Hospitality, Redux

There was this writing prompt: “Imagine a historical figure is brought back to life. Who is it? What’s their favorite mobile app?” (max 250 words)

Then this came about:

As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman. Abraham and his wife Sarah need no introduction. Although they hail from thousands of years ago, from a land far, far away, don’t worry; they are in great shape, and ready to make a difference once again, just as they did generations ago. But they come as a team!

You may know that Abraham is not only the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but that he’s also considered the archetype of hospitality. He and Sarah opened their home to anyone that came along needing shelter, regardless of who they were, where they came from, and what they believed. In this they are true role models of co-existence.

This is why their favorite app is AirBnB, the ultimate hospitality service app. You’d think they created the company’s mission statement—that you can “belong anywhere” when you stay in AirBnB places around the world. It’s all about making travellers feel at home, even if just temporarily, by graciously opening our dwellings to them.

I happen to be an AirBnB Superhost host in Maine, and this cool couple will be staying in my renovated barn for a few days. I can’t wait to cook up and serve them some great meals, and brainstorm about how to make the world a better place through hospitality and kindheartedness.

Naturally, they have a few things to teach us about welcoming the stranger with compassion and generosity. I’ll make sure to take copious notes and share on social media.

Welcome Mat



Do Not Resuscitate: An Obituary

My dear Lexus RX300 left me today. She was 18.

Probably born in Miyawaka, Fukuoka, Japan in either late 2000 or early 2001, it is believed she made the arduous journey across oceans on M/S Andromeda Leader, arriving in Newark, NJ later that year. She spent the first four years of her life with a young couple from Washington DC, who treated her well and made sure she had all her regular check-ups. In addition to valuing her stellar genetic makeup, they also gave her the opportunity for personal growth through a few upgrades that made her even more sought after later in life. These included a high-end sound system and a rubber encased rear bumper to allow her to better handle the bumps and scratches a full life will bring. The couple eventually brought her to West Hartford, CT, where she joined my family in 2005, or thereabouts.

There, she travelled many miles as my steadfast companion in a suburban life filled with dogs, kids, carpools, and trips to Home Depot (home improvements), BJ’s (bulk toilet paper) and endless after school sports. Later, we embarked on more adventurous trips together, like when we branched out toward independence and took up residence in our own smaller but easier to manage space, the benefit of which meant more freedom to pursue new dreams and push the boundaries of the suburban comfort zone to which we had grown accustomed.

As my interest in spending more time in Maine grew, my sweet Lexus RX300 gladly came along for ride. Together we’d zip up 84 east, across 90 west, along the seemingly never-ending 495, to the promising, northbound I-95. We eventually settled in Maine, where we were able to slow down a little—me to pursue my vocation, she to take fewer long distance trips.

She was there when we needed her until the end, despite peeling paint on the hood, a few well-hidden rust spots here and there, and occasional coughs and hiccups. It was when, after a good run of more than 209,000 miles, she began to show some undeniable signs of rapid decline, that we made the decision together. Do not resuscitate.

And even this she did with poise.

When, during the last couple of years, I’d take her to the shop for a mechanical tweak or a replacement part, she took it in stride as if telling me “Onward!” while knowing her end was nearing. She never lacked a sense of optimism and her positive attitude will always inspire me to keep moving forward.

She will be deeply missed not just by me, but also by my children, partner, friends and neighbors, who all benefitted from and enjoyed her gracious style and dependability.

As was her wish, her organs will be donated to helping other Lexuses live longer and healthier lives.

In lieu of flowers, consider a donation to your favorite charity.

Lexus Obit

Bury Me There

When my dad died, we scattered his ashes from a fishing boat in the ocean in Norway, near our family’s favorite summer spot. It was what he wanted and we had a deal.

It was a pretty special day, filled with sunshine and curious seals trailing our boat, grandchildren taking turns holding the urn and pouring the ashes into the water. His ex-wife, my mom, threw rose pedals on the water’s surface while Sinatra’s “I did it my way” filled the air from my brother in-law’s iPhone.

A few days later, before my return to the States, my sister and I were having dinner when she told me that if she dies before me, she’d like the same kind of arrangement. “How about you?” she asked.

I couldn’t answer her, then.

Since Jewish tradition doesn’t permit cremation, I am mostly committed to the idea of my body decomposing in a simple, pine box. As unpleasant as the thought is, I figure I’ll be dead, so it really won’t matter much either way.

The greater question for me is where I should be buried. I used to say “bury me in Norway,” since it seemed to me that this would be one way of ensuring a connection for my boys and one day their children and later their children’s children, to their Nordic roots. My remains deep in the Jewish cemetery in Oslo, they might feel all the more compelled to take that roots-trip, so to speak.

I have friends who want to be buried in Israel, the eternal spiritual homeland for the Jews. This is where they feel their soul belongs. I too, love Israel and feel a special connection to its history and significance, although perhaps less so to its modern day reality.

Then, only four weeks ago, there was the funeral of my dear friend Fanny. Making my way to her burial place past the headstones with all the familiar names from my nearly 30 years in West Hartford, Connecticut, I had an epiphany. It is there, next to the friends who made the world a better place for me, that I belong. The deep sense of community we built together struck me as timeless. Although we joke that our Jewish cemetery, perched as it is on a hill across from a strip mall in a nondescript town, isn’t exactly pastoral, it is—alas—the people who make the place.

So now I can say to my sister, bury me there, surrounded by the friends who welcomed me and made me feel like I belonged in my life as a Jew.


Jewish Cemetery Customs

Focus on foreground stone sitting on top of Jewish headstone in cemetery. It is a Jewish tradition for a visitor to a Jewish grade site to place a single stone on the monument. It tells visitors that follow that others have also visited this grave. A religious explanation is that stones are added to symbolize that we are never finished building a monument to the deceased.

A Time to Cry

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” – a line reads in most translations of Ecclesiastes or Kohelet. But as one Bible scholar I know well has suggested in his book on the ancient wisdom text, the Hebrew word commonly translated as “vanity” can in fact also mean “breath.”

“Breath, breath, all is breath” – now it sounds more like a zen and rather uplifting meditation on how breath is what it’s all about, and that in the end, nothing else really matters. All the other things and emotions and experiences are a natural part of our lives and yearnings, but in the end, it’s breath that lets us live and laugh and cry.

“A time to be born and a time to die…” we read on. Sadly, today I lost a dear friend, whose breath left her in the early morning hours. And I cry. But her breath didn’t just evaporate and disappear, in my mind. That energy—for breath is energy—is just transformed. This is physics 101. I imagine a sacred blanket of protection lingering forever around all those who loved her and whose lives have been touched by her, as her unique energy is transformed to a living blessing. Her memory—like her life and her being and her breath—will be a blessing to us, and thus, she will remain among us, in this way.

Wife, mother, grandmother, sister, daughter, friend…the list goes on, and so do the memories. I hear her voice and her laughter and the way she used to call out my name, “Ninalich!” I see the way she used to sit on the chair, the way she’d walk, her affection toward my now adult sons ever since they were babies. I remember how she’d sweep into the room and the room would light up from her smile, and she’d offer solutions and ideas on how to make things, anything, better, more beautiful, smoother and smarter. She was, I now realize more than ever, a grounding almost maternal force for me, although we were almost contemporaries.

A deep urge to feel rooted sweeps over me today. Home and family were my friend’s ultimate raison d’être, and trying to honor her positive energy and endless grace, I yearn to pull my boys close, cook a soulful meal, and beautify my surroundings. And most of all, I will put the notion of shalom bayit—peace at home—in the center as I count my blessings and focus on breath. For it is all. And she taught me this.



Onward in a Flash!

Well, well, well. Fancy seeing you here. Where the heck have you been? What am I? Chopped liver?

This is my blog talking to me, and I can’t say I blame it. Although my knee-jerk reaction is to shoot back a sharp “So what??” I won’t go there. It could get ugly and the holidays are just around the corner, so I’ll take the high road.

And rather than offering up a long list of reasons why I’ve been absent for so long (ok, excuses, excuses!) I am offering a truce: the flash blog post. Moving forward, I commit to only publishing posts made of max 500 words, but aiming for even less. That’s about half of my typical blog post length, and will feel less imposing for both you, the reader, and me.

Those of you familiar with my curiosity blog know that I have a propensity toward wordiness, but fear no more! While absent, I’v been exploring the most unlikely thing for a person of my disposition, namely to express myself more briefly. One such attempt was recently awarded by being published on the Brevity Blog – the blog of the journal by the same name publishing concise literary nonfiction. Another micro-memoir-essay of mine made it to the final round (but no cigar!) of a competition last month.

I have to tell you it is pretty exhilarating or at least rewarding to see how an essay about anything can go from a longer form of its original self, filled with what in hindsight (but only in hindsight) looks like unnecessary rambling, to a chiseled and defined version, and this new specimen feeling truer, clearer and packing more punch. I wrote about this kind of epiphany a while back in a publication called Literary Mama.

Now there’s a word to behold: concise. I now carry this little secret nudge in my pocket and fondle it daily to remind me of its value.

I think my offer of a flash blog post might be a great compromise serving both me (who wants to keep writing), the (bitchy) blog (who doesn’t want to just whither away, alone and ignored after such a robust and colorful early life), and you, the reader (who is the real hero in all of this, and whose time and attention I never take for granted).

So, from now on, I commit to a shorter more concise form or blog post, think in the tradition of flash non-fiction or flash fiction stories, or even what is called micro-essays (look it up; I had to once).

Oh, and FYI: I’m clocking off at 436 words.

See ya!


On Joining a Movement

Yesterday, I joined a movement. I’ve never been big on “joining” or “movements” which has always been a bit of a sore point on my conscience. I would like to have joined the recent women’s march in DC, where many women friends, sporting pink pussyhats, moved the world and were moved by the meaning and power of a shared mission. When I was recently in Barcelona and the entire city seemed to be marching to demonstrate their commitment to welcome refugees, I was moved by the masses of people marching together, chanting and waving banners for a good cause.

So, I started with something that moved me, creatively and spiritually.

Yesterday, I was honored to have an essay published in Hevria (the litmag), or on Hevria (the website), or with Hevria (the creative movement), an online community which isn’t just a magazine nor just literary, as you can see for yourself, but rather  a unique place of creativity that oozes with a positive and spiritual outlook on life as a creative process, as a force that can bring change.

This I love.

Hevria explains that its name is a combination of the words “Hevreh” and “Bria” in Hebrew, which mean “group of friends” and “creation.”

What better place to be part of something bigger than oneself. A place to begin my involvement in movements.

Elad Nehorai, the creator of Hevria, explains: “We are a group devoted to spreading the idea of positive creation in a spiritual context. We want to make this world beautiful. And we want you to join us.” And so, I did. The experience of a glorious sunset in Tel Aviv and the photo of it that you see below, were part of the beautiful thing in this world that I wanted to write about.

But that was only a small part of the story. There was a human interaction moment that really made it moving, not the sunset by itself.

Since Hevria only accept pieces written expressly with them and their mission in mind, I was waiting for the right moment when I would have an experience or an idea (usually the idea follows automatically a few minutes or hours or days after an experience. This is a way for me to understand what just happened; I metabolize life through writing it and I “unwrap” complex often emotional situations by writing about them.) Writing is my oxygen, what makes me breathe easier in this world.

Always have been, always will be.

What happened to me on the Tel Aviv boardwalk that late afternoon-early evening  was not easy. I was haunted by the moment and how it left me. How I left it. But I knew the moment was bigger than me, and that it carried with it the raw ingredients for some real soul-food-home-cookin’.

Nehorai continues: “Hevria’s mission is to become the go-to community for Jewish and spiritual people who are ‘creators.’” Although I get the meaning of the term “go-to,” I looked it up for a fuller and more evocative essence: “Go-to: denoting a person or thing that may be relied on or is regularly sought out in a particular situation.”

Hevria can be relied on as a beautifully created and creative-spiritual community, available 24/7, when you feel you need some soul-food. And we all need some soul-food from time to time. Yum yum.

Let this be my first step toward joining movements that bring positive change to the world.


A New Week in Jerusalem

Shavua tov,” the old man said as he passed. Wishing me a good, new, week, he reached out his hand and handed me a rosemary twig and smiled with warm, twinkly eyes. I had heard his shuffling feet before I looked up, and noticed him approaching slowly from down the street, as if hugging the closed storefronts, pausing occasionally. His cane helped stabilize him and he took his time. I noticed his clothes were a little shabby, and that he had a bunch of rosemary in his hand. But he didn’t ask for anything, and he didn’t seem to have an agenda. “Shavua tov,” I replied. He walked on.

I was sitting on a bench reading a magazine and Shabbat had just ended. The street was still quiet with few cars driving by and although the day of rest was officially over, there was as if a hiatus of neither here nor there; a few moments of suspended time before the busy bustle of the week was to resume.

To linger and notice this space in time is like an invitation to experience magic.

The magic of a time in-between silence and noise, in-between rest and work, in-between holy and mundane. A time that is fleeting like the setting sun, but infinite in its dreamlike quality of possibilities and promise.

A new week.

Soon the neighborhood would be bustling with people and cafés and restaurants, buses and taxis whizzing by, but for now it was still. I looked up and saw the man stop at the next storefront only a few meters past where I was sitting, and reaching up to its doorway he lifted his hand to touch the mezuzah, the parchment inscribed with a prayer found on the doorposts of Jewish homes and businesses here. He touched it and kissed his hand, this way kissing the words of G-d, and then he shuffled on to the next store’s doorway.

The shops were still closed for Shabbat, so many were dark while some had bright lights in the window. I followed the man with my eyes as he continued his ritual at every doorway, slowly moving down the street, eventually disappearing into the darkness.

Perhaps he is an angel, I thought to myself.

I smelled my fingers that held the twig of rosemary, the strong pine aroma had already left its fresh, minty scent on my fingertips. It made me smile and feel hopeful and invigorated.

I brought the rosemary upstairs to my apartment, turned on the light and opened my computer. And then I thought, it will be a good week, because I was touched by an angel.





Sounds Like Jerusalem

A woman hollering non-stop in Hebrew or in Arabic, I cannot tell from here; cats going at it; dogs barking; the automated announcement on the bus passing by; the muezzin calling fellow Muslims to prayer at 4am;  birds chirping…Perched in a 3rd floor apartment in the German Colony, or Moshava Germanit, here in Jerusalem, I hear the sounds of the city I’ll call home for the next 6 months.

I get to play and wander the city after my workday is over, then the myriad of sounds will be connected to their things.

Down there on the street I roam at dusk, taking in the scenery while the city is still enveloped in the soft, forgiving light of the day’s final moments, when the air is cool and I am free. I see small stray cats of all colors and shades who with their lithe bodies make their way through garbage piles filled with scarps of food; they look nothing like the plump and lazy felines we see in our neighborhoods back home, the ones that go home at night to toys and blankets and their owners’ loving strokes and cooing voices.

I see the snouts of mutt-looking dogs protecting their owners’ gated Jerusalem stone homes where bright pink Bougainvilleas cascade over fences and lemon trees hang heavy with unripe fruits; I’m told Arabs are afraid of dogs.

I see young religious Jewish women pushing baby strollers, and whose heads are fashionably covered in the new hip turban look. In the store I shop next to Arab women, young and old, wearing their hijabs walking closely side by side. Then, I stuff myself into a crowded bus nr.34 A on the way home from an errand in a working class neighborhood. The sights and sounds are a cacophony, my observing stillness interrupted before every stop by the monotonous recorded voice that announces the next one, names of streets flashing in red Hebrew letters on the digital sign above the driver’s head. I understand. I listen. I look around me: Asians, Ethiopians, Russians; beautiful, haggard, covered up, or not. I smell the pungent odor of cigarettes and sweat and urine from the three unkempt bums in the seats next to me; their dark-skinned and hairy arms with tattoos leading down to hands that have been around, draped in wrinkled skin and ending in dirty finger nails that grip what I imagine might be vials of methadone that they discreetly unwrap from brown paper envelopes, comparing them side by side, discussing feverishly, teeth missing, something important.

Hopping off the bus, I approach my new, temporary, home. I smell falafels frying, shawarma grilling, and sweet challahs piled high.

I see beggars of all ages, and regardless of whether I give them a few agurot or shekels, they wish me Shabbat shalom or mumble a blessing. I try to look them in the eyes and not look away from the poverty; but there are so many…

This is like Jerusalem. This IS Jerusalem, “the city of gold.” Gold: malleable and soft; solid under standard conditions. But what is standard here? Gold: produced by a collision of stars. The myriad of people here are like the stars in the universe, each one invaluable to the whole. And they collide, only to make more gold.

Jerusalem of gold. “Yerushalayim shel zahav.” 


Jerusalem of Gold by Jean David

Another Day in Maine

It’s Tuesday morning mid-September, and the air is finally crisp the way it’s supposed to be here, all summer.”Maine, the way life should be”; the slogan you see welcoming you on the Maine Turnpike northbound, and the mantra I now have slapped on the back of my car in the form of a nifty, oval bumpersticker. I giddily took ownership of the idea this past July, and I am now an official MAINIAC. It feels goooood to finally come out of that closet. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, the word “maniac” is not very popular: You’ll find it among the bottom 50% of words based on “popularity.” I lived my entire childhood and adolescence not being among the popular ones, so bite me.


noun ma·ni·ac \ˈmā-nē-ˌak\

Simple Definition of maniac

  • : someone who is violent and mentally ill

  • : a person who behaves in a very wild way

  • : a person who is extremely enthusiastic about something

Ok, let’s just throw the first definition to the wind (it’s too simple of a definition to explain it all; a cop-out, if you ask me) but let’s keep the two next ones. Wild. Enthusiastic. Yes, that works.

So, why is this summer different from all other summers? Well, for one, this summer saw many days of temps in the 80s and 90s – IN MAINE! – something I frankly had not signed up for. The Viking that I am, degrees above mid 70s make me feel ferklemt. I’m talking inability to think clearly, sudden onset dyslexia and temper issues. Maybe the first definition can stay, come to think of it. On a particularly balmy afternoon I yelled out to my new neighbors, “Hey, what’s with the heat?? I want a refund!!” They served me a vodka tonic, G-d bless them.

But about Tuesday mornings. Here in my new hometown, a small, quintessential, New England college town, about two hours north of Boston, there is the farmer’s market on the town green, EVERY Tuesday and Friday morning. This delight takes place all of 1.5 half blocks from my new abode; a yellow painted barn from the 1860s, just converted into a pretty fab little apartment. I simply take my well worn canvas shopping bags and mosey on down, nodding and smiling to all, because it’s impossible not to.The local produce, cheeses and baked goods abound, while buying a bouquet of flowers means they last for two weeks. It’s all that fresh.

Here in Maine, we take our time and say things like “Ayuh” (real slow) for “yes,” and if you ask someone how they’re doing, be prepared to listen to a story or two.

Onto my new town library, where a gloriously large and bright “quiet room” awaits, with signs scattered about that read “Just Write!” and Hemingway’s quote, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” is plastered on the walls. My kinda place. I realize I might bleed some here in the years to come, perhaps on the plush, colorful Persian rug underfoot, but it can’t be all fun and games, now, can it?



All I Needed Was a Hood

My last visit to Home Depot – one of many recent runs there during my project of converting an 1865 Maine barn into an apartment – turned into a sweet and odd reminder of my writing life. That writing life that often gets sidelined as soon as I have “more pressing” things to do, like move, get a kid off to college, build a home…But the sales person who helped me navigate the dizzying ventless hood options quickly revealed he was an avid journaler with a penchant for storytelling.

A man in his 50s, he was a far cry from the “Home Depot Guy” one might expect;  his tall and lean figure with thin, delicate gesticulating hands and animated and dainty facial expressions produced an energy loaded with charmingly feminine affect. His lips pursed just so every few seconds and his eyes would widen and roll while his eyebrows rose and fell or frowned to give more expression to his speech. He would lean in or sway back while elaborating about his own ventless hood fan home renovation story, that soon enough included references to his father’s voice chastising him from the grave about not installing it correctly.

He had me at how hearing his dead father’s voice commenting on his activities was such a meaningful part of his experience, or how his dad was still an influential and lively presence, despite having been gone for several years. I know what that feels like.

From talking about his own father’s opinions, expectations and disappointments, the conversation (which was mostly a monologue) quickly turned to his own experience of fatherhood, and how his own grown sons were so hard to reach, both physically and emotionally. So, he said, he journals in order to be able to one day leave them a document where they can, when they are ready, learn more about their dad’s inner life. The painful time leading up to the divorce (I suspected he had decided to come out in mid-life, since he made some indirect references to that effect, and this had caused a domino effect of challenges for both him and his family), the misunderstandings, the things unsaid, the things that can’t be undone…the love. The need to tell ones story.

I finally left Home Depot with an affordable yet sleek, stainless and Italian-designed hood, sure to make my cooking forays more pleasant and less stinky. That felt like a relief. But the part about that early morning Home Depot run that truly felt gratifying, was having spent a few minutes listening to Barry, my fellow storyteller, which in turn inspired me and reminded me of my inner calling, which in turn brought me back to my keyboard. Here. Now.

I live and love my life of “yang” – of movement and action – as much as I love and strive for more “yin” – stillness and meditation. The first is easy for me; it’s in my blood and having the shpilkes is simply part of who I am. That energy is often the catalyst for all the practical “stuff” I am so efficient at getting done. As a kid, I’d run around my Oslo neighborhood and either help people or got into trouble. I didn’t sit much. I didn’t read much. Sitting and writing – or just sitting – is not so obvious for me. But the storyteller in me reminds me to, is constantly tugging and nudging me in that direction, again and again. Sometimes it just takes a little listening to remember.

Home Depot