Weekly Interview: Risa

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This series of interviews is drawing to a close and I am honored to end it with Risa who has lived in Israel for so long. Please read the moving posts she has selected from her blog. Thank you Risa for your wonderful contribution and your kindness in the emails we exchanged prior to this post.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I’m Risa, I was born in New York and have lived in Israel since 1967. I am married to David, we have six children and a whole bunch of grandchildren.

What is your religious background (if any)?

I grew up in a warm Jewish home and received a modern orthodox elementary school education. My family’s religious experience was a journey of learning and incorporating Tora and observance into a middle-class Jewish life.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

Almost as long as I can remember I knew I wanted to live in Israel. I guess children don’t like being different. I wanted to be somewhere where there were people like me and I thought a Jewish country would be just the thing for me. In high school I joined a Zionist youth movement (Betar) where I found other kids who identified with the idea. The Six Day War broke out just after I turned 18. I arrived in Israel the week after the war ended intending to stay for a year but that stretched into forever.

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

I live in Rehovot which is a medium sized city south of Tel Aviv. Our main claim to fame is the Weizzmann Institute of Science. We’ve been here fourteen years. For twenty years before that we were members of a moshav in Ramat Hagolan where my children were born and mostly grew up. Farming was not working out well for us financially and we moved. Wherever I live in Israel is special and I feel privileged to be alive in a generation that can live here.

When and why did you start blogging?

I started blogging in the summer of 2006 when Batya of me-ander and Shiloh Musings asked me to post while she was on a trip to the US and wouldn’t have access to a computer. I’ve known Batya and her husband Winkie (actually I met him first) from my Betar days, so I couldn’t say no.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

I must admit that I didn’t think I would write as often as I do. It’s nice to have a place that is about me and the things that are important to me. I was never really into keeping a diary mainly because I never saw the point of writing to myself. But this is like having a memory box and letting others peek. I hope someday some of my descendants might look at some of this and understand a bit about my life. I wish I could read how my my grandmother felt when she arrived at Ellis Island.

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

None at all, not that many people read my blog and those who do mostly are pro-Israel anyway.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

My favorite posts are about my family and our history:
About my granddaughter’s birth
About my discovery on the cemetery on the Mount of Olives
About my grandfather
About my mother and her Shabbat candles

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

I like the feeling of an on-line community that has evolved among the many jblogs especially the ones by women like your own and Leora’s, In the Pink, Call Me Chaviva, Beneath the Wings, Coffee and Chemo, One Tired Ema, I”ll Call Baila, A Mother in Israel and many more. I read some blogs devoted to Torah subjects like The Rebbetzin’s Husband and Hirhurim-Musings and try to keep up with what’s going on in Israel.

Weekly Interview: Michael

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I met Michael a while ago, before he had his own blog, via a comment he left on mine. A conversation followed, then emails. Here is someone who never runs out of ideas and references if you wish to dig into a subject. Thank you Michael for your contribution, and for being the youngest participant in this series.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I grew up in Silver Spring, MD (the suburbs of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area), and grew up as a committed but mostly non-observant Jew. When I was 16 years old (specifically, the summer of 2004), I began becoming more observant, culminating in my becoming Modern Orthodox. Since my high graduation in 2006, I’ve spent the past four years learning in yeshivot in Israel.

What is your religious background (if any)?

As I said, I grew up “committed but mostly non-observant.” My family would do things like a hold a seder on Pesah and have a Friday-night Shabbat meal, and go to religious services on Rosh ha-Shana and Yom Kippur, but other than that, we didn’t “do” very much. On the other hand, because my mother is a convert (she grew up as an Evangelical Christian and converted first Reform and then Conservative), she was ideologically very committed to whatever she did do or believe, and so I was raised with a very strong Jewish identity, even if it was represented very little in actual ritual practice. I was raised to believe very strongly in what Judaism is and what its purpose in the world is – “ethical monotheism” and tiqun `olam and such – and that I was Jewish and was supposed to marry Jewish.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

I remember sitting in computer science class in either seventh or eighth grade (2000/2001 or 2001/2002)– I forget which – and thinking to myself, “Well, G-d gave us the land of Israel, and He’s letting us return, so nu – what am I waiting for? I’m making `aliyah!” Of course, what I had to wait for was my high school graduation. By the way, keep in mind that this was some two to four years (depending on when during seventh to eighth grade you count) before I became observant (in the summer of 2004).

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

I live wherever the educational institution I happen to be attending is located. I lived in Jerusalem for three years (attending Machon Meir), Petah Tiqwa for half a year (attending Yeshivat Hesder Petah Tiqwa), and I plan to be living in Ramat Gan soon (for Bar-Ilan University). As for my reason, I feel that it is where G-d intends us to live. The Torah repeatedly tells us to keep the mitzvot “when you enter the land into which I am bringing you,” and the Gemara says that anyone who lives outside of Israel is nearly guilty of worshiping idols; that’s enough to convince me!

When and why did you start blogging?

Let’s see…the timestamp on my first blog entry is 26 January 2009, so I guess that’s when I started blogging! I started because I kept posting long notes on Facebook, and someone told me to open a blog, so I did.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

Not particularly. When I started the blog, I’d just post whatever happened to be on my mind at the time (whereas I had previously posted onto Facebook whatever was on my mind at the time), and that’s pretty much what my blog still is. I have no themes, no agenda, nothing. I just post whatever is on the top of my head.

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

My blog affects the global perception of Israel extremely little, I’d imagine, and only slightly more than my blog affects the global perception of China or the ground beef industry. I get very few readers, and still fewer of those readers spend more than literally a few seconds on my blog (according to Google Analytics). Furthermore, I do extremely little (if any at all) hasbara (defense of Israel), because that’s just not my thing. I have strong opinions on the justice of Israel’s actions – at least as far as I believe it ought to concern the rest of the world – but I think Alan Dershowitz and the WZO and whoever else is out there can do a better job of doing PR for Israel than I can. (The Israeli government itself, on the other hand, seems to have hired sea slugs to do its PR, because monkeys were too expensive.) Most of my discussions are more “preaching to the choir,” involving issues of Modern Orthodoxy or Israeli politics for those “inside” the circle. In fact, the same way I don’t hasbara, I also don’t try to present Orthodox Judaism to non-observant Jews. I’m simply not a propagandist; I have neither the aptitude nor the stomach. I’m more like an academic who analyzes issues and subjects for those who are already relatively involved and knowledgeable in the cases at hand. Some people are good at arguing persuasively and putting glitter and rainbows all over their words, to convert the uninitiated, but I’m better at talking verbosely about minutiae with a preponderance of scholarly footnotes.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

Oy, I’ve written so many, and I don’t know where to begin! Well, off the top of my head, I’m proud of what I’ve written recently about libertarianism, and of my posts on that subject, the most developed I’ve written have probably been Religious Coercion, or On John Locke and the Kehilla’s Right to Assess Tzedaqa and Judaism, Democracy, and Health-Care Reform: A Reply to Dr. Jonathan Tobin.

I’m also proud of an article I wrote and had published elsewhere, A New Hearing on Kol Ishah. I can mention that article because when it was published, I made a brief mention of it on my blog. 😉

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy.

The Cake Wrecks blog is simply spectacular for morning laughs.
Shimshonit’s blog is written by a good friend I know personally in Israel, but I met her initially via her excellent blog.

Last week’s interview

Welcome to Heavenly Heights

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Since I didn’t feel like writing a traditional book review today, I decided to adopt a different format rather than not tell you about this book at all.

10 reasons why you should read Heavenly Heights by Risa Miller (some are much better than others):
– This novel is short.
– It was written by a woman and has a distinctively woman’s tone.
– The story is set in Israel.
– The main topic is alyiah.
– The plot focuses on one woman’s experience from the time her husband convinces her it is time for them to go and settle in Israel. It follows them as they move into a block of appartments and learn to adapt and adjust to their new life through their first year.
– The characters are olim and practically all live in the same building, which is why they get to know each other and interact.
– Through memorable portraits, the novel draws a picture of the characters’ new (and not so new) lives which is quite nuanced. To quote Wendy Shalit in The Observant Reader,”they have the same worries and petty jealousies as the rest of us”.
– This book is about relationships as much as it is about alyiah.
– It reminded me of Seven Blessings and The Outside World.
– It is well written.

If you have read this book and wish to add more reasons to this list, feel welcome to do so.

Weekly Interview: Tamar

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I have only just discovered Tamar’s blog; when I posted QuietusLeo’s interview a few weeks ago, Tamar put a comment on this blog. Since she was someone I didn’t know, I had a look at her blog and was immediately intrigued by her life story. Thank you Tamar for accepting so readily to be interviewed by a blogger you didn’t know. I hope my readers enjoy what you share about yourself.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

A writer, editor, content developer, and blogging enthusiast, I live in two hemispheres (USA and Israel) — one at a time, where I help organizations (big and small, publicly-traded and nonprofit) to communicate online. In the USA (Atlanta), I am an active volunteer with the Atlanta Bhutanese Refugee Support Group helping our new neighbors resettle in the USA. They came from United Nations-run Nepalese refugee camps where they were living nearly two decades — victims of ethnic cleansing in Bhutan. In Israel (Tel Aviv), I volunteer at the Beit Avot [Home for the Aged] on Yavne and Allenby Streets. In my visits with residents, I ask them to tell me their stories.

What is your religious background (if any)?

I am an educated Jew who is at home in any denominational setting. My formal Jewish education was in New York City at Beth Hayeled (a pluralistic bilingual, bicultural primary school), Ramaz (a Modern Orthodox, coeducational yeshiva day school, and, while a student at New York’s public Music and Art High School, I attended after school programs at Herzliah Hebrew Teachers Institute (a pluralistic program that merged with the Division of Judaic Studies, Touro College, NYC) and the Jewish Theological Seminary Prozdor, now the Ivry Prozdor High School. I summered at Camp Massad (a pluralistic Hebrew-speaking Zionist camp) in the Pocono Mountains, Pennsylvania. My family belonged to the (Reconstructionist) Society for the Advancement of Judaism. In Tel Aviv, I attend services and events at the liberal Beit Tfilah Israeli .

Jewish sacred texts and literature remain a focus of my studies. The past dozen years in Atlanta, I have been learning one-on-one in havruta (Aramaic: study partner) with Torah Mitzion Israeli Religious Zionist graduates of a Hesder yeshiva ‎‏(combining religious studies with army service‏), a Bnei Akiva (Religious Zionist youth movement) Ethiopian-born Israeli volunteer, and now, an American Conservative rabbi. In Tel Aviv, I learn with a Religious Zionist settler who travels 3.5 hours each way to meet. I have blogged about several of my learning partners.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

In late 2002, as the curtain rose on act three, I was hoping to shape a dramatic work that would incorporate meaningful new experiences and establish a sense of belonging to a land I where I was born yet barely knew. Details here.

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

Tel Aviv is a wonderful fit for me — a living museum of the first modern Hebrew city now 101 years old. The Big Orange is cosmopolitan, dynamic, home to people of all religions and none, and rich in resources I love: the sea, the Carmel shuk, the Cinemateque, and green boulevards and parks. I enjoy the close proximity to ancient Jaffa with a vibrant Arab-Israeli population, cultural centers, and amazing neighborhoods and eateries.

When and why did you start blogging?

When I made aliya, an Atlanta colleague urged me to start a blog to connect with friends this way instead of sending individual emails. I resisted several years. Then, I went BlogHer 06, in San Jose, CA, and I “got it.” Last year, I began blogging, too, for the Atlanta Bhutanese Refugee Support Group.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

I am not surprised because in any venture, changes are inevitable. Some changes since my early blogging years are shorter posts are with fewer images, and including more of my videos to support or tell my stories. I am always striving to be less of a citizen journalist and more open about my views and myself.

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

I experience Israel as quite different from reports generated from afar or close up by naïve, black-and-white opinionated people. And so what I blog about — the people I meet, the places I go, the events I participate in often surprises my readers, whether in Israel or abroad.

I do not discuss politics though I have preferences, biases, and blind spots, and these are apparent in my posts and videos.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

Tough question. Almost all! Some popular ones —

Atlanta’s Bhutanese refugees and their new neighbors
Knowing Hebrew is no help in learning Arabic
Dear Israeli Soldier, Dear Aviah
Mt. Tabor, Israel — lessons and gifts

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

Time Goes By
One in 8 Million
East Med Sea Peace
The Magnes Zionist
Green Prophet

Last week’s interview: Ruti

Turnabout’s Fair Play: Israel interviews France, Ruti interviews yours truly

Weekly Interview: Ruti

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I first “met” Ruti as, like QuietusLeo, she has been a fellow walker in Treppenwitz’s competitons. Like all interviewees before her, she keeps a blog, Ki Yachol Nuchal, where I particularly like her personal tone and photographs. Thank you Ruti for your kind participation in this series.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

When my now-23-year-old son was in elementary school, he had to write about what his parents did for a living. “My father drives and drives, and my mother raises crops of boys.” I always liked that job description.

What is your religious background (if any)?

My father was Jewish. My mother was raised Catholic. When I finally decided not to be a split personality any longer, Hashem made it possible for me to convert. Then He gave me remarkable teachers.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

My dear husband brought me to Israel for the first time in 1991. It was the first place I had ever felt at home in my life. I told him, “Go and get the kids. I’ll wait here for you.” It didn’t quite work out that way: it took us 16 years to get here. One day, as we sat on our comfortable porch in Baltimore, yet another ambulance drove up, sirens blaring, to the assisted living home across the street. He said: “I can’t just sit here and wait for my ambulance to come. I’ve still got a little more adventure in me.” We were on our way after that.

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

We are blessed to live in Neve Daniel, in Gush Etzion. Our community is at the highest elevation above sea level of any community in Israel. There is a Chasidic concept that if you truly feel at home in a place in Israel, it is because Avraham Avinu met your neshama there when he walked the Land. This is how we feel on our mountain.

It doesn’t hurt that the community is warm and accepting, full of interesting and creative Jews.

When and why did you start blogging?

I wanted to be a writer since I was a small child. Then, to my horror, I discovered that I had nothing to say. When I finally met the “I love Israel” community, my writing seemed to have some small purpose. Like you, I am a talmida of Treppenwitz. When my family and I made aliyah in 2007, following in the blogging tradition seemed an enjoyable way to keep the friends we left behind updated, and to act as a diary of our adventures.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

I have seen that there is real grassroots “hasbara” power here, to share other viewpoints than are available in the mainstream media with our friends who are far away from the action. From a simple level – that living in Israel is much more wonderful than the news might suggest – to a deeper level, such as sharing with friends that there is more than one side to the flotilla debate or the Emanuel school debacle – we bloggers can (and perhaps should) add fresh opinions to the discussion.

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

I am not a political expert. I have a tiny (but loyal) readership. So I don’t know that I change that many opinions about Israel. But each Jew is a universe, right? So if I say something that positively enhances one friend’s view of this benighted but beloved country… and she tells her friend… and she tells her husband, who shares it at the office… little by little, we improve the perception of Israel, at least by offering readers the chance to weigh the value of an “on the ground” viewpoint.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

The Nes of the Nachash, in which my son did NOT die, baruch Hashem!
My Devorah Day, which found me covered by bees in the Golan
“I could never live in Israel. Israelis are so…” – These are my people, and I am so proud of them!
Post-Gaza: A New-Immigrant Mom’s Perspective, about what it takes for one mother’s heart to survive her son’s war-time experience

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

There are many I enjoy, for different reasons – and some of their writers have become my friends. (This could be the longest part of the post!)

Coffee and Chemo inspires me, as does A Soldier’s Mother. What War Zone??? makes me laugh. Remember Jerusalem and Bat Aliyah share my love of Israel, and my memories of Baltimore. If I had daughters, they would be al tishali oti and My Daughter, My Princess. Balashon and How to be Israeli educate me. Where would I be politically without The Muqata and Caroline Glick? And I am very proud of the writing of two of my sons, Through Josh-Colored Glasses, and Through My Eyes. West Bank Mama, Treppenwitz, of course, and The Sandman, Baka Diary, I’ll Call Baila, Sussmans b’Aretz… Ilana-Davita is really lovely. Have you read that one? There are several others that I love, and mostly because I have come to know and love the bloggers themselves, so what they have to say matters to me. I can’t wait to see many of them at the Third Annual J-Bloggers’ Convention!

Last week’s interview

Weekly Interview: Baila

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Balia has been a regular visitor and commenter on this blog for at least two years and I also read her blog quite frequently. It is therefore a pleasure Baila to welcome you here; thank you for your participation to this series.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

My name is Baila and I live in Modi’in, Israel with my husband, Isaac, our daughters, Liat, Tali and Orli and our wonderdog, Ozzy. I am a speech language pathologist by profession.

What is your religious background (if any)?

I guess I am what they used to call a “modern orthodox” Jew. I am observant of the mitzvot, but often feel like religious Jews like to make their lives more difficult for themselves by adding all kinds of stringencies.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

I’ve wanted to make Aliyah since I was a teenager. I spent a year after high school on a kibbutz (Hachsharat Bnei Akiva) and was very inspired.
Simply put, I believe Jews belong here and should get here when they can. We made Aliyah in 2007, many years after the dream was sparked.

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

I live in the new (14 years) city of Modi’in. Practically speaking, we moved here because it is centrally located and we knew a few people living here. But I feel it was my destiny to end up here. Years ago (1985) while visiting Israel, my madrich (counselour) from my kibbutz program took me on a little ride. We stopped across the road from hills that looked like they were in the middle of nowhere. He told me that a city called Modi’in was being planned on those hills and that it was going to be the 4th largest city in Israel. I said, “one day I’m going to live there”, and we both laughed.

And here I am, in a beautiful place to live with a great quality of life.

When and why did you start blogging?

I had been reading blogs for about a year when I began to think, wait a second, this is something I can do. We were about to make Aliyah and I thought it would be a good way to keep in touch with my people that I was leaving behind.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

I never dreamed that strangers from all over the world would read my blog and actually comment. I love it. I used to be shy about telling people about the blog, now I tell everyone I meet—read my blog!! Comment!!— The blog has re-ignited my love of writing. Now that I have fulfilled one of the things on my bucket list (moving to Israel), I am hoping to fulfill a second one—writing a novel. Totally because of the blog.

I am also surprised by the way I feel about some of my fellow bloggers. I feel like I’ve made some friends through the blog—you, Leora, Raizy. Some bloggers have even crossed over into real life—Hannah, Kate, Robin, RivkA, Ruti, Mrs. S.

The blog itself has evolved, I think from an Aliyah blog to a general slice-of-life, with a sprinkling of what it’s like to parent teenagers. I don’t plan the evolution of the blog and it’s fun to watch the places it goes.

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

I had written an answer last week to this question, but the question has just gotten more interesting in light of the events of this week. (Baila answered this interview at the beginning of June.)

As a country, Israel has many problems. We are a tiny country, surrounded by states who make no secret of their desire to destroy us. And yet, we are perceived as aggressors because we believe in our right to defend ourselves. It enrages me so much.

I am an American by birth, an Israeli by choice. I love America and the ideals that have been engraved in me as its citizen. I believe in freedom and equal rights and it pains me to see the checkpoints and profiling. But they are a necessary part of our life here, I’m sorry to say. We’ve had bitter experience with what happens when we let our guard down.

My blog is not a political blog. There are other bloggers who do that so much better than I do. But when something like the ambush at sea happens, I feel it is important to express my point of view. Most of my readers feel like I do, so it is mostly preaching to the choir. But I do have some blogger friends who feel differently. Most importantly, I have friends and readers who do not have much experience with the Middle East conflict at all, accept what they read in the local media. I want them to see another side of things.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

Picking a favorite post is like picking a favorite child. I guess for me, one of my most memorable posts is this one, where I try to do the impossible: show gratitude for the generosity of the people in my life.

Gratitude

I find it easiest to write posts that come from the heart:

It’s my first war and I’ll cry if I want to
What I would say at a Chug Aliya
When my pet name reduces me to tears

… and some humorous posts:
These pictures are NOT for the weak of heart…
Do you know where your teens are?

And this one, just plain weird, where 25 commenters literally air their dirty laundry:
Taking a survey

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

This is also hard, because I enjoy so many. My blogroll has many of my favorites, but I haven’t updated in a long while, and there are more.

I’ve already listed some bloggers I read above. Truth is I like so many, it would take me forever to list them here, and I want to get this to you, ID.

Thank you for this opportunity, Ilana-Davita. It really was fun….

See you on the blog!

P.S.: The pictures are of the “C” towers of Modiin, a view of my window, once during a sandstorm and once on a clear day.

Last week’s interview

Weekly Interview: William Kolbrener

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Open Minded Torah is a blog I particularly enjoy. I suppose that its attempt “to deal with some of those problems and contradictions” involved in being an observant scholar of Milton is something that particularly appeals to me. Thank you William for adding your atypical voice to the JBlogosphere and this series of interviews.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I grew up in Roslyn, Long Island, went to Columbia College in New York City where I studied English Literature and where I met my wife Leslie. I then went on to Oxford to get an MA, and back to Columbia where I got my PhD in English Literature. Now I am a professor of English Literature at Bar Ilan University in Israel and live in the Bayit Vegan in Jerusalem.

What is your religious background (if any)?

My background is reform, but always had a very strong Jewish identity, inherited from my grandparents and my parents. I am named after my mother’s grandfather Velvel (Wolf or Zev), and have discovered affinities with him over the past years – he was a Gerer Hasid in a village called Govorovo which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1944.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

Our aliyah was not the typical one: we were graduate students, and had recently ‘discovered’ Rabbi Riskin’s synagogue on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, Lincoln Square Synagogue. We decided on the basis of a year’s experience with the Beginner’s Minyan that we wanted some time to study. Fortuitously, I won a Lady Davis Fellowship at the Hebrew University – where I finished my dissertation on the English poet, John Milton. It allowed me to start to find out about my own tradition – and not just the Christian tradition of Milton and his contemporaries. I was one of many Jews in my profession who knew much more about Christianity than Judaism. If we had to plan for aliyah – we never would have made it. It was kind of an accidental aliyah – the Miltonist at Bar Ilan retired just a few years before my arrival, and I got the job In Israel we experience the rewards – and challenges – of living with the Jewish people in the Jewish State.

When and why did you start blogging?

Blogging was a way, for me, of finding a voice. Academic writing can have its uses – but it tends to be overly scholarly, certainly not accessible to a larger audience. During my graduate studies, I had tried to work out certain problems – thinking about how my life as a scholar of Milton related to my new life of Jewish observance. There are certainly not of people in the humanities who decide to become observant. So I wrote a series of academic articles trying to deal with some of those problems and contradictions. Writing the blog was an attempt to bring some of my earlier scholarly writing down to earth – to make it accessible. In the process, I found a new voice, and a way of expressing perceptions of the world that I already had but didn’t know – thus began the book which is coming out with Continuum in 2011, Open Minded Torah. Of my blog, I would say what the poet T.S. Eliot wrote in Four Quartets: ‘So I find words I never thought to speak.’

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

I don’t think my blog has much to do with global perceptions of Israel. But lo b’shmayim hee’ – it’s not in Heaven – small things can sometimes have positive effects as well. I’m hoping that my blog – and the book – will give a more complicated sense of what it means to embrace Jewish life and learning.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

My posts are really various, but here are a couple, one about Israel, and one about my son Shmuel – both of which I really like:

Oedipus in a Kippa
Fear and Loathing in Jerusalem: the Olam Ha’Sheker Excuse

Last week’s interview

Weekly Interview: Robin

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I think I came across Robin’s blog via the different photo memes we both take part in, probably through Ruby Tuesday (Mary’s meme). I have always been impressed by the quality and often also the originality of her photographs. Thank you Robin for your contribution to this series of interviews and for the beauty you share with us on your blog.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Hi, I’m Robin. I was born and raised in the US (New York) and made aliyah twenty years ago, right after my college graduation. My husband and I have two kids who were born here and speak better Hebrew than I ever will (and mine isn’t actually that bad). I’ve got a passion for photography (and blogging) that I’m working to turn into a serious sideline now that a recent layoff has given me a chance to reevaluate where my life is going. Anything you want to know, just ask. I’m an open book.

What is your religious background (if any)?

I grew up conservative but now view myself as secular.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

I was in college when I first began thinking about it seriously, but the original seed was planted during a high school summer tour to Israel (USY Pilgrimage). I came because this is the greatest adventure the Jewish people have had in two thousand years – and I wanted to be a part of it, and I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend (now husband) that felt the same.

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

We live in a small city in central Israel, 8 miles (14 km) from Tel Aviv. We used to live closer in but moved a bit further out for more affordable housing. This was our outermost limit though – my husband bike commutes to work in Tel Aviv and 8-10 miles is about as far as he was willing to go.

When and why did you start blogging?

I’d been a blog reader for a while and in November of 2006 I decided to get in on the fun myself.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

Very much so. I started out as a mommyblogger, then the blog evolved into more of a forum for my writing, and then the past few years it did another 180 as I discovered a passion and talent (that I am now turning into a business) for photography.

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

I try to put a different, more honest and open spin on things. The reality of Israel is not what you see on the 7 o’clock news. I use my words and my images to showcase the majesty that is here once you step away from the headlines – the Israel that contains a proud heritage, a beauty that makes your heart beat faster and a spirit that makes you stop and stare in wonder – but like any loved one Israel can also make you utterly exasperated at times, wanting to stop and bang your head into a wall until the politicians running the place regain their senses.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

You pick, I can’t decide.

Among your most recent shots I like this one, this one and this one but the best thing is for the readers to go and see for themselves.

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

I love Jerusalem Hills Daily Photo – Dina always finds something new and interesting to share, and Stacey of Is There Any Mommy Out There writes so beautifully that she regularly reduces me to tears – of both laughter and emotion.

Robin Epstein
Fine Art & Nature Photography

Shop – Etsy Shop

Blog – Around the Island

Last week’s interview

Weekly Interview: QuietusLeo

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I came across The Sandman via Treppenwitz. You know how it is: you read a comment on a blog and you feel you’d like to know more about the person who wrote it so you click on a link and then read a few posts on the blog and add it to your RSS feed. In addition, apart from being a fellow blogger, QuietusLeo has also a walking comrade since Treppenwitz initiated his competitions a year ago. Thanks QuietusLeo for being part of this project and for presenting yet another aspect of what it means to be a blogging Israeli.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

I’m an anesthesiologist. I’m married to a chemical engineer. We have 3
children – one of each kind (girl, boy and hurricane). I have a degree in philosophy which made me practically unemployable, thus leading to aliyah and serving as a tank commander in the IDF. My hobbies are: cycling, jazz, cooking and annoying my wife and children.

What is your religious background (if any)?

I grew up completely secular, grilled pork, shelled clams, imbibed oysters etc… After finishing my residency I had the time to fulfill a longtime wish to study gemarrah. That lead to wrapping tefillin and praying shacharit on the train to work. Am I religious now? I honestly don’t know. I find others’ need for labeling to be very constraining.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

For me, it is more accurate to say that I came home. I was born in Jerusalem. Even though I grew up was educated in the US, I never felt at home. In college, I came across a book called “Yoni’s Letters”. It was a compilation of letters that Yoni Netanyahu z”l (The PM’s older brother and a bona fide hero) wrote to his family while he was serving in the IDF. It turns out that he went to the same high school as I did and his observations on American culture were identical to mine. His patriotism and strong identification with the Jewish State galvanized my decision to come back.

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

We live in Metar, a village near Be’er Sheva in the southern Hebron hills. I had studied medicine in Be’er Sheva and did my residency there. We eventually built our home here in the south. We love it here and I am more than willing to make the commute to Tel Aviv to work. IMHO we have the best climate in Israel – not too hot (we use the AC only on the hottest of hot days), not to humid, and we have the largest forest in the country at the edge of the village (Yatir Forest – 40,000 dunam (10,000 acres)).

When and why did you start blogging?

I became an instant fan of Treppenwitz’ blog at first sight. About 2 1/2 years ago I decided to try blogging mostly as a way of releasing much pent up stress that was work related.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

I’m still new at this to have expectations. What surprises me is that someone (besides my mother – Hi Mom!) actually reads it. I’m even more surprised that there are faithful readers (God bless ’em).

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

My post rate is very very modest so I don’t believe it has any effect whatsoever.

What are your favorite posts?

Not in any particular order:
“Not that four letter word”
“The Rabbi”
“Fact is stranger than fiction”

Last week’s interview

Weekly Interview: Rabbi Barry Leff

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I don’t know many blogs in English and written by an Israeli rabbi who made alyah so I was glad when I found Rabbi Barry Leff’s blog via a Jewish forum a couple of years ago. Thank you Rabbi Leff; I feel honored that you accepted to be part of this series of interviews.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

“Businessman by day, rabbi by night.” Father to five daughters ranging in age from 27 to 9. Something of an overachiever: PhD in business, rabbi, flight instructor, black belt, SCUBA Divemaster, etc.

What is your religious background (if any)?

When I was growing up, “the shul we didn’t go to” was Orthodox. Totally secular for 25 years, then I discovered the beauty and wisdom of Judaism, quit my job as VP Marketing for a high-tech company in California’s Silicon Valley and went back to school to become a Conservative rabbi. I now belong to two shuls, one Orthodox, one Conservative.

When and why did you decide to make aliyah?

It would have been about March of 2005. My congregation in Toledo started discussions about renewing my contract, and I had to decide between finishing out my career in Ohio, and making aliyah. We decided to make aliyah primarily for two reasons:

1) Israel is the most exciting thing to happen to the Jewish people in 2,000 years, and we wanted to be a part of it. Or as Arnie Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary put it, “Israel is to important to sit back and let other people blow it.”

2) For a religiously observant Jew, there is no place in the world that is “home” the way Israel is. Three times a day we pray to be gathered to Israel. How many times a day do you have to say something before you believe it?

See here l for a fuller explanation.

Where in Israel do you live and is there a special reason you live there?

Jerusalem. Several reasons:
• My wife’s attitude was “Jerusalem or bust.” If you’re going to live in the holy land, you might as well live in the holy city.
• We already had a lot of friends in the Jerusalem area
• We felt Jerusalem offered the best educational opportunities for our children: we wanted a dati school, but one that had a relatively modern attitude. You can find them in Jerusalem, harder to find elsewhere.

When and why did you start blogging?

Sometime around 2003 I guess, someone who read one of my sermons thought it was good, and offered to post it on his web site. That evolved into a blog, and it became more than just a place to post my sermons.

Have you been surprised by the way your blogging activity has evolved over the years?

Not really. It was a fairly natural progression from sermons to commentary.

To what extent do you feel your blogging activity reflects on the global perception of Israel?

Not sure how much impact it has: I only get about 1,000 visitors a month, so numerically it’s not that big. However, the image I present of Israel, is, I believe overall positive. I am frequently critical of the Israeli government, but that’s a good thing because many people outside Israel think Israelis just don’t “get it.” I help show that there are some of us who get it.

What post(s) are you most proud of?

I collected my favorites into a book. You can see the table of contents and a sample chapter here. See also the Aliyah one above, your mission in life and this dvar Torah.

Would you care to share a blog or two you enjoy?

Rabbi Jason Miller’s blog
Six Kids and a Full Time Job
The Traveller Within
Baka Diary

Last week’s interview