Gem in the Galilee

My dad and my husband have this routine:

My dad, an archaeology enthusiast, always keeps his eyes peeled for the undiscovered artifact when he visits Israel. My husband always ribs him, “They’ve already found everything there is to find, Paul.”

I take my dad’s side on this one and whenever archaeologists make a big discovery in our area in the Lower Galilee, I’ll usually send the article to my husband and my dad with the subject line: “So there’s nothing left to find in Israel…”

I am reminded today, too, how much there is still yet for me to discover here in this region — not ancient artifacts, necessarily, but unexplored paths, little known attractions, charming exhibits and people.

I wasn’t the one to stumble upon Hemdatya, a particularly special bed and breakfast in the Lower Galilee; my husband (the one who says there’s nothing left to find) did. Ilaniya, the historic community on which the b & b is located, is across the street from where he works and the company often recommends the place to out-of-town visitors.

My husband was so charmed by Hemdatya and by the owner, Atalia, when he was there recently with his colleague, he invited me to breakfast  there to see exactly what a gem in the Lower Galilee it is.

I was smitten.

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

Atalia (l) owner of Hemdatya Bed and Breakfast, and me

With Atalia, yes, who was a gracious, sweet and entertaining hostess (not to mention an amazing chef!). But with the grounds themselves, and more so with her vision for Hemdatya, which is a haven for any traveler interested in ecotourism, organic agriculture, or permaculture. It’s also a charming, potentially romantic retreat for both foreigners and locals looking to get away for some low-key relaxation.

Hemdatya is located on a historic Israeli village about 15 minutes from the Sea of Galilee called Ilaniya, originally a farming community and agricultural training center for long-ago pioneers. The stone buildings of the b & b —  renovated with both historic conservation and sustainability in mind —   are constructed much from nearby materials.  Hemdatya installed and employs a system for collecting rain water and recycles gray water throughout the site. The water from the rooms (bathrooms and kitchens) drains into a biological purification system and from there irrigates the orchards that grow vegetables, fruits, and grapes for wine.

We ate in the main kitchen — a traditional Israeli breakfast of breads, salads, cheese, and shakshouka. The cheese was from goat milk; gifts from the local goats. And the eggs in the shakshouka were from the local chickens.

Breakfast at Hemdatya

Breakfast at Hemdatya

Many tzimmerim in Northern Israel can claim goats and chickens, but not many can claim the fruits and veggies grown not just organically, but according to the ethics and principles of permaculture. No pesticides in her gardens, says Atalia. No need.  Using permaculture, the gardens grow in harmony with the “pests.”

After breakfast, Atalia gave us a tour of the five guest rooms (each with a small kitchenette and eco-friendly bathroom) which are so delightful in their decor, you can tell attention was paid not just to construction and conservation, but also to aesthetics. I gushed to Atalia (and I meant it), “I am sure all of your visitors are as struck as I am at how enchanting these rooms are.”

Last, we toured the grounds. Vegetables grow everywhere, from little gardens in front of the farm-house guest rooms

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

Peppers grow on Hemdatya in Israel

to the grape vines that overhang the entrance to the jacuzzi room.

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

Grape vines at Hemdatya in Israel

The gorgeous stone pool sealed the deal and I am already planning in my mind a getaway in the near future:  a writer’s retreat, let’s say, just me, my laptop and my thoughts. Or a birthday weekend.

Hint, hint. 

 

 

 

 

 

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What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world

Short Fiction

When I imagine the end of the world, I am alone at the edge of a cliff. It’s evening and God Only Knows by the Beach Boys is playing on a box radio I looted from my neighbor’s basement.

If it were a movie, I’d be gazing out over the city lights of Los Angeles just as the electricity went out, as one by one the skyscrapers lost power, and the city fell dark.

A blazing comet approaches.

Or a neon green burst of light from beyond the reaches of time.

Or a giant tidal wave shimmies up the coast.

If it were a movie, my heart would swell as I accepted my fate. I would open my arms and embrace humanity’s extinction for I knew I had lived life to its fullest.

But it’s not a movie.

It’s my real life.

In which almost every day is the end of the world.

* * *

 

I have a disease without a name.

If it had a name, it would be called something like redemptionitis or zombisteria or hypotrychtapocalypse.

The closest anyone has ever come to labelling my disease was in the years leading up to the much-publicized end of the Mayan Calendar in December 2012.

Doomsday Phobia, they called it.

Anyone who stocked their basements with toilet paper and canned sardines in preparation for Armageddon; anyone who hoarded books of medicinal herbs or learned how to forage for mushrooms in a weekend workshop held in the back woods of Westchester County, NY; anyone who stocked in the back of the medicine cabinet antibiotics from their child’s most recent prescription for strep throat: We were all quietly laughed at and labeled “preppers.”

Back when it was cute, the way a touch of crazy is cute, as long as it doesn’t lead to a shootout in a movie theater.

Back then, I wondered to myself if I was on a CIA watch list. Did they suspect me? A suburban New Jersey mom of two? A college educated professional with a real job and a real paycheck?

I certainly didn’t fit the profile.

I wore Ann Taylor suits and took the NJ Transit train every day from the suburbs into the city where I walked six blocks to my midtown workplace. In our open floor plan, I had the closest thing to an office – a transparent cube looking out over the East River, made from glass walls so others could look in. It was called the Rainbow Fish Bowl because of the stickers my daughter once placed on the sliding glass door. Every other Friday, I got a pedicure at Trudy’s Green Nails on Lexington Avenue. I was in a book club. I volunteered at the preschool. People liked me.

Each day, I put effort into smiling at my coworkers as if life wasn’t about to abruptly end by Avian Bird Flu.  I’d make jokes over the phone with the sales consultants who’d ask me if I thought wheatgrass was gluten free. I played along. Drank Nespresso in the coffee room with the writers; made snide remarks with the editors about our wacky advertisers; especially the ones who placed ads offering organic MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) purported to last 15 years. Secretly, I wondered if it made sense to pay for organic canned food when the cans were probably lined with BPA.

Could my coworkers view my computer monitor, however, they would have noticed I spent half the day reading headlines on alternative news web sites, corresponding in code with people named “Zen Grower” about the latest UFO sighting over New Mexico or the best price on bulk dehydrated food. I read blogs from people living in half-completed bunkers in the mountains of West Virginia; with strangers supposedly privy to knowledge that was never reported on CNN.  “The ‘Illuminati’ kills scientists, you know,” wrote Jade, my telepathic friend. She communicates with an alien race who is trying to save us from another alien race who’s been trying to destroy us since the Revolutionary War. “All war,” says Jade, “is the fault of the Reptilians.”

I would search “new world order Russian scientists reveal underwater pyramid” and “fourth dimensional beings plot to reprogram our brains” because I knew the search results would give me the intel I required to plan. And I planned. I had one to-do list that included vaccinations, playdates, and dentist appointments. Another to-do list for the end of the world.

My day job, I guess, was a ruse.

It was a way to satisfy my compulsion and still remain a member of society. Or so says Dr. Solomon. I saw it as a healthy way to educate myself on tactics I would surely need for the post-apocalyptic world I was certain was looming. Easily-learned skills like:

  • Reiki for when we no longer had the option to see surgeons for bone breaks or muscle sprains;
  • Acupressure, which I would use in the place of the anti-inflammatories we so depended on in the Before Times for headaches and menstrual cramps;
  • Nutritional supplements and herbal teas — like Chia and Flax seeds; dandelion and feverfew — I’d grow in a rooftop urban garden, where I’d herd my children before the Flood.

Back then, I was Advertising Director of a major national healthy living magazine. I courted and secured advertisers from multiple sectors: home and garden, health and wellness, exercise and fitness, diet and nutrition. And, of course, our bestsellers: classifieds from personal vegan chefs, Hindu tantric sex practitioners and Henna artists.

I was really good at my job. I was good at selling ads because I really believed all of the service providers and multi-level marketing professionals.  When they heard acknowledgment and acceptance in my voice over the phone, they eagerly placed half or more of their advertising budget in my hands.

I understood them, after all. Their fears. Their hopes. I knew intimately what it felt like to want to survive, but more so to want to be listened to and believed.

In my own experience, though, there were therapies and products that worked, and those that didn’t. Quackery, some might say. Except in my business, we never use the word quackery. This would alienate the chiropractors and homeopaths who placed half-page color ads for their self-published e-books.

Reiki, for instance, didn’t cure me of recurring yeast infections, as promised. But my Thursday afternoon sessions with Liane, the psychic massage therapist did help identify a sugar addiction. She also told me I had powers like hers; that I could, if I wanted to, study to be a healer.

She was right. I am a sugar addict. But she was also wrong. I can’t seem to heal anyone.

I kept seeing Liane on a regular basis and even believed most of the stories she would tell me: How her client was miraculously cured from testicular cancer by shiatsu and a six-week juice fast. How her deep tissue hot stone massage helped a couple overcome infertility. How the couple now had triplets – all girls.

I believed Liane. Except for that one time she told me that my migraines were the key to time travel, and that I should stop taking the Relert when the auras came on. I also believed the magazine readers who emailed testimony after testimony to our editorial staff profusely thanking us for publishing stories that changed their lives.  I believed the clippable lists we elegantly designed for ease-of-use, like “Pema Chodron’s Top 5 Mantras for Mindful Sex.”

I believed we were helping people.

I believed the jacket copy on the bestseller of contributing editor, celebrity physician Dr. Joel Willey– a book I personally reviewed for the magazine last December — promising increased sexual desire and stamina for peri-menopausal women by switching to a vegan, carbohydrate-free, anti-inflammatory diet.

I believed it all.

Which, apparently, is a symptom of my disease.

I have a disease without a name; without a designation, but with a host of exhibiting symptoms that collectively, for the past fifteen years, I called “conscious living,” but collectively make up a manilla folder of evidence against me, sitting on an antique desk in Dr. Solomon’s office.

All these “symptoms,” which were formerly advantageous qualities on a resume when applying for a job at a natural healthy living magazine, are now being offered up as evidence of my insanity. My inability to continue as a functioning member of society.

My disease is without a name. It’s as lonely as a woman standing on the edge of a cliff waiting for the world to end.

But, as it turns out, no name is necessary.

* * *

 

This work of fiction is an excerpt from an original short story by Jen Maidenberg, “What I imagine when I imagine the end of the world.”

Cookie cutter approach to food activism

As we enter the period before Passover, I’m thinking about how eat, what we what, with whom we eat and why. I am meditating on freedom and gratitude.

No, actually, I am not.

I’m thinking about the store-bought chocolate chip cookie I just ate.

For breakfast. (Actually, I had a vegetable wrap first. The cookie was for dessert. Breakfast dessert.)

As I ate the cookie with deep pleasure, I thought to myself.

This is happiness.

Of course, there are chemical reasons why the cookie made me so happy; the main one being white sugar in abundance.

This I know.

And this I shrugged off.

Instead of acknowledging the sugar and the wheat and the likelihood that both would incite the candida surely camping out in my gut or inflame the inner lining of my intestines, I ate another cookie.

I think it was even better than the first.

I’m thinking about eating another one.

But first I’m blogging: To clear my proverbial throat because what I want to say is unclear right now.

What I want to say is that I spent the last two decades a bit too food-focused.

Not without good reason.

I believe, firmly, that food can be harmful. I believe that food is a direct or indirect cause of chronic illness. I believe food is addictive. Food is a commodity that corporations use to control people. Food has been made an idol that we in the #firstworld worship.

I believe food may be used to heal if used properly, but has become deified also by wellness professionals (especially those with books or vitamins to sell) in the guise of healthy living. So many of us are self medicating with chia and gobi and wheatgrass in the same way people are self medicating with xanax and marijuana and vodka on frozen lemon juice ice cubes with mitz petel (I call it “the Hannaton.” It’s amazing and totally gets me through the homework to bedtime madness.)

I consider myself a food activist, and yet I question my focused attention on food.

I question my focus.

I question it.

It’s important to question our obsessions.

For even those of us with good intentions, food has become an obsession.

And I question that.

This is what I want to say.

It’s important to have passion.

It’s important to be mindful about our behavior and

conscious about the consequences.

It’s important to support causes.

And it’s important to share ideas — loudly and powerfully.

But it’s equally important to question our motives.

And the returns on our investment.

I spent three years dairy free. I didn’t eat a drop of cow product. I read labels religiously. My motive, at first, was to nurse my son so he wouldn’t have bloody poop. After I weaned him, I kept it up because I noticed I didn’t have as much mucus in my life. And as anyone who has a lot of mucus in their life knows, mucus-free lives are happier lives. And probably less-likely-to-have-stomach-cancer lives.

Since moving to Israel three years ago, however, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to not eat dairy. Let’s put it this way. Dairy has re-entered my life with a passion. And the passion is called “bulgarit.”

We had to make an adjustment to our lifestyle. No longer was there a Whole Foods nearby to offer us 15 different varieties of gluten free bread. No longer did we have the budget to spend on those items even if there was one nearby. No longer could I find grass-fed beef. No longer could I feed myself and my kids turkey bacon for breakfast anymore. (Ironically, there is pork bacon in Israel but no turkey bacon.) Nut and seed butters are not an option for us. Therefore, the dairy. Oh, the dairy.

My point is: As my life changed, so did my diet. And so did my relationship to food. At first, this created enormous upset in me. For a good year living here, I lived with anger, resentment, and disappointment — all related to food.

I still carry some of that. I carry it on Shabbat when I go to kiddush at our community synagogue and my nut allergic son always ALWAYS hides on the playground because kiddush is not safe for him. I carry it with me in restaurants, on the rare occasion we go out, and realize there is nothing on the menu for my kids because everything comes with sesame or nuts. I carry it with me when I see the planes flying overhead spraying the beautiful vegetable fields with pesticide. I carry it with me when I hear about childhood cancer and in the back of my mind I know it’s because of the water pollution and the air pollution and the planes that fly by.

The activist in me is not dead.

She lives … but a little more quietly.

A little less all-consuming.

She allows chocolate chip cookies…for breakfast.

* * *

When I started to give up my commitment to food a little, I started to notice some things.

There is something inside activism that is closely connected to anger.

There is something inside healthy that is closely connected to unhealthy.

And there is something inside not eating that is closely connected to desperately needing to be full.

For a big part of food activism — if we look deeply and honestly — is about controlling a life that is terrifying. It’s about trying to be certain in a world that is only certain in its uncertainty.

I still believe in activism. And I believe in sharing information.

But sometimes all we have is what makes us happy in this very moment.

And that is enough.

 

 

My little Garden of Eden in Israel

There is a place I idealize here in Israel:

Kibbutz Harduf in the Lower Galilee, an anthroposophic community with a unique approach to intentional living, and Israel’s largest producer of organic food.

Before we made Aliyah I first learned of Harduf  from my (now) friend Haviva’s article in Zeek about local, organic living in the Galilee.  At the time, I was running my own consulting business in New Jersey, the main focus of which was on educational and marketing efforts in the area of holistic health and green living. When we started researching communities in which to live I looked into the possibility of moving to Harduf.

I reached out via their Hebrew web site, but received no response. And when I asked our Nefesh B’ Nefesh regional Aliyah consultant her opinion on whether she thought Harduf was a good fit for our family, she advised against it, indicating it wasn’t the best place for new immigrants unless we were all very focused on living the “hardcore anthroposophic” life.

This was wise advice.

It wouldn’t have been a good fit for our family.

But, wow, it would have been a good fit for me — in another life. And sometimes I wish we lived there.

The beautiful campus is set upon a hill which overlooks in the distance the bay of Haifa and the Mediterranean sea. The residents, in the 30 or so years they have built up the kibbutz have put obvious effort into making the explorer’s experience of their home one peppered with wonder and teeming with vitality.

Harduf is itself alive.

I don’t live there, but I am lucky enough to live very close — just a 15 minute drive away. Recently, I joined the health clinic there (the physician, an M.D., is trained in both conventional medicine and anthroposophic medicine, which emphasizes homeopathy over medication.) So I’ve been spending more time there and try to build in an extra 10 or 20 minutes to wander every time I have to go there.

This morning, I brought my two youngest children over to Harduf to walk through the gardens, smell and touch the fruit trees, wander through shaded paths that lead to unexpected structures, and play on their gorgeous playground, a wonderland of thoughtful planning and handiwork.

yellow house

It was a two-hour slice of heaven.

Only after playing on the playground for an hour and on our way out to the restaurant and store that is open on Shabbat did I see this sign:

harduf sign

The sign basically says, “Entrance to the park is forbidden to non-residents of Harduf. The use of the playground is for children supervised by parents.”

The sign was new. It wasn’t there the last time we visited.

Still the new immigrant, I couldn’t pass by the sign without a thought, leaving the rule following to others.  I’m still very American, and I felt bad for a minute that we had unknowingly defied the sign.

But only for a minute.

Soon after, I was angry. Insulted.

Confused.

Harduf?

Telling non-residents to “Keep Out!”

How could this be?

I quickly snapped a photo of the sign and ushered my kids out.

I silently generated all sorts of indignant responses to this sign:

“Oh, they’re happy to have my business at the organic vegetable market or at the restaurant, but they aren’t willing to open their playground to me and my kids?”

“What if I was a tourist? Or a visitor to one of the families who lived here? How rude!”

“Would we ever put up a sign in Hannaton telling people who didn’t live there that our playground was off limits?”

I took the kids to the restaurant, which has a quaint little gift shop inside and we browsed for a bit.

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

Outside the Harduf organic vegetable market, Israel

As I approached the cash register to pay, I saw the owner of the restaurant and a long time Harduf resident, Jutka, there. I don’t know Jutka well: I’ve just had a few conversations with her a couple of times that I’ve been in the restaurant. (Jutka is also the author of this family-friendly vegetarian cookbook.)

I asked her in Hebrew about the sign at the playground, “Why is the playground off-limits to outsiders?”

She grumbled in response, “It’s for security reasons.”

She didn’t mean security in the traditional Israeli way, I quickly learned. The signs weren’t a warning to unfriendly neighbors, people who might want to hurt us. Those “security risks” don’t pay attention to signs.

What I understood from her was the signs were to protect Harduf from lawsuits. They were placed there to inform people of their personal liability.

She didn’t mention specifics, but I wondered if something had happened to spark this decision.

I told her I was disappointed and a little hurt to come upon the sign. I told her that I consider Harduf a paradise, and was taken aback to see such a harsh statement at the entrance to a park I love so much.

She sighed. I understood from this and her from eyes that she’s proud of the paradise she’s helped built, but she said,

“Even in this paradise, there are reasons to be concerned. Even in Gan Eden, there was the serpent,”

Jutka said this with a sly smile. (Jutka is someone I’d like to get to know better some day.)

I breathed in deeply and nodded, her words hitting me. Even in paradise there are problems to solve; hard decisions to be made. And Harduf is no exception.

Suddenly, I wasn’t angry anymore — it helped that Jutka invited us to be her guest at the playground, should anyone ask — but I was a bit disheartened:  Reality bursting my bubble once again.

I shook it off — and instead accessed the gratitude I had felt for the few hours on Harduf before I discovered the sign.

“You can sense the spirit here, can’t you?” Jutka asked.

I nodded again.

“Come back here whenever you want,” she told me.

And I agreed that I would.