the falling missile attacks.

[Note: There's no serious way to compare the two tragedies' damage and experience. It's ridiculous; and yet I've noticed people comparing news coverage of the two events, which is really unfair, so I'm addressing that here.]

Have you heard about the (new) recent round of Hamas rockets raining down on Israel? It’s not surprising that most of us haven’t. It’s a tired daily news story. People take a daily vitamin, daily walk, daily shit, and Southern Israel takes a daily pounding.

There’s a lot going on in the world. So the international media covers a lot. It’s up to people on the ground to share their stories, spread their experiences, and make sure the international community can relate to the daily terrorism in Southern Israel.

Let’s not rely on or blame solely the ‘mainstream media.’ The people’s internet, people.

Anyway, the mainstream media’s ignorance of the Hamas rocket attacks in Israel doesn’t make it less real, less terrifying, less terrorist, less traumatic for children, parents, residents and IDF soldiers who have to carry out orders for reactionary missions.

So maybe a visual will help drive it home – today, Ynet posted a video, apparently released by Hamas yesterday, and it’s pretty clear despite the fact they usually like to blur the background so we can’t tell exactly where they were sent from.

The trick is, this is clearly a populated area of Gaza, which from the launchers’ point of view is wonderful, since it would be hard for Israel to strike back and target the launchers  without causing collateral damage.

Not so wonderful for the men, women and children who live there, who may end up collateral damage before those rockets reach Israel. By the way, Geneva Convention, anyone?

Click for video on Ynet’s site; to avoid annoying autoplay, I linked instead.

Here’s an infographic covering the types of rockets and their ranges in relation to Israeli areas:

Go ahead and share this. It doesn’t matter where you stand. Rockets aren’t good for Israel, and they’re not good for Gaza, either. They’re not good for Palestinians, Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs, our children, our economies, our futures.

Palestinians suffer when Israelis suffer when Palestinians suffer when Israelis suffer…



“Ima, what’s this?”

“That? That’s… a candle.”

“But why is it here?”

“Why is it here…

…Remember how I’m from New York? I was a kid in New York. Like you’re a kid in Tzur Hadassah. I grew up there… with Grandma and Grandpa… It’s where I went to school. You know?”


“So… many years ago… something… very bad happened. In New York. And… a lot of people got an ow-a.”

“And Grandma?”

“…No… not Grandma… people. People I don’t know. But they lived in New York, like me. And they got an ow-a. So every year… after my yomuledet…   I light another candle. For those people. From New York.”


My firehouse.

For months, Koala and I have been discussing our plans for New York. For months, he’s been obsessed with firetrucks, firemen, סמי הכבאי and hoses. And for months, the top of the list was visiting a firehouse.

And I’ll freely admit, I was as, if not more, excited about this.

Firemen were always curious characters to me. When I worked at the Staten Island paper during my college years, I had a co-intern who discussed, and later became, a fireman.

Then September 11, 2001, happened. And I was working at that paper. And suddenly, firemen were everywhere. Even the ones who had died. And the heroes became super heroes to me. There’s a special place in my heart for the FDNY.

So we stopped on the side of Engine Company 166 in Staten Island, where Fireman Tom kindly (and really enthusiastically) showed us around, even as Koala was a bit… intimidated… after months of building up the occasion. And truth be told, I think it made me even happier.

Thank you, 166!

Little boy’s heaven.

Yup, this is the truck he meant.

Everything seems to be working.

Inspecting the goods.

An offer to change places.