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Hi, guys…

Passover begins tonight (Monday March 25, 2013) at sunset.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Matzah Bakery at the Mea Shearim neighborhood(Baking handmade shmura matza for Passover)

I will be in Toronto for a little over a week.

Have a happy, kosher and joyful Passover.

sedar-table(The Passover seder table)

I’ll should be back Wednesday April 3.

See you then!

aa-kendo-kanji-red

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I visited Israel this year for the first time from February 11th to the 25th. It was a mind-blowing experience.

One of the top, if not THE top, “must see” sights is the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

This is the view most people have in mind when they think of the Western Wall.

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What most people fail to realize is that section of the Western Wall is only about the top 55 feet or so. It continues down underground for another 100 feet! This is because the section of the Western Wall Plaza you see above was built on a series of arches extending up from true ground level.

In order to more fully appreciate all of the Western Wall, you really need to take what is known as the Tunnel Tour.

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Once you get underground, you can see how the Plaza above rests on top of huge arches leading up to the Wall.

The first thing you encounter when you reach the Wall is what is known as the Western Stone.

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It’s big. REALLY big. The stone is 13.6 meters (44.6 feet) long and 3 metres (9.8 feet) high and has an estimated width of 3.3 meters (10.8 feet).

This single stone is about the size of a modern day bus. It is one of the largest building stones in the world. It weighs 570 tons!!

last 032(Right section of the Stone)

It starts here at the right…

last 033(Centre section of the stone)

… continues on… and on… for almost 45 feet..

last 034(Left section of the Stone)

And ends at the left of this frame.

last 053(Me obstructing the view of the Western Stone)

No one knows how the Jews were able to place a block this big in this spot!

There is not a crane in modern day Israel today that is capable of lifting this stone.

me-wall-01s(Me at the Western Wall)

So if you are ever looking at The Wall from the Plaza, think of the depth (in all senses of the word) of that structure.

May the Temple be rebuilt, speedily and in our time.

aa-kendo-kanji-red___________________________________________________________

All photos taken by Daniel Ventresca using a Canon PowerShot A2400 IS digital camera. Last image taken by Tomer Aharon.

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On Monday, I arrived in Israel for the first time in my life after so many years… decades… of waiting, hoping, praying.

I came alone.

I knew it was going to be emotional. I knew it was going to be intense.

I was prepared… or so I thought.

It was like being prepared to be hit by a bus… compared to actually being hit by a bus.

When the plane touched down in Tel Aviv, I began weeping. [1]

I could barely stand. Other passengers grabbed their carry on bags and headed out. I was in a daze.

I made my way through a blur of tears. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop. I moved as if in a trance. Was this really happening? Am I in one of the thousands of dreams and daydreams I’ve had over the last 30 or 40 years?

ben-gurion-airport2

I was nervous about being questioned by Israeli authorities. Who was I? Where was I from? Where was I born? Why was I coming to Israel? Was I Jewish? A Jew with an Italian name? Were my parents Jewish? Did I convert? What rabbinical court converted me? My daughter lives in Israel? She immigrated to Israel? Where does she live? What is her address? Is this my first visit? What prayer does a Jew make when he embarks on a trip? Recite the first line. Do I wear tefillin? When do I wear them? When do I NOT wear them? What was the Torah reading for last Shabbes? What’s the Torah reading for next Shabbes? Was I married? Did I have an aufrufen? Did I read from the Torah? What was the Torah portion? Can I recite the first line from my haftorah portion? What holiday is coming up in 2 weeks? What book is read? Recite the blessings that are read before the book is read. Can you read the first few lines from that book? Do you know the melody that goes with that reading?

I had heard so many stories about Israeli security. I was nervous. I stepped up to the customs officer and handed her my passport.

“What is the purpose of your visit?”

I explained that this was my first visit to Israel and that I came to see my daughter who made aliyah (i.e. emigrated to Israel) a year ago.

“Where does she live?”

I told her she lives in Ramat Gan.

“How long are you going to be in Israel?”

I said I was staying for two weeks, returning on February 25.

The customs officer looked at me for a few moments, sizing me up.

She smiled and handed me back my passport and told me to proceed to baggage claims.

I walked to the baggage claim area and searched for my luggage. A plain black suitcase. My dear friend (and international travel guide) Tracy suggested I attach some brightly-coloured masking tape or cloth to make it distinguishable. I found it. Both wheels were broken off.

ben-gurion1

I extended the handle and dragged the suitcase behind me as I moved out into the main lobby. I felt numb. It all seemed so unreal. I couldn’t help feeling that I was going to wake up at any moment.

A tall handsome young man with a wide smile. Tomer. My daughter’s boyfriend. He waves and comes to me, giving me a big warm tight hug.

And then I see my beloved daughter. I’ve not laid eyes on her in over a year.

I cry again. I can’t help it. Tomer helps me with my crippled suitcase.

We walk out into the fresh air. I breathe it deep into my lungs.

I’m here. I feel I’ve finally come home to a place to which I’ve never been before.

aa-kendo-kanji-red_________________________________________________________

[1] Actually, I started crying as soon as I heard the landing gear lowering. 

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For most of my life, I have dreamed about going to Israel.

I-love-Israel-2

I’ve imagined it countless times in countless ways.

Going with my family.

Arriving with my children.

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My son’s bar mitzvah at the Kotel. [1]

Going with my new wife.

Moving to Israel. Making Aliyah.

gun-girls

Living in Jerusalem. Learning there.

In my imagination, I was often living in a tiny little room.

tower-david

A bed. A desk. A chest of drawers. A chair.  A small library. I wouldn’t need much.

This Sunday (February 10), I fly to Israel for the first time. [2]

Kotel-3

After a lifetime I will, G-d willing, be in The Holy Land.

aa-kendo-kanji-red___________________________________________________________

[1] Kotel:  The Western Wall in Jerusalem.

[2] I will be in Israel from February 10th to the 25th. I hope to keep posting blog articles as usual (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) but I may miss one here and there.

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It’s been a week fraught with interest in Israel.

Serious flooding in Tel Aviv!

Tel-Aviv-flooding(The tallest building in the background is where my daughter works!)

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem and the surrounding Judean hills…

I’ll be visiting Israel for two weeks in a month’s time (Feb. 10 – 25). Can’t wait!

If I can, I’ll still blog from there and give you my impressions of Israel, its sites and people.

aa-kendo-kanji-red

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When I am in The Heart of the Old World [1], there is a certain pervasive sound you hear… a kind of omnipresent background music… a gently swaying ‘bed track’ to the place. It is a general all-encompassing soundtrack permeating the entire area… made up from the voices of hundreds of Jewish girls and women.

It is useless trying to explain a symphony with words,. I will at least give you a tiny taste of some of the lyrics. Try to imagine the sing-song tones blending in and through each other, above and underneath each other, mixing and intertwining, separating and repeating, like a Bach fugue.

Those who know what I am talking about are well familiar with the melodies, counter-melodies, tempos and keys. To the uninitiated, I can only say that one cannot describe a colour adequately with words… it must be seen to be fully understood. Similarly, like a Shakespearean play, the words are meant to be heard, not read. [2]

At the grocery store, on the sidewalk, in the coffee shop, in the parking lot… it binds us and keeps us together. It forms a warm comforting blanket around us.

And now… let us listen… and hear those precious voices all around us…

Boruch HaShem! Im Yirtzeh HaShem. B’ezras HaShem!

It’s all shtuss. It’s just a bunch of shtuss.

Yes, bli neder. Absolutely, bli neder! Of course, bli neder!

 Make a brochah, Shmuley. Did you make an after-brochah?

Chas v’sholom! K’neine hora! Lo aleinu!

You hold by that? We don’t hold by that! Who holds by that?

Look at that punim! What a shayna punim! Can you believe the punim on this kid?

Where are you for Shabbes lunch? You’re coming for Shabbes dinner, right?

Where does he daven? What time do they finish davening over there?

She lives in Beit Shemesh now. Ramat Gan. She’s in Bnei Barak.

Monsey. Crown Heights. Lakewood. Boro Park.

She’s engaged? Who’s engaged? She’s getting married!

Mazel tov! How wonderful! They should know only joy and happiness.

Simchas. Only Simchas! Next by you. It should happen by you.

Narishkeit. I’ve never heard such narishkeit!

Really? You’re serious? You’re not serious. You are? Really?

When’s shkiah? What time is shkiah? When’s candle lighting?

What time’s Shabbes over? Come over for havdalah!

She’s a giyeres. They’re baalei tshuvah. Frum from birth.

They’re moving to Atlanta.  It’s a very nice community there.

As my Bubbie, olav hasholom, would day, “It’s from fainting!”

Are you ready for Pesach? Oy, please. Don’t remind me!

Where do you get your challah? You make your own!?

I buy frozen gefilte fish and bake it! It’s mamish ok.

We have an aufruffen to go to. I’m at a bar mitzvah.

Nu? Shoyn? Oy, a broch! Vey iz mir!

Zeit nisht meshiggah!

Genig shoyn. Enough, already!

Again with the shtuss?

In the Heart of the Old World, as it is in any Jewish neighbourhood, this is the soundtrack to our lives!

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[1] Bathurst Street in Toronto, between Lawrence and Wilson.

[2] This YouTube video, Shduss Frum Girls Say, although a comic look at the subject, gives you sort of a taste…

As does the second video in the series, Shduss Frum Girls Say 2

And how can we leave out Passover Shtuss??…

These videos are the work of Zehava G, whose works can be found on YouTube at…

http://www.youtube.com/user/wllwrk4food?feature=plcp

Or on Facebook, at…

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zehava-G/137144146317809?ref=h­l

Zehava… you’re the best!

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Well, boys and girls – geeks and nerdlings – it’s that time of year again!

The Jewish holidays will soon be fast upon us. (Is that a redundancy?)

This coming Jewish year (5773), all of the seven (count ’em – SEVEN!) Jewish holy days between September 16 and October 10 will fall on week days.

I will be spending almost all of them in The Heart of the Old World (i.e. the area of Bathurst Street between Lawrence and Wilson avenues)

As such, this blog (along with its ‘sister blog’ Vampyre Fangs) won’t be posting articles as per its regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule.

It’s a Jew thing.

Not to worry. I will return to my usual full schedule by the middle of October, all refreshed and spiritually revived.

Wish all of my readers the best, now and always. Thank you for popping by and reading my musings.

As they say in the Vatican, “Gutt yontiff! A gutten un a gezinter yor! A gebentshed un a zeeser yor!”*

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Translation (from Yiddish): “Happy holy day! A good and a healthy year. A blessed and a sweet year!”

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