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Friday, June 09, 2006


Truth be told, with the exception of winter, it's always bee season.  By this I mean that for a beekeeper (amateur or otherwise) there is always something to be done to help the bees do what they want to do naturally.   For the most part that means rearranging the frames inside the hives to make it more convenient for the queen to lay her eggs... and creating more space for the workers to store the nectar that will become the honey.

In fact, even winter is bee season around here because frames and hives need to be built and/or repaired.

But right now is a really busy time with my bees because we are just coming off a big bloom of several different kinds of flowers here in Gush Etzion and the bees should be almost out of room to store nectar and honey.  So instead of doing a photo Friday today Gilad and I are going to be out rearranging frames... adding another couple of honey supers...  and maybe even stealing a taste of comb honey for Shabbat.

Update:  OK, we didn't steal any honey, but Gilad and I did a good afternoon's work.

Here is my able assistant getting ready to help me open one of the hives:

Once a hive is opened we have to work gently but quickly so as to cause the minimum of disturbance to the bees.

This is a frame of newly capped honey.  Most of the frames look like this now.  But because there is still room for the bees to store more honey towards the bottom and edges of the frame, I'm going to wait a week or two before taking any of them out and extracting the honey:

Shabbat Shalom!


Posted by David Bogner on June 9, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pulling the wool over her eyes

During daily, Shabbat and Holiday morning synagogue services in Israel (and on the mornings of Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur in the Diaspora), the Kohanim (the direct patrilineal descendants of Moses' big brother, Aaron) walk to the front of the synagogue, pull their tallitot (prayer shawls) over their heads and upraised hands, and offer the same priestly blessing to the congregation which Aaron's descendants have been giving the Jewish people since Temple times (but in Hebrew, of course):

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord shine His face upon you
May the Lord lift His countenance upon you, and grant you peace

     (Numbers 6:23-27)

I know this blessing by heart, mostly because this is the second part of the blessing I give my kids at the Shabbat table before dinner every Friday night.  But it is also because receiving the blessing in synagogue has always been a bonding time for the kids and me.

You see, since Ariella and Gilad were toddlers they have been coming with me to shul (synagogue).  Each time the Kohanim got up give their blessing, the kids would join me under my tallit (there is a custom to pull one's tallit over the head and not look directly at the Kohanim during the blessing) and we would all huddle there under the tallit letting the ancient words wash over us.

Early on, the kids didn't quite get the point of the exercise, but they knew a fun thing when they saw it and treated the event with the same enthusiasm as they would if they were playing 'fort' under a blanket draped over a couple of dining-room chairs. 

It didn't matter where they were when the time came for the blessing.  They could be playing out in the hall outside the sanctuary, running around on the playground or trying to charm sweets from the shul candy-man. The moment the Kohanim began walking up to give their blessing, Ari and Gilly would suddenly be at my side, ready to 'hide and giggle' with me under my tallit

As the Kohanim would begin their blessing, each of the kids would press their heads against my chest and whisper, "Abba, I can hear your heart!"  No wonder, as my heart would almost leap from my chest each time we hid ourselves together under the soft white wool.

As the years passed and they became active participants (rather than transients) in morning services, they still joined me under my tallit.  But instead of giggling and trying to sneak a peek at the Kohanim, they stood with their heads bowed under my hands, listening quietly to my heart and enjoying the closeness of the moment.

Each time the blessing would finish, I removed my tallit... gave each of the kids a kiss and then we would take a few steps apart to continue with the service.

But as Ariella got older, she started spending more time in the women's section of the synagogue during services. 

At first she would still find her way into the men's section for the blessing... but after a while she stopped coming.  The first time this happened I looked around and caught her eye over the mechitza (the dividing curtain).  She smiled, blew me a kiss and shrugged. 

As we walked home hand-in-hand from services that day, she explained that she was too old to come into the men's section now and preferred to sit with the women (meaning her friends).  As I glanced down and saw her, quite literally, standing in her mother's shoes, I knew she was right... but I still wasn't really ready for the separation.  What father ever is.

Now that our toddler Yonah has started to come with us to services on Shabbat mornings, he giggles and squirms under my tallit just as his older siblings did.  When this happens, Gilly - with no recollection of his own giggling days - looks up at me and rolls his eyes sagely at Yonah's childish antics. 

And afterwords as I'm giving Gilad and Yonah their kisses, I still manage to catch Ariella's eye over the mechitza... and she still discretely blows me her own kiss.  But it isn't really the same. 

Even Yonah with joining us as we 'hide' ourselves from the upraised hands of the Kohanim, this new squirmy participant still has a long ways to go to be able to fill the shoes of the original member of our 'hiding under the blanket' club.  And the truth is, Yonah could never take Ariella's place under my tallit... he can only create his own. 

I know the reasons why Ariella and I need our own space to pray these days.  Neither of us would want it any other way.  But I have to admit that for the few moments when I see the Kohanim begin their walk up to bless the assembled crowd, I wish I could still pull Ari's warm cheek against my chest and watch her furrowed brow as she listens intently to my heartbeat in her ear... and pull the wool over her sparkling hazel eyes just one more time.


Posted by David Bogner on June 8, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (26) | TrackBack

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In which David reveals his inner old fogey

Just tossing out a question here...

Is there any hideous or offensive American or European trend that Israeli kids won't embrace?  I'm serious... are Israelis not reviled enough by the rest of the world that we need to emulate the most off-putting habits and 'styles' from the sordid underbelly of foreign cultures?

Take, for example, face/body 'jewelry'.

I'm begging you... Please stop.

For the record, the third and even fourth earrings were kinda cute... and maybe even a little edgy.  And the microscopic twinkle from your discrete little nose stud was enticing in a vaguely Indian sort of way.  But this headlong dash to see how many piercings can fit on the ever-increasing canvas of your exposed skin is starting to become, well... revolting. 

If you were going for that 'non-conformist' thing... that train left the Berkeley station about 15-20 years ago, and there wasn't a seat left on it.  If you were just going for the shock value, you missed that mark as well and landed instead on something approaching self-parody.

Hint:  If I can see the clear outline of your barbell nipple piercings through your shirt, or you look like you fell face-first into a box full of fishing tackle... you've passed fashion statement and moved into self-mutilation.

Same goes for tattoos.  Although Judaism has traditionally taken a dour stance on tattoos, I have to admit that I used to enjoy eating my lunch out on 7th Avenue in the summertime and seeing a tiny tattooed flower peeking out from a passing ankle or shoulder-blade (not that I was looking, mind you!).

But I am seeing more and more Israeli teens going in for huge, ornate tribal tattoos on the small of the back or around the upper arms, and it makes me wonder if the cultural disconnect is deliberate. 

Besides the obvious downside to buying a piece of 'artwork' that you can never 'take down off the wall' (at least without surgery), isn't there even a twinge of revulsion at making such a permanent mark on one's body so soon after the Nazis were forced to close the world's largest tattoo parlor?

Throw in other self-destructive trends like smoking and drugs (both of which are on the rise here among teens) and my inner old fogey is left to wonder what is broken in our society that it feels it must be 'open minded' and accept these new manifestations of 'youthful rebellion' as exotic and foreign. 

If our teens need to borrow from the nations why don't they adopt the Japanese sense of duty... the German flair for industry... the Swiss penchant for neutrality?

OK, I'm shutting up now.  If you need me I'll be out on the porch in my rocking chair.


Posted by David Bogner on June 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (39) | TrackBack

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bubbles of longing

Some longtime readers may remember that I have a soft spot for John Steinbeck. Particularly for two stories set in Monterey California; 'Cannery Row' and 'Sweet Thursday'.

Every few years I reread them and have never really given much thought to what draws me back.  However, the personal story of a journaler I follow has finally helped me figured it out.

The central character around which both books revolve is a man called 'Doc'.  He is a marine biologist who lives on the row and makes his living collecting specimens from the sea, and selling them to schools and universities.

I never realized it before, but I have always loved Doc.  Every other character in the two stories  looks to Doc for help or advice... and without exception they all have the deepest desire and purest intention to 'do something nice for Doc someday'.

The problem is, the characters with which Steinbeck has populated Doc's small world are poor... or even indigent... and mostly are left to simply wish that fate or G-d or provenance will intercede on their behalf and 'do something nice for Doc'.

We all know someone like that... a person whose very existence makes us happy just thinking about them... a person from whom we receive wisdom, or even joy.  Invariably when we see these people (or even think about them) our thoughts turn to how much we wish good things for them.

If we were children we would rush to action and draw a picture or pick a flower and run without hesitation to let the person know how special they are... how important their happiness is to us.

But we aren't children... and we seem to have forgotten how to channel our braided feelings of gratitude, affection and bonhomie.

These two Steinbeck books give us a rare glimpse at the inner workings of this lovable man called 'Doc'  We are told that his soul sings in three voices. 

"The top voice of his mind sang peacefulness and order, and the raucous middle voice was gentle; it rumbled and snarled but could not be heard.  The lower voice of all was silent, dreaming of a warm safe sea." *

This description of his inner contentment came from a point in 'Sweet Thursday' where Doc was happy with his lot... doing the familiar work that made him comfortable and safe.  He was content.

This type of personal contentment was a large part of what first attracted me (and likely most other readers) to Doc's character.  He was a rare uncomplicated person who had identified the things that made him most secure and happy... and he spent his time quietly celebrating those things away from the prying eyes of the rest of the world.

This quality of personal contentment/fulfillment... of being truly happy with her lot... is also what first attracted me to a San Francisco journaler/artist/photographer named Andrea Scher

I have been reading Andrea for years as she has modestly allowed a peek at the things that make her happy; her husband, her friends, her artwork, her photography... her life. 

Andrea's the journaler I want to be when I grow up!

Nearly every one of her posts is a conduit to her inner voices.  Although she has hundreds, or even thousands, of readers... each one is made to feel that a rare confidence has been imparted... a secret shared. 

Andrea's top voice is always full of plans and excitement... her middle voice sings primly of a penchant for sensible decadence and quiet hedonism.  And her bottom voice has always been a quiet lullaby of contentment with her life, her love... her world.

But things are not always as they seem... especially to our heroes.

When Doc is alone with himself in his laboratory late at night struggling unconsciously to define what is suddenly missing from his life... a life that everyone else assumes is perfect and complete... he is startled when "the bottom voice mourned "Lonesome!  Lonesome!  Let me up into the light and warmth! Lonesome!"" **

Amid the beautiful photographs... the stunning jewelry creations... the descriptions of friends and celebrations... the personal and professional adventures and successes... Andrea has occasionally allowed us to hear a small whisper of her most private lower voice. 

In so many of her photographs Andrea documented her friend's transition through the beautiful stages of pregnancy and motherhood.  Yet for those who followed her writing and tracked the trajectory of her charmed life, a careful observer could discern something missing... a picture hanging slightly askew.

Doc had been startled by the simple message delivered by his inner voice, but he immersed himself in the things that had always made him happy in an attempt to rediscover the calm, happy person who people found it so easy to love and be around.  But that person had changed... and was no longer there.  His friends sensed the change even before he fully admitted it to himself.

Doc's inner longing finally bubbled unbidden to the surface while he sat in a restaurant with the woman who had unwittingly made him aware of the void in his life.  As he sat across the table from her, "the low voice of Doc's gut burst through at last.  "I'm lonely", he said. He said it as a simple matter of fact and he said it in wonder. Then he apologized." ***

Andrea had such a lapse a few months ago on her site.  She isn't the type to be an infertility blogger or to rage at the unfairness of all the people she loves and respects moving on to this next stage in life without her.  Yet she allowed her readers a rare peek at her inner disappointment and loneliness... and in typical Superhero fashion, managed to comfort her readers when it was she who so clearly needed a hug.

I've juxtaposed these two lives... one fictional and one real... to point out that sometimes our heroes are rewarded with some of the good things we wish for them.  Sometimes fate or providence or G-d seem to answer the innermost pleas of those about whom we care.

I don't know if this is what has happened with Andrea and her husband, but I'd like to think that sometimes... when someone's inner longing for personal completion is allowed to innocently bubble to the surface... we are allowed to see 'nice things' come to those who richly deserve them.

This is obviously not always the case.  In life - as in fiction - there are also sad endings and tragedies.  Not every hero we root for is allowed to end up with the prize.  This is why I can't bring myself to shout the happy stuff I'm feeling right now.  I'm bound by my knowledge of both tradition and literature to confine my excitement to a simmer of quiet optimism. 

For those who don't understand Hebrew (or who might be confused by the incongruity of saying 'at a good time' to an expectant mother, instead of something like 'congratulations' or 'Mazal Tov')... we superstitious Jews shy away from making a fuss over good news that has yet to come to fruition, so we grin like idiots and obliquely mention that 'things should happen 'at a good time'.

B'Sha'ah Tovah Andrea!   

[Thank you to my lovely wife Zahava for practically shouting "Go read Andrea right this second" when I staggered in from work a little after 11:00 last night.]

* Source, ** Source, *** Source


Posted by David Bogner on June 5, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Photo Thursday/Friday (vol. LXVI) [Shavuot edition]

Few words... lots of pics.  Just the way it should be.

I got a couple of email requests for pictures of my Ersatz Kahlua Chocolate Cheesecake (recipe here), so I had one of my able assistants take a few pictures while it was still a work in progress:

After processing the dessert topping with milk, I added the sugar, ersatz Kahlua, cream cheese... and of course the melted chocolate chips:

Once the chocolate and other ingredients are nicely blended it is time to add it to the chocolate butter crumb crust you prepared in your spring-form pan:

When you've finished this step it should look something like this:

Toss that in the 'fridge while you whip your heavy cream... and voila (or should I say walla?)!

Chag Shavuot Sameach!

Posted by David Bogner on June 1, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22) | TrackBack