TEDx Jerusalem Women?

tedOn Friday I went to a taping of a TEDx Women’s event in Jerusalem. I looked forward to the event for weeks, being a fan of TED, anticipating all the wonderful people I would meet, attending an “event”, all good things.

I also had a bit of trepidation.  You see, I don’t like “women’s” events.  I don’t live in a women’s world; I have 6 boys, love competitive games, and like science.  I don’t like high-heeled shoes, wearing perfume, or focusing on fancy jewelry.  I don’t even like flowers!  Besides not liking women’s events, I don’t even consider myself a feminist.  Something about the word bothers me.  Now, I was raised on the religion of the Democratic Party and am pretty liberal in my world view.  I believe in equal rights regardless of religion, race, sexual preference, and yes, even gender, but I consider myself to be more of a humanist rather than a feminist.  Why do I need to limit my views on equality to women?

And yet, here I was, signed up for TEDx Jerusalem WOMEN.  And I was excited.  I even considered signing up for the open mike session. Because of my busy schedule in the days leading up to the TED event, and my indecision about what exactly I would speak about for 5 minutes, I didn’t apply.  I came up with about 5 topics I thought I could speak about for 5 minutes:  the international book project I started, building community through cooperative summer camp, sharing my story to empower Millennials and others to take control of their lives, and so on.  But as I sat through the TEDx event, a strange uncomfortableness started to creep up on me and a realization that the 5 minute open mike segment that I needed to give  was on none of those topics.

The TEDx event consisted of a mingling of 3 main speakers, 4 taped segments from the main TED event in Los Angeles, a comedian, a singer/songwriter, and 9 open mike speakers.  There were 18 women speakers in all and not one of them spoke about Motherhood.  Sure, many spoke about their challenges in combining raising children and having a career, but not a single one spoke about the choice which some women make to put their previous occupations on hold and to simply be a mother.

I became pregnant while in graduate school.  I had been married for over a year and the time was right for starting a family.  I had completed my bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, summa cum laude, and was then studying Physical Organic Chemistry in a PhD program at Carnegie Mellon University.  I was raised as part of  Generation X, with the world-view that I could do it all.  I could have the high-powered job, the advanced education, the active, healthy family life, the involvement in my community, and be independent.  I very much wanted to have children and assumed that they would be put in the best day care, while my husband and I went off to work, sharing quality moments as a family in the evenings and on the weekends.

And then Rafi was born.  I discovered that I knew absolutely nothing about being a parent – and I am not talking about the nuts and bolts about feeding and bathing and holding.  I am talking about the emotional response I had to him.  I actually really loved him, and he loved me (this was a big shocker to me – did I mention that I didn’t like children prior to becoming a mother??).  I was exhausted by taking care of him – no one told me about the exhaustion.  And I was learning things about myself and my world at a rate which could not be matched by any doctorate program.

But, I was committed to going back to school.  My professor was waiting for me.  And when Rafi was 10 days old, I went to the office for my first office hours.  My professor was really understanding for the first few months and gave me things that I could mostly do at home, with only the occasional foray into school.  At the age of 4.5 months, Rafi went into full-time day care, the best in the neighborhood, from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.  My husband and I shifted our work schedules to extend our days because even those hours were not sufficient for our occupations.  And as time went on, I became more and more miserable.

Finally, when Rafi turned 1 year old, I decided, with the encouragement of my husband, to make a switch in my occupation and become a stay-at-home mom – not because I had nothing else to do, but because I had nothing else I wanted to do.  I finished my master’s degree (the consolation prize) in 6 months and took up my new occupation – stay-at-home mom.

Even the name “stay-at-home mom” is bogus because we did anything but stay at home.  I embraced my new occupation with a passion, seeking out professional peers who would lend encouragement and give advice when I was facing some new challenge.  They supported my right to make decisions about my parenting and lifestyle.  It was great!  Yes, there were some challenges, things I had to give up, hard decisions that needed to be made.  That is part of life.  But I was immensely more happy in my parenting occupation than in my previous occupation.

Through the 20 years as a stay-at-home mom, I grew in skill as my children grew.  I became an expert on teaching informally because when I saw gaps in their educational experience, I tried my best to fill them.  I became involved with building community because I wanted my children to be surrounded by others (adults and peers) to round out their world.  I taught interpersonal skills as I interacted with them intensely.  I became an advocate when my son became very sick.  Any quantitative quality with which you could measure an employment environment was met by my new occupation.  Even financial goals were met, as my husband was able to fully focus on developing his career, knowing full well that all at home was being managed.

I ran into a glitch in my otherwise flawless story when I encountered the outside world, and often feminists were the worst. There is no greater conversation stopper at a social gathering than answering “I’m a mom” to the question of what your job is. Stereotypes rule these social situations.  Apparently, moms are not that interesting.  Apparently, moms are not that intelligent. Apparently, moms have nothing to contribute in any social setting that does not involve their children.

People think that you took the easy way, or have some sort of charmed life, drinking coffee at the cafe and getting your nails done.  They think, “What does she DO all day?  Doesn’t she go crazy?  Doesn’t she want to better herself?”  Men think that all of your thoughts are around “female” topics, and they aren’t interested/comfortable with those discussions.  Women whose occupation is outside of the home may have feelings of guilt, thinking that they should be at home with their kids.

But feminists tend to be the worst.  They look at you as a failure. They have children and a career; what’s wrong with you that you can’t do both?  They are advancing the cause of gender equality and you are stuck in the last century.  What a pity.

What a pity, indeed.  Instead of being an advocate for choice, feminists are really just falling into the anti-choice dictates of the past, mimicking the idea that some choices are ok for women and some aren’t.

So I was disappointed by the TEDx Jerusalem Women event. Disappointed that even among ourselves, we don’t stand up for the occupation of being a mom.  That no speaker spoke about the challenges and joys of an evolving life – first academic, then mom, then something else.

That those who purport to organize an event dedicated to women’s rights, ignore the most female right of all – the right to choose to be a mother.

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Sirens

holocaust remembrance day 2015Today, Israel stopped for 2 minutes for a siren.  Every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, sirens sound at 10:00 a.m.  Cars on the roads pull over and let their occupants out to stand in testament to the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust.  Shoppers stop, carts full, in the grocery story.  In every office, workers pause and stand for 2 minutes.  And I, hanging laundry in the bright sunshine, also stopped, the wail of the siren reverberating in my ears so much it hurt.  I, too, remembered the victims of the Holocaust.  The ones who died and the ones who lived.  But I couldn’t help my mind from racing.

Sirens.  Why are we standing here?  We only have 90 seconds to reach the nearest shelter (or less depending on where you were).  I was taken back to sirens in my experience, the sirens warning of a rocket attack during Operation Protective Edge (Gaza War – 2014) last summer.  I have written about the effect of sirens on Lou, my grandson here.  But a few weeks ago, I was faced again with the confusion of those who did not experience last summer in Israel, during a recent tour with some businessmen.

“We understand there was a war, but it didn’t really affect you, did it?”

People don’t understand how small Israel is.  Israel is the size of New Jersey and there is no place in this small country that even fairly simple rockets can’t hit.  The rockets used in the attacks were assembled in Gaza, not shipped in from a large munitions factory in a world superpower.  And yet, they succeeded in reaching Haifa, Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv.  Jerusalem, with its large Arab population and important Islamic sites, was not spared.  It is an interesting note that Gazans were willing to fire on the third holiest site in Islam in order to kill Jews.

And I guess that pulls me to another parallel.  Another layer has been added to the Israeli experience.  When we remember the horrors of the holocaust during the two minutes of sirens, we add our own experiences to the past collective memory.

Every year during the Passover Seder, we reenact the Exodus from Egypt.  We retell the horrific events and see them to their resolution.  It is not a cold, dry retelling of long-gone events. But rather, “Each person is obligated to see himself as though he came out of Egypt,” states the Hagadah.  We are commanded to turn the story into our own, to layer our personal experience on the accumulated collective one.

So back to the sirens, we, now have first-hand experience on what it is to be a nation under siege.  We know what it is when a people rise up against us to obliterate us.  We look for “shelter selfies” on facebook to know that all our kids are o.k. The Palestinians want to push Israel into the sea.  They have been saying it for decades. Their maps do not include a Jewish state at all.  And then they shoot rockets.  Israelis, including Israeli Arabs are pushed into their bomb shelters, random stairwells, and lay on the ground with their bodies covering their children, in order to protect themselves against an all-out war against us as a people.

Luckily for us in 2014, the entire operation only lasted a few weeks.  Luckily for us, we didn’t lose 6 million Jews (the approximate Jewish population of the State of Israel today).  Luckily for us, we had the Iron Dome to minimize casualties.  In no way does our experience with sirens match the horrors of the Holocaust.  And yet, we are able to connect to the Holocaust this year in a new way, adding our own personal stories of anguish, trepidation, courage, survival, and hope for a better world.

“We understand there was a Holocaust long ago, in the time of your grandparents, but it didn’t really affect you, did it?”

Each person needs to answer this question for himself,  but as for me, it makes me stronger, more resolute, and more sure of the path I take today.

Three Boys

three boys

In my family, we hitchhike. In my family, we pick up hitchhikers. We ask for and receive help from random people we meet. We belong to a community and accept others into our community.

We live as Jews with smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts.

As I look at the myriad of pictures of the three boys, Gil-ad, Ayal, and Naftali, I see the faces of my children and my friends. Happy, proud Jews living in our land.

Apart from the terrible loss of these three boys, our boys, I worry about the future. We need strength to continue to raise our children with hope and trust. I don’t want my children to live in a world where you don’t help others because of the “what if’s”; I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that strangers are dangerous.

No, and No.

To take away our sense of family, of unity, of security in our own land is to give victory to the terrorists. The minute we become strangers to each other and to the land, is the moment when we have given up on the promise and the hope.
May G-d give us all strength to continue on the path.
Am Israel Hai!

Silence

modiin dayWe are coming up to the holiday of Passover.  And it occurs to me that my life over the last few years has a lot of parallels to that first Passover.

The children of Israel were in Egypt in a situation which was getting increasingly worse, not only for them, but at the end also for those around them.

And then it happened.  In haste, they left Egypt.  They didn’t have time for the correct preparations.  They didn’t have time for a normal meal.  They sat with their children and their neighbors and waited for the moment when they would leave Egypt.  They didn’t have time to dream.

And then, when the time came, they couldn’t even leave under their own power.  With an outstretched hand, God took them out of Egypt. God pushed them from one reality to another.  They missed the watermelon and the eggplant.  They doubted leaving the known of Egypt for an unknown future.  What would they eat?  What would they drink?  Where was the illustrious “Land of Milk and Honey”? Questions they had.  Answers fewer.  After the events of the first few months, the drowning of the Egyptians and the receiving of the Torah, the sin of the Golden Calf,  after the fanfare and the fireworks, it started.

What it?  The silence – the 38 years of wandering and wondering. And what remains for us is this, silence.  No stories, no laws, nothing.  Day after day of existence – simple existence.

And then, as suddenly as it started, they were on the opposite bank of the Jordan, across the area of Qesr al-Yehud of today.  Their new reality was in front of them; a new mission, a new land, new dreams.  They had new inspiration and new connections.  They knew who was in their tribe and where they were meant to be.  Moshe, in a series of short snippets, gave them the entire book of Deuteronomy in a single month to prepare them for the next phase.

And then, they worked to fulfill those dreams.  Building one day onto the next and working toward something – not simply existing but moving forward.  They were not always successful – they lost at Ai, suffered with civil war,  ignored prophets and followed evil kings – but they worked toward a goal.  We read about all those events in the books of the prophets.  Scroll after scroll of stories written about a people who found a goal after a silence.

Silence is where I am these days.  I justify it away.  I tell myself it takes time.  And it is true that I feel that my everyday life is existence, just existence.  I look for inspiration on Facebook.  I don’t write enough.  I don’t have a plan.  And perhaps more troubling for me, I don’t have dreams. This lack of dreams is intertwined with a lack of stories.  Nothing new.  Nothing worth weaving a story around.  Silent and storyless.

And then, I realize that I need to get my life back on track.  I am o.k.  My kids are fabulous.  My friends are my family.  I have some work I love.  Thank God.  Thank God.  And now I need to find the inspiration, to dream.

It’s a rough spot.  Usually, I am providing inspiration for others – putting pieces together to make a coherent whole which will touch you spiritually, cognitively,  or otherwise.  That is the way I guide.

Part of the puzzle came together through a comment by a stranger. Someone who commented about the quality of my posts. And I realize that I have neglected my writing.  Writing is part of me and something I love.  That part of the dream has been silent – but it doesn’t need to be.  Going back to writing is awakening part of myself.  I need to find the other parts, do those things which make me supremely happy.  They are part of the dream as well.

With Passover just ahead, I need to refocus on being a  guide for myself.  I need to find the pieces which make me who I am and put them together into a coherent whole – to find a dream.

It’s there, I know it is.  Just beyond Qesr al-Yehud….

The Most Daring Thing

“My servant, Moses, is dead. Prepare to cross the Jordan, together with all this people, into the land that I am giving to Bnei Israel.”  Joshua 1:2

Over the past week, I embarked with 17 others on a classic Israeli journey called Yam L’Yam. The trip starts at the Mediterranean Sea and 85 or so kilometers later (about 55 miles) ends at the Sea of Galilee. Our goal – to have a great time, enjoying the beauty of Israel and the company of friends as we traveled across Israel. We planned for the last few months, some of our group went on practice hikes with packed bags on Fridays, we had planning meetings and google docs and yahoo groups. We made reservations, gathered up the gear we thought we needed, checked the maps, read blogs.

The hike is generally done in 3, 4, or 5 days. (Although I have a friend who has a friend who said he did it in one, 22-hour day – if it sounds like a fish tale, it probably is one.) Since our group ranged in age from 13 to 60, and we wanted to do it in one week so we could be home for Shabbat, we decided to plan the 4 day option – Monday through Thursday. We would use Sunday as a travel day to get to the beginning of the trail, and hire a mini-bus to take us home on Thursday night. This expedition would take the place of our annual summer “Friends’ Vacation”, a time that we generally dedicate to hiking, touring and having a good time together. This trip would vary from our standard vacation – we would be sleeping outside most nights, carrying our gear, and relying on our wits and our feet to carry us along. No one brought a car.

 

yam l'yam train

It’s interesting traveling in a group with 18 people. Although we spend a decent amount of time together generally, being together 24 hours a day is a different experience. Moving 18 people, feeding 18 people, taking care that no one is left behind emotionally, physically, or mentally is sometimes a challenge and

 

requires a good amount of patience and empathy.

 

Building community is one of my life’s focuses. I came to Israel seeking to be a part of a community, and have found satisfaction for the last 19 years in helping to build community locally in Chashmonaim and nationally. I build webs of people who genuinely care about each other, wherever I go and with whomever I meet. Much of my work over the past 19 years, especially my work with Taglit/Birthright, focuses on the importance of community affiliation.

Why is community important? Numerous studies show that connection to community lengthens our lives by as much as 14 years! Despite this, and despite the flourishing of electronic communities, people today feel less connected than ever. Average Americans claim to have 1.5 friends on average despite what their Facebook account tells them. Sad.

According to Kurt Vonnegut, “What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.”

As we went through our trek, our group had to deal with many challenges – the heat, the lack of water, our crazily heavy packs, mosquitoes, wild boars, naked Nachmanites at 2:00 A.M. There were fears, anger, and disappointment. Through it all, though, we stuck together as a group, drawing on each other’s strengths to pull us through the challenges. We figured out which changes to our plans needed to be made in order to accomplish our goals – not just our individual goals, but our group goals.

People told us that attempting this hike with so many people was foolish and was sure to end in failure. And maybe for the ME generational outlook, the way our Sea to Sea trek ended would be considered a “failure”. Those of us on the trek understood it much differently. It was a most daring thing and ended in complete success.

Bringing Sites to People

One thing that you learn in the Tour Guide course is where things are. We all dutifully write down exact directions on how to get to those familiar and not-so-familiar sites, where to park the bus, where to find the bathrooms. By studying all these notes, one becomes very good at bringing the people to sites which they may find interesting. We also learn which sites will speak to different groups in order to build itineraries with sites that are appropriate.

We learn how to bring people to sites

But not how to bring sites to people.

When you are interested in bringing sites to people, first you need to know who the participants are from where they are coming – not just in a geographical sense, but also in a more sociological, demographic sense.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of guiding an extended family group, here in Israel celebrating the grandfather’s birthday. There were quite a number of little kids, some teens, some adults. I suggested to them a day which centered around events in I Samuel 4 – the story of Even HaEzer. The first site was Izbet Sartah, an out-of-the-way site that I was pretty sure would be a new destination for both the Israelis and the visitors in the group.

I have guided Izbet Sartah before, but only for groups of adults. Generally, I talk about three themes there – development of domestic architecture and its impact on society, early Hebrew alphabet and the presence of scribal tradition in an early agricultural community, and the story of Even HaEzer. My challenge yesterday was how to convey those same three themes to the under 8 crowd.

First I tackled the issue of the alphabet. I took a ceramic planter from my yard that was already broken and smashed it creating pottery shards. I gave each person a marker, a shard and a copy of the early Hebrew letters which were found in Izbet Sartah in the abecedary from the 13th century B.C.E. and had them write their name in this ancient script. While they were writing, I was able to walk around to the adults and give them a bit more content.
izbet-sartah-inscription

Secondly, the family members put on a play about the story of Izbet Sartah. I brought a script, costumes, props and divided out the parts. They took a few minutes to organize themselves and then put on the play for the few spectators. They even had a camera man!

Lastly, each family tried to find one room of the four-roomed house which was excavated in Izbet Sartah. After each family “staked out” their room, we talked about the function of each room and what it would have looked like 3000 years ago.

Each group I guide has its own unique character. The goal is to try to bring sites, history and context alive so it is accessible to the group you are currently guiding.

Knowing facts and mountains of information is cool; but seeing someone connect with what you are telling them, beats everything.

Tell Me a Story….

Being a tour guide is not only amassing facts and understanding the history, science, topography and ideas of a place, it is also about being a good story teller.  When I am guiding, my story telling is about actual people and events, but understanding how a story is built is key whether you are dealing with fiction or non-fiction.

Six years ago, in my constant search not only to inject content in my children’s education, but also to get them to “think out of the box”, I developed an idea.  I call it cooperative fiction.  The aim of cooperative fiction is to stretch your brain, while learning about what it takes to make a good story, how to develop plot, story arc, character development.  Writers of differing ages and abilities sign up with the project, basic guidelines are set, and the project is launched.

Each writer writes the first chapter of a multi-chapter book.  After a week, the developing books are reassigned to another writer who, after reading chapter 1, must then write a chapter 2 continuing the story line.  This continues until the set amount of chapters is reached, usually between 6 and 8 chapters.  Discussion of the books between authors is not allowed, thus insuring that each author comes to the book “fresh” without any preconceived notions.  An editor makes sure that all writers stay on track, follow the rules of the project and submit their chapters on time.  (Already in the second year, software was developed by project participants which allowed all work to be done on line – thanks to Elliot and Joey for development and continued support!)

Printed, published books: Summer 2012

I started the project with educational goals for my kids, but some of the lessons I learned have been surprising.

1.  This project is enjoyable for all ages.  Creative exercise is good for the brain.  This is true whether you are 10 or 72.  In fact, 10 year olds may have an easier time taking a situation and running with it than older people.  As people get older, they become more set in their ways – less flexible – and having to write in someone else’s world is a real mental work-out.

2.  No matter who you are or what kind of a writer you are, the reaction to receiving a book that you have not started and now must continue is the same.  You read the book and declare to any and all around you that “this is the stupidest book I have ever read and there is no possible way to continue it”.  This happens for every writer, every book, every time.

3.  Other people do not think the same way that you do.  Don’t expect that people who write after you will continue the book in any sort of fashion that seems to you to be obvious.  This is true especially if you are a sloppy writer.  If you leave holes, grammatical mistakes, mix up the characters’ names, someone who writes after you is sure to pick up on these discrepancies in ways that you didn’t intend.

4.  People become emotionally attached to “their book”, that is, the book for which they wrote chapter 1.  The book will not turn out as you suspected.  Don’t get upset.  Books are like boats which you set to sail and do not touch upon again until they are at the end of their journey.  It could be that all the characters die; it could be that they fall in love.  Although these outcomes are out of your control, you still see a personal stake in that book.   Enjoy the connection but take your ego out of the equation.

Tonite was the signing party for the Summer 2012 project.  I printed all the books and we all sat around and read them, laughing and critiquing, asking questions and reading favorite lines, eating and drinking foods which were tangentially connected to our first chapters (or just yummy).

If you are interested in reading some of our stories, go to the site and check them out!

Good News!

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”
– Anne Frank

Thus started my first Birthright group.  I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what kind of a guide I would be, didn’t know what challenges I would face and how I would deal with them.

OU598 was full of firsts for me – my first 10 day trip, my first time guiding 50 people, my first Birthright.  More firsts came along the way – my first time on a camel, first time in a club in Israel.

I trained, planned, packed, had meetings, obsessed, shopped, and listened to those with more experience than myself.  And then May 31, 2012 came.

I met the 38 participants, the 5 other staff, and started my search for how best to guide them and balance being in the lead, and making sure that no one was left behind – socially, emotionally, or physically.

It was a challenge.  What is the best way to convey the sense of Jewish pride, history, continuity in such a short time?  How do you encapsulate the connection to Jerusalem in one day, especially if you need time to shop, learn, eat, and splash through Hezekiah’s tunnel?  If you need to pick one stop to represent the struggles to establish the state, and you need to slip it into an already written itinerary, what is that site?  How do you manage Masada and the messages that are so important there within a framework and in little time?  And the ideas are so powerful, that people need time to process.

Balance the above with always finding a spot in the shade, making sure everyone is drinking, wearing the right shoes, and has their name tag; and periodically undergoing spot checks from the Birthright/Moked Teva people to make sure you are dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s. Then, you take on another 7 people in the middle of the trip who are from a different culture and must integrate them into the group and give them time and space to bond and communicate.

But just in case this sounds for one minute like I am complaining – like this was just too much – let me assure you, that

I HAD THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME.

I learned more about who I am, what kind of guide I want to be, what I have to give, than I could have even imagined.  Besides missing my family and friends, especially over Shabbat, I was happy, alive, engaged in life.  (It was really special to have Boaz, Naftali, and Hillel come spend the second Shabbat with me.)  And I was inspired.  I had forgotten about that side of me, the side that appreciates an honest conversation, a moving speech, a powerful insight.  I met some of the most incredible people who let me, an outsider, into their hearts and lives.  I toured this country that I love at high speed, appreciating her every day more and more, seeing her through fresh eyes.

So, thank you OU 598 (what??), for being the terrific people you are and helping me to discover myself.  I look forward to seeing you in Israel on your next adventure!  Maybe after you unpack your bag, we can have a sit, and wave the flag.

Please Pass the Eggplant

Eggplants have been a part of the diet in Israel for a long time, but they are not indigenous to this part of the world.  Rather, like the Prickly Pear (Sabras), they are immigrants.  The first mention of cultivated eggplant is from the 1st century BCE in China.  Eggplants clearly made it into the national psyche there as, traditionally, Chinese brides had to supply 12 recipes for eggplants in order to enter into a marriage.  Travelers brought the eggplant west with them on their way back from the Orient, and eggplants made it to European markets during the middle ages.

The first eggplants seen in the West were small and white.  Thus, Europeans called them egg-plants.  These small, white vegetables/fruits were bitter.  Selective breeding led to larger, and increasingly more purple plants which were less bitter.  It is these eggplants that we most often see on grocery shelves.

Because eggplants grow well in warm climates, the Mediterranean basin soon became a comfortable new home for the plant.  In particular, Turkey, long a cross-road for different cultures, took to the plant;  currently today, Turkey produces 19% of the world’s eggplants.  The common dish Baba Ganoush is Arabic for “a spoiling, cuddly father” – a good name for the inside pulp of this fruit/vegetable.  Only after a bit of cooking, the flesh of the eggplant breaks down and turns into a mush.

To peel or not to peel, that is the question?

The skin of the eggplant, in contrast to the mushy flesh, is resilient, tough, and (in most cases) purple.  Many who cook eggplant would prefer to remove the skin – it does contribute to the bitter taste which sometimes accompanies eggplants.  New studies, however, suggest that just like for most other fruits/vegetables, an inordinate amount of the vitamins and minerals are located in or just beneath the skin.  In particular, nasunin (what makes eggplants purple in the first place) has many benefits.  The benefit to the plant is that nasunin protects the fruit from the harmful rays of the sun acting as eggplant sunscreen.

For people, nasunin is an anti-oxidant.  Anti-oxidants are important to neutralize free radicals and thus are anti-aging nutrients.  (As my birthday is coming up next month, please pass me some more of that spicy eggplant salad!)  Nasunin inhibits free radicals at their source, by binding with Iron.

Think of chemicals in your body as children in a nursery school with toys.  Each child is happily playing with his/her toy.  Then, all of a sudden, one boy’s ball rolls under the fence.  He is unhappy, and goes to take some other child’s toy.  The second child then becomes unhappy, and steals someone else’s.  This continues over and over until the nursery school is in disarray.  Eventually, with all those unhappy children, something gets broken.

Some anti-oxidants are like teachers who  go around the nursery school, trying to give each child a new toy.  Sometimes this works and sometimes the child just wants their old toy back.  Nasunin, though, is like a string which attaches each toy to the appropriate child, thus preventing free radicals, lost and stolen toys, and general disarray.  Free radicals are very damaging for the nervous system (all those crying, miserable children running around the nursery school can give you a headache), so stopping them at the source protects your brain.

The other benefit nasunin gives to the body is that is curbs growth of new blood vessels.  What could be good about that?  Well, generally, we have all the blood vessels we need.  When does the body generate lots of new blood vessels?  That occurs when we develop growths.  These growths need an increased blood supply to thrive and so our bodies produce new blood vessels.   Some growths are cancerous – so by curbing formation of new blood vessels, eggplants are part of a program for slowing cancer.

So much good stuff in eggplant skin.  Next time you cook eggplant – KEEP THE SKIN ON!

(Thanks to Moshe for piquing my curiosity.)

Beautiful Be’eri Badlands

Maybe because I grew up some years in South Dakota, I am attracted to places which call themselves “Badlands”.  A few weeks ago on a Friday when my kids didn’t have school, I convinced my 13 year old, my 17 year old and a 13 year old friend to come with me to see flowers in the Badlands of Be’eri.  As I was preparing for the trip, I had to try to think what would make a flower hike interesting to a bunch of teenage boys.  Of course, every trip with me is fun, and my kids love being on the trail and joking around, but they also like a bit of challenge.  Often this challenge comes in map reading, climbing down dry waterfalls, reaching the top of some peak, or following wild boar tracks.  If the day is not challenging enough, I get it from them – they make fun of me and say that they will make sure to remember this hike for when I am “more mature”.  So flowers, teenage boys, badlands.  Hmm.

I have been trying to go to see the flowers in the area of Be’eri for a few years.  Because Be’eri is located in the Western Negev, the area comes within firing range for rockets fired from Gaza.  Unfortunately, for the past several years, rockets have been fired during the one month each year when the flowers are blooming in this section of almost desert – making a visit there unwise.  This year, the coast was clear (at least until the afternoon of the day we were there) and so I made the trip.

For every new flower we could identify from the flower books, either Tal, Gideon or Avi wrote the name of the flower on a whiteboard I had brought, and then took a picture.  They liked the whiteboard and soon took to drawing funny pictures about things they saw.  They took turns taking pictures, drawing pictures, holding the book.  Since the hike was not so challenging, they were able to draw and walk with ease, and looking up the flowers in a book was like an exercise in the “Where’s Waldo” sense.

We left early, to get there before the crowds, and parked the car.  I told them that despite the fact that we seemed to be on the edge of a random wheat field,  by the time we returned to the car several hours later, there would be many cars parked by mine.  They, of course, didn’t believe me.  Who believes their mother?  We started on the path which took us straight into the badlands of Be’eri.

What exactly gives a place the description “badlands”?  Here, in the Western Negev, winds blew sand particles in from the Sahara.  When these particles hit the damp air along the Mediterranean coast, they became heavy and deposited in the Western Negev.  There they mixed with clay to form loess.  Because of the clay content in the soil, rain that falls does not absorb into it, but rather rushes into the nehalim (streams) and creates flash floods.  The sudden surge of water causes erosion of the loess in low lying areas.  It is these flash floods which form the uneven terrain called “badlands”.  (Besides Be’eri, badlands can be found in Israel in the area of Ruchama.)

Because of the nature of  loess soil, it is the ideal environment for burrowing.  Animals, from single-cell organisms to voles, make their homes in the loess.  Over time, the death of these animals in the soil adds to the organic content of loess.  This, combined with the clay content,  makes loess great for growing grains – and we saw wheat and barley growing in plenty on our trip.  When we took time to examine the soil and I explained how it was formed and how important loess is to world nutrition (25% of the world’s caloric intake is from grains), they realized that “loess is more”.

As we took the long, somewhat boring route back to the car, we passed (and were passed by) tens of people riding bikes.  The terrain there, except the area within the badlands, is relatively flat; and on a beautiful spring day, it must have been a joy to bike.  As we got closer to the car, we decided to make a bet on how many cars would be parked near mine.  The kids all wanted to bet zero.  Who would have parked near us on the edge of the wheat field?  I bet four.  As we rounded the final bend, we saw not zero, not four, but nine cars with mine!  It was a popular spot and we were happy that we came early before the crowds.

A stop on the way home for ice cream (every trip ends with ice cream) made for 3 very happy teenage boys, and one happy mother!  I finally made it to the Be’eri badlands to see the flowers!