A Weekend of Birthday Fun

I had the greatest weekend. I got to celebrate Noah’s BIRTHDAY!! We had a full weekend of activities. First, we had a couple friends over for Shabbat dinner and games on Friday.

Homemade challah and a pear/blueberry tart:

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Saturday was Noah’s actual birthday, so we had birthday cake!!:

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I got an ice-cream cake from J.P. Licks (Noah’s and my favorite ice cream place!) and hid it in the freezer before Noah’s birthday. This card served as the perfect intro…

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…and then Noah knew just where to look because we’ve talked about wanting a J.P. Licks ice cream cake for a long time. :)

That night, we went out to dinner at Picco – a pizza and homemade ice cream place in the South End. They don’t take reservations for parties of less than 5 people, and when we got there it was a two hour wait for a table! Luckily, we were able to get spots at the bar after waiting only a few minutes.

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We ordered a pizza (with sauteed onions, garlic, mushrooms, and gruyere) and a calzone (with peppers, mushrooms, and spinach) to share:

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And since it was a celebration…a brownie sundae with homemade peanut butter chip and caramel swirl ice cream was in order:

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Wow wow wow – so good!

Sunday was the main birthday activity (yes, Noah’s birthday lasted all weekend). Noah and I have really enjoyed having succulents in our apartments in Jerusalem and Cambridge, and I discovered an activity called Plant Nite. It’s like the paint and wine nights that are becoming popular…except instead of making a picture, you make a terrarium with succulents! I seriously couldn’t believe this activity was a real thing, but I was really excited when I saw it because I thought we would have a lot of fun.

The event was held at a bar/restaurant in Boston. When we walked in, all the tables in the Plant Nite area were equipped with terrarium bowls and green tablecloths:

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We found a two-person table and snagged it right away because we only like talking to each other (joking…sort of). Excited to start:

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We made “winter wonderland” terrariums – which are like regular terrariums except with more sand art. Hard at work:

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Once the sand art was done, we could layer some soil in the pots (succulents have very shallow roots so you don’t need much soil):

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The final touch was accessorizing with rocks, moss, and figurines:

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Mine included an ironic rock:

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Plant Nite was a lot of fun, although I will say that the dudes in Boston really need to step it up because Noah was one of the only guys at this event!

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The final activity as part of the birthday celebration that I’ll mention is a game of X-wing that incorporated one of Noah’s birthday presents:

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Noah has really been enjoying X-wing lately. X-wing is a game that involves flying Star Wars ships, dodging meteors and trying to blow up the other person’s ships. As you can tell, the sophistication of my understanding of the game is still a little surface level – but I enjoy playing with Noah! I got him the play mat pictured above for his birthday since without it he needs to measure the appropriate amount of space to play on out every time. Let the games begin…

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Putting Presents to Good Use

Noah and I received several kitchen-related gifts lately that have brought us great joy. Number 1 on this list would definitely be a pizza stone from Noah’s parents for Chanukah. Noah has been making pizza about once a week with it, and my quality of life has undoubtedly improved.

Step 1:

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Step 2:

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Step 3:

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Repeat steps 1-3 with different topping combinations:

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The proud chef:

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Who needs to go out for date night when you have this at home?!:

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Two other wonderful gifts from Noah’s parents included the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Cookbook (also for Chanukah last month) and two, recently-delivered boxes of Harry and David Pears:

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The pears arrived last Thursday, so I thought they would be good to incorporate into a dessert for Shabbat dinner on Friday night. It seemed like the obvious choice to head to the King Arthur Cookbook for a good-looking pear recipe. I ended up making a few recipe adjustments based on what ingredients I had on hand, but the final result was a pear and blueberry tart:

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I think I put a tad too much cinnamon in at the end, but the tart was still fruity/sweet/good. I’m looking forward to more pears in the days to come!

Thank you, Paul and Eve, for the wonderful gifts!

Tu B’shvat – birthday for the trees!

Last Monday was Tu B’shvat – a Jewish holiday that is considered the “birthday for the trees.” The holiday has become symbolic for many different things such as:

  • a time to think about the ways in which Judaism and modern times call on us to be more “eco” and “green”
  • connecting to the land by eating different types of fruit, planting trees, or taking action to contribute to the ecosystem in positive ways
  • Kabbalistic (Jewish mysticism’s) teachings about how the four seasons and cycle of the trees represent our own layers as people
  • we, like trees, must always be continually searching and seeking personal and spiritual re-growth

There is also a custom (for some) to hold a seder on Tu B’shvat. Like the Passover seder, there are 4 cups of wine, but – unlike the Passover seder – there is not a fixed liturgy or script for the meal. A friend of mine and I collaborated (although she did most of the hard work!) to put together a seder for a meal with friends last Sunday night (at the beginning of the holiday). Given Tu B’shvat’s connection to trees, it is traditional to eat all the different kinds of fruit and tree foodstuffs at the meal: edible insides with inedible outer shells (nuts, oranges, etc), edible outside with inedible inner pit (plums, peaches, etc), and edible inside and outside (grapes, berries, etc). Each of these three categories of fruit are paired with the first three cups of wine. The fourth cup doesn’t have a particular type of fruit to eat with it, but we smell a fragrant fruit (fresh tart apples, lemon, etc). The fragrance – rather than the taste – of this last level of fruit recognizes the ultimate intangibility of the gifts we receive through food we eat as well as our inability to access the deepest levels of the spiritual world. We may not be able to *taste* complete divinity, but we can still *smell* it. Ah…I love Jewish symbolism. :)

Anyway, this fruit-filled meal was quite impressive.

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Food for a crowd:

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Complete with small seder plates at each seat featuring the seven species (the native “fruits” of the land of Israel – mentioned in Dvarim 8:8):

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I hope everyone gets to eat some fruit today. :)

Visiting Beaver Creek

Noah and I were in Beaver Creek this week on a ski vacation with my family! Beaver Creek is in Colorado, about two hours from Denver.

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We stayed at a condo in the Kiva, and the whole family loved the accommodations! The condo was a three bedroom with king beds and a bath for each room – this is nice because usually my baby brother (who is not so baby anymore) ends up having to sleep on a pullout or small bed, so the extra space here was really nice for everyone.

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There was also a spacious living room with a huge TV (which wasn’t really utilized much by our group…) as well as a kitchen with a big island. Bonus: there were two porches! It was pretty cold though, so I can’t say we spent much time on them:

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Throughout the week, the whole group did a combination of skiing and relaxation. Noah and I went cross-country skiing two days and downhill once. The first day of cross-country skiing was on the primary Beaver Creek ski mountain. We took a chairlift to the cross-country area and then were able to take the same chair back down. The skiing was much more challenging than the cross-country I’m used to. I think the difficulty was a combination of poor conditions (hard/icy snow) and simply the fact we were on a mountain (!) – as opposed to some of the open field areas I’m used to doing cross-country. Regardless, the views were absolutely gorgeous and we had some good laughs:

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After a few too many falls, Samuel decided he would be best served by walking:

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We all persevered though and eventually made it home. :)

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For the next cross-country ski trip, we drove over to Vail (about 20 minutes from Beaver Creek) to seek better conditions at the Vail Nordic Center. The extra drive definitely paid off! This was some of the best cross-country skiing I’ve ever done. The trails were doable but still challenging in areas (it was on a golf course), and the landscape was beautiful. I felt like I really hit my stride a few times and left feeling totally exhausted. For this second ski trip I went with my Papa and Noah. Noah is an expect skier compared to us, so it was fun to watch him do his thing…

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…while we tried our best:

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Overall, a fabulous and fun ski outing. :)

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While the skiing was nice, it was also a real treat to have time to just sit around, relax, read, catch up on personal projects, and all that stuff that seems to fall by the wayside during busy semester schedules.

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Noah attempted to keep us warm by keeping the fireplace going (a difficult task because all the wood was outside on the wet, snowy porch!):

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And, of course, no ski vacation is complete without PIZZA:

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Happy winter. :)

A Few Final Israel Moments

My last post mentioned some of the meetings and educational tours I had during my last Israel trip, and here are a few of the food and location shots that didn’t make it in…

One of my favorite meals during my recent Israel trip was this outdoor lunch at Cafe Greg at the Old Port in Tel Aviv:

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Cafe Greg is a chain around Israel, but I actually really love their salads and, especially, their version of Israeli breakfast.

The group also took a spontaneous trip to Cinema City:

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Besides playing with the new lifesize Star Wars figures, I also snagged lunch at Moshe Burger (see my post here for pictures of their food). The burger was great!

I spent a nice afternoon at the Tahana Rishona – one of my favorite Jerusalem spots!:

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While it was hard to saw goodbye to Israel at the end of the trip, I was so happy I was able to visit so many favorite spots (and favorite meals!) during my trip. It also helps that I know I’ll be back there again next winter. :)

 

Traveling around Israel

After my week of relaxation in Jerusalem, I spent a week and a half traveling around the country with my grad school program. We meet with various organizations and leaders and had many challenging, interesting, wonderful conversations. The trip started in Tel Aviv. I got to the hotel before the rest of the group, so I had a few hours before starting the busy trip itinerary. I checked in at the Hotel Metropolitan – it was comfortable and clean with rooms that slept two comfortably:

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I love the little things that indicate you’re in Israel…such as every hotel room having a mezuzah on the door:

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After checking into the hotel, I had a few hours to kill so I visited Shuk HaCarmel, Tel Aviv’s primary outdoor shuk (market):

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I also walked along the beach for a bit, enjoying the sights and sounds of the promenade:

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The Tel Aviv promenade along the beach is one of my all-time favorite places to run, and the next morning I had a great jog, pausing to take in the view towards Jaffa and back towards the Tel Aviv city center:

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I also loved this Ben Gurion statue along the beach, upside-down in his iconic headstand:

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As for the formal trip itself, some highlights included a visit to the Knesset where we talked with Michael Oren and Ksenia Svetlova:

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A Tel Aviv walking tour (pictures below were taken in Rabin Square):

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A tour of the security barrier, talking about the structure itself as well its purpose and challenges:

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A visit to the ruins of Yamit (a town forcibly evacuated of Jewish settlers in 1982) and a tour around the Gaza borders. The shattered tiles below are remains from a bulldozed bathroom wall:

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A visit to Nitzana, an educational youth village in Southern Israel in the Negev (the Hebrew translation of the phrase pictured below is “If you want to create a change, you need to live the change.”):

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A tour of the Old City in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter on Christmas Day (pictures below are from inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre):

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And – the most memorable part of the trip – a visit to the Holot Detention Center, a manifestation of Israel’s attempts to manage its refugee crisis. From 2004-2012, tens of thousands of refugees entered Israel from Eritrea and Sudan. Most of the refugees do not have work permits and are not legal residents of Israel. Yet, Israel is unwilling to forcibly send them back to their countries of origin given the dangers there. Unprepared to handle the situation, one of Israel’s attempts to manage the crisis is Holot – a refugee detention center in the Negev. Holding thousands of male refugees, residents are expected to be at the camp from 10pm-6am each day (although they can leave outside of those times so long as they are present for twice-daily roll calls). Without work visas, the people at the detention center have very little to do each day, causing additional challenges.

These pictures are from a market outside of the detention center’s fences where many of the residents spend their days:

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And we also had some views towards the fences of the detention center itself:

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The last meeting of the trip that I’ll mention was an evening with a leadership youth program for Bedouin teens (the program only exists for boys right now, although they are planning to start one for girls soon). The program is called Stars of the Negev, and we had a fascinating evening meeting with them in a tent, drinking tea, and asking questions about their community:

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The educational part of the trip was fascinating, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of so many interesting conversations. Stay tuned soon for a quick recap of some of the more light-hearted parts of the trip!

Back in the Holy Land

I was fortunate enough to have a glorious two-and-a-half weeks back in Israel this December! I spent the first week relaxing on my own in Jerusalem, seeing friends, eating at favorite restaurants, and re-exploring my favorite neighborhoods. It was wonderful. On my first evening there, I went to Caffit (one of my favorite Jerusalem restaurants) with a friend. I had a cappuchino, the famous Oreganato Sweet Potato salad, and my friend ordered a bulgur and mushroom dish:

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The next morning, I went for a walk around the neighborhood and checked out Noah’s and my old street and apartment. It looks like they finally finished the construction that had been going on for most of last year!

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I enjoyed a lazy Friday morning with an Israeli breakfast, sitting outside at my favorite Jerusalem cafe – Kadosh:

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Other highlights from my week included running along the rekevet:

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Israeli produce (!!!):

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A good old-fashioned fry fest with some of my classmates from last year (reminiscent of last year’s Chanukah fry fest):

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Many trips to Aroma:

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And, of course, just generally walking around the Jerusalem streets and alleys:

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Emek Refaim has some interesting new decoration in the form of these spandex decorations:

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Slightly bizarre, but okayyy.

And a few final tidbits…

Star Wars dominates the holy land too:

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And when I saw this baby playing (sans parents) in the hall of Hadar Mall, all I could think was, so Israel.”

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More about the rest of my trip coming soon!