Posted in Columns

Art & Soul: Creative expression links Israel’s past, present and future

I could hear the rushing flow of water long before I saw the striking sculpture from which it flowed, its white tile surface gleaming in the Jerusalem sunshine.

Several weeks ago, I returned from my first journey to Israel where I walked among archaeological sites representing thousands of years of social, political and religious history. With direction from enthusiastic and knowledgeable tour guides Gideon Har-Hermon and Ziv Cohen, my colleagues from the American Jewish Press Association and I traced the steps of ancestors whose influences remain though their bones have faded into dust.

The sculpture was on the grounds of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. At that moment, I did not realize that it was an integral piece of the Shrine of the Book, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Descending into the darkness of the underground chamber where the Scrolls are displayed, our chatty group fell silent. A Torah-like pillar glowed from the center. I looked up and realized that the ceiling was the underside of the fountain, its shape symbolic of the jars in which the nearly 2,000-year-old Scrolls had been preserved and found.

The artistic display connected these ancient objects to their original context while creating a bridge to the present. For me, this is the essence of art: communicating thoughts, emotions, experiences, and yes, even history.

The purpose of my visit was to understand Israel in a way that I could not through other people’s descriptions. It is tempting to define Israel simply in terms of the ancient because historically significant sites permeate the landscape. However, focusing solely on relics of the past misses the point. Israel is a living, breathing entity. Her complex political, social and religious structures, like those of our own country, beg for analysis, for context. Israel’s art overcame language, cultural and generational barriers, and enhanced my appreciation for this geographically small but globally significant nation.

How many is 1.5 million?

The Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem was designed to help students understand the magnitude of the Holocaust in which 1.5 million children under age 18 were killed.

“How do you show that large of a number? It’s too big for a child to comprehend,” said Yad Vashem guide Dr. Edna Wilchfort. A line of broken pillars of different heights, an image reminiscent of a family portrait, topped the hill toward which we walked.

“How many is 1.5 million?” she asked. Her question hung in the air as we entered the cave-like opening below the pillars and then surrounded by darkness, haunting music and a somber voice that called names, one by one. Slowly, from the oppressive black appeared a single, far-away light. Then 10. Then 1,000. Then tens of thousands-more than eyes could see, more than anyone could count. Like stars in the clearest night sky, they softly brightened the room with a dim light. We understood the depth and breadth of 1.5 million lives lost. I felt the painful impact of that message for many hours afterward.

Israel’s art, in the form of the memorial, told the story that words could not.

Ancient history lights the night

Days later, we experienced the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, located in the Old City. The story of Jerusalem is detailed in the permanent exhibits housed throughout this archeological site, where visitors can get a 360-degree view of Jerusalem from the top of The Citadel’s towers. After dusk, the museum came to life with The Night Spectacular. Light, music, and sound were projected from and onto every surface of the courtyard in a multimedia telling of Jerusalem’s history. Who would have thought to use The Citadel as a mega movie screen? Modern technology creatively connected past to present.

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art offered art in a more traditional sense. We visited the one-year-old Herta and Paul Amir wing that houses “The Museum Presents Itself: Israeli Art from the Museum Collection.” Selected works wove a framework of viewpoints regarding modern Israel from the early 1900s through today. A colleague and I searched for connections between the words and phrases painted on the surfaces of the museum’s walls. We debated the meaning of the texts and wondered whether artist Douglas Gordon had some kind of hidden message within the work as a whole.

Our conversation was appropriate. We were in Israel, after all – a place of history with a level of mystery that, like art, leaves interpretation and understanding up to the beholder.

This originally ran in the March 2013 edition of JUF News.



Posted in Columns

Making a new path to understanding Israel

I started writing this message on a sunny Shabbat morning in Jerusalem, during my first visit to Israel. The first few days of my adventure involved myriad hours touring this ancient city, although people – rather than artifacts – made the biggest impression on me.

I am a Christian and my concept of Israel has mostly been based on Biblical knowledge, an amalgamation of history and faith. As an American working for a Jewish communal organization, I have some notion of Israel’s importance in the global arena – but I have not always had detailed reasons for supporting Israel that I can share with others.

During my travels with journalists and others from the American Jewish Press Association, we shared a post-Shabbat dinner discussion with several people from the Jerusalem-based Shalom Hartman Institute, “a center of transformative thinking and teaching that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevates the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.”

Dr. Marcie Lenk, a Hartman Institute fellow, discussed the program she directs, “New Paths: Christians Engaging in Israel” project. She cited results of a Pew Research Center Report (December 2012), noting that  50 percent of American Evangelical Christians sympathize with Israel, 10 percent with Palestine and 27 percent sympathizing with both. She worked with a Christian team to develop an “Introduction to Israel” course for Christians, taught by Christians, rather than Jews. Eight U.S. churches are testing the curriculum.

The idea is to help people think about Israel as “more than the place that Jesus walked,” Lenk said. She ultimately hopes American Christians will connect with modern Israel in some way. While the course includes some history, that is not its sole focus. The Institute wanted to avoid getting into “dueling history books,” she said. Instead, Christians can read Israel’s Proclamation of Independence and discuss what it meant for Jews, how Israel has been portrayed by American and global media – and whether Israel has yet met the goals set forth in 1948. The idea is to demonstrate the complexity of modern Israel, Lenk said. Poetry – written by both Israelis and Palestinians – is also part of the curriculum.

My experience in Israel was emotional and inspiring. As I walked through Jerusalem’s Old City, the spicy scents, raucous chatter and bright colors provided a backdrop of history against the bumpy stones layered beneath my feet – a reminder of what life might have been like when Jesus walked those same streets 2,000 years or so ago.

For several days, ancient Jerusalem consumed my mind. Archaeological treasures were everywhere I looked. There was so much history, so much to learn – it was almost overwhelming. At the same time, people dressed in modern garb, drove cars on the streets, ate together, argued about election results and breathed life into the ancient scenery. Far more than a tourist destination, Israel is home for 7.9 million diverse people who make Israel a daily experiment in democracy on the world stage.

I now have a concrete connection to Israel that I lacked prior to a few weeks ago. While Israel is far too complex to understand in the context of one week, I have a much better grasp of its culture and people, of the landscape, and a connection to my faith tradition that defies my previous imagination. I believe dialogue between people of different cultures is exciting and necessary for finding common ground. I hope the Hartman Institute’s New Paths program promotes this kind of open communication, which in my opinion, has the potential to change the world for the better.

For more on the Shalom Hartman Institute, visit

This originally ran in my JUF News blog, “Outside In.”



Posted in Columns

Fearlessness in Israel

Life changing.

If I was limited to only two words, those are the words I choose to describe Israel.

The change started when I was invited to tour Israel with the American Jewish Press Association. I have not been out of the country since I was 14 and never had my own passport. I hoped my husband could go, but his work schedule did not allow it.

That meant I would be going to a different country thousands of miles away. Alone.

I didn’t know anyone on the tour. I didn’t know anyone in Israel.

Truth: I was nervous. But not enough to miss this kind of an opportunity.

I wasted a lot of energy worrying about whether my passport would arrive on time. Of course, it did. As my travel date approached, I felt nervous again. What if I got sick? What if someone in the family got sick while I was gone? What would it be like? What should I pack?

The translation, of course, is that I’m a closet control freak and there would be a lot of things out of my control.

I let them go and focused on packing.

Because the Israel Ministry of Tourism sponsored our tour, we were offered opportunities to see and do things that most people would not be able to do – at least not in the week or so we have been here.

I connected with history in a way I never imagined.

I got lost (fortunately, with a colleague) in the Old City of Jerusalem. We had a “map” that was not the most accurate device. I hate getting lost, but we just kept walking.

A young man from one of the shops in the marketplace helped us find our bearings. He was one of the first to do so without insisting on shekels first, so I asked him whether he had scarves in his shop – which he did. He wanted us to see his brother’s jewelry shop around the corner, so we followed and spent nearly an hour looking at the lovely designs, talking with them about their life in Israel and purchasing some of their wares.

They offered us coffee or tea, which we gently refused – but then one of them said in his culture, it’s important to receive hospitality when it is offered. So we accepted and were treated to a delightful cup of tea with mint leaves.

If we hadn’t been lost, we never would have met them. Yes, they were selling but they were also open to talking about their culture.

I lost my fear of people I don’t know – OK, so it’s not fear, but it’s a general discomfort that I can hide pretty well. I’ve gotten to know some of my colleagues and I feel like we’re old friends after traveling together for so many hours and miles.

Like I said, Israel changed me.

Yesterday I checked three things off my bucket list. Things I figured I’d never do because I was really afraid to do two of them.

We went to a reef in Eilat, a beautiful resort area on the Red Sea, to swim with dolphins. Not just swim – dive. As in put on a wetsuit, mask, tank, weights, flippers and all those good things and gracefully descend into the water. I have snorkeled before, and love it. Getting used to only taking air through my mouth from a tank was a little unsettling. My teacher was a patient man who spoke calmly to me when I became impatient with myself. Meanwhile, the dolphins circled around us. I’m pretty sure they were laughing at me.

I finally relaxed and we descended 15 or 20 meters. I faced my fear and did it in Israel.

Like I said, it changed me.

A couple of hours later, I was high in the Eilat Mountains on the back of a camel. She was a lovely, soft creature with long eyelashes and a mellow attitude. It was more exciting than scary – I have ridden a horse before and I think it was more comfortable on the camel. Truthfully, it may have been faster to walk. But we were on camels! In the mountains! The only sound was the padding of their feet on the rocky soil, occasional laughter or conversation, and the wind whispering the secrets of the ages as we ascended the mountain.

After our ride, we gathered in a tent and enjoyed Bedouin-style hospitality. A young man served us tea and bread, both cooked over an open fire. Several ibex came down the mountain to check us out. We relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company.

Then our host talked us into staying for the newly established “adventure course” – a complicated maze of ropes and zip lines. I said, no, I would watch the others and learned again that when hospitality is offered in Israel, it must be accepted.

Five minutes later, I was wearing a helmet and my legs, waist and rear end were wrapped up in a belt. I ascended a ladder to the first part of the course – truthfully only 20 feet or so off the ground – and stopped.

I was finished. I said, “Thank you,” and started to go back down the ladder.

Our host – and my supportive colleagues – cheered me on, urging me to keep going. One deep breath and I was on my way across the rope, and then across another and then it was time for the zip line.

I held my breath, wrapped my hands around the ropes holding me up, sat back and jumped.

I never, ever thought I would do something like that. I felt like a little kid again (although I probably would have been too scared to try it when I was a kid.)

Inside, I realized that most of what holds us back is our own thought patterns.

I had to go to Israel to figure out how to let mine go. And now, I’m ready to take on the world!

Israel is more than history. It’s more than politics. It’s a vibrant, growing country with more opportunities than anyone can imagine, with strong, interesting, open people.

I love it here and can’t wait to come back.

Thank you, Israel!

This article originally ran in my JUF News blog, “Outside In.”


Posted in Columns

Time to Fly

I am writing with two and a half days left here at Southern Lakes Newspapers, where we create local newspapers in nearly 20 communities as well as a host of other publications.
I wanted to say, “Thank you,” to those of you who have read my columns and supported us over the past six years. I especially want to thank the people I work with who were peppered with my continuous barrage of ideas then caught my vision and helped wrangle them together in a meaningful way.
Publications are a team effort, yet writers and editors tend to get all the credit when the going is good. Of course, we also get the complaints when things aren’t so good, so perhaps that balances things.
Still, many other people work behind the scenes, diligently doing their jobs and meeting a constant stream of deadlines. They often go unrecognized.
I want to recognize them now.
Thank you to our sales people. The buck starts with them, because without advertising, we’d be out of business and I would never have had the privilege of meeting and writing about the fascinating people in our communities or share my ramblings about family life in a public forum.
Thank you to our office staff. They hold down the fort, fielding phone calls, taking messages, classified ads, circulation questions, do accounting detective work, run reports, greet customers and leap tall buildings in a single bound. OK, maybe in two bounds. They do a whole lot of stuff that remains a mystery to the rest of us, that’s all I can say.
Then there is our Tech Guru, worthy of worship or at minimum a Diet Coke or dark chocolate covered espresso beans! Without computers we can’t work. He is much appreciated, especially for 6:30 a.m. text messages that give us a heads-up about the occasional cyber-surprise awaiting our arrival and giving us time for caffeinated reinforcement.
Thank you to the designers whose artistic eyes and creative spirits breathed life into my stories and photos and the newspapers and magazines I edited over the past six years. I appreciate their patience with my less-than-artistic renderings and cryptic messages that generally translated this way: “I kind of want the page to look like this, but if it looks bad, can you fix it?” They always fixed it and made me look good!
Thank you to the freelance writers who cared enough to contact me and then contribute their wonderful stories and photos. I only met a few of them in person, but felt a bond of friendship with every one of them – even if we only spoke on the phone or through email. Thank you for sharing your joie de vivre in your words and pictures.
I don’t know how to thank my fellow editors whose busy schedules I interrupted with requests for stories, for photos or opinions on various matters. They didn’t complain about writing additional stories when they already had more than they needed to do. They rose to the occasion and their energy and enthusiasm for their communities will inspire me forever! And thank you to our editorial assistants who are our right and left arms at times.
Thanks to my supervisors (they know who they are) who trusted my experience, willingly shared their own and allowed my ideas to grow wings. I learned so much from each one of them – not only about work, but about how to treat people and how to live as well.
More than anyone, though, my family deserves thanks. Mom and dad taught me to think for myself, passed on a love for reading and people and let me make my own choices and experience the consequences – some good, some not so good.
My husband is the ultimate cheerleader and has been my best friend for more than 30 years, knowing me better than I know myself at times. Like my parents, he seems to think I can do just about anything, even when I’m not so sure. I hope everyone has people like that in their lives.
Thanks to my kids, too, who have been the subject of my columns and didn’t complain, even though I never asked if it was OK. If I never did anything else, my life would be complete because I brought the three of you into the world. You made me laugh and cry and still do as we move from being parents/kids to being friends.
Thank you, readers, for spending time with me in this very personal message. I appreciate it so much when someone says, “Hey, I read your column and it made me laugh/cry/mad/etc.” I feel that in some way, we have become friends.
So, after all that – it’s time for me to fly. I have a new calling, this time in downtown Chicago. It’s scary making such a big change, but I figure life is an adventure. You never know what will happen until you try something!
Please keep in touch!

Posted in Columns

Champagne, potato skins and 30 years of romance

Have you heard the fairy tale that ends with the handsome prince giving up the last potato skin – and then, the hungry princess realizes he is her one true love, as her soul opens to his kind heart and strong spirit?

I’m sorry if you’re not familiar with that one. Maybe it’s because it’s only 30 years old, less ancient than the classics although my children would argue that the story is, indeed, quite ancient.

My husband and I met when we were in our late teens, still kids, I suppose. We recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of our first date. I have no idea why we remember the date so clearly, but we hold it in reverence almost more than our wedding anniversary. That’s just the way it’s always been. Ask me how many years since our first date, and I can tell you. Ask you how many years we’ve been married – now that we’re past 25 – and I have to stop and do the math. Go figure.

Our first date was lunch at TGI Friday’s in Schaumburg, Ill. I had been there once and loved the bright, fun atmosphere and the giant dictionary-design menu that made it almost impossible to choose. My prior visit with a friend provided me with my first taste of fried potato skins – yum!

So of course, when Tedd asked me where we should go for lunch, I suggested Friday’s. The first thing we ordered was fried potato skins (my choice again.) We noshed on the cheesy delights, politely spreading sour cream on each (you don’t double-dip on a first date), talking about everything I don’t remember. Didn’t matter.

Suddenly there was one skin left on the plate. I was sooo hungry – and the nice boy sitting across the table picked up the plate and offered it to me.
There was something about him…I almost hesitated, but then ate it because I was starving and it tasted good.

Maybe that’s when I fell in love.

It happened again yesterday, 30 years later, at TGI Friday’s (Gurnee, since the original Schaumburg restaurant was torn down.)

We were seated immediately after we arrived and seconds later, our server produced a pair of chilled glasses of champagne donned with beautiful red strawberries and said, “The potato skins are in the oven.”

Clearly, someone had called ahead, and it wasn’t me!

We toasted that first date three decades ago, to the potato skins and to at least another 30 first date anniversaries in the years to come.

Celebrating little moments and what might seem inconsequential to outsiders makes life fun – and when you share the fun with the people you love, you’re bonded for life.


Posted in Columns

How An Empty Box Gets Filled…With Dreams

The box: exciting when it’s full of last week’s eBay find or Christmas presents; dull when empty; and annoying when it’s one of hundreds to be broken down for recycling – a less-than-exciting task for most.

But that’s only if you’re boxed into a certain way of thinking. There is much more to a simple cardboard container.

Ask kids. Every kid in the room will head for the empty box in the corner.
It doesn’t matter whether the box is brand new or if it has seen better days – perhaps months ago. And it doesn’t matter whether the kids are big or little.

That box is a portal to their imaginations.

Sunshine Girl, our delightful almost-2-year-old neighbor, came to visit one day. We don’t have a lot of toys in our house anymore – sadly – because our kids our grown and our grandkids live 5,000 miles away.

I hunted for and found key items – blocks, books and a doll or two, and brought them up from their basement resting place in a cardboard box so “Sunny” would have something to play with while we visited with her parents.

She immediately dumped the toys and plunked her tiny self into the box, rocking back and forth and singing a sweet toddler song that had something to do with riding in her daddy’s boat and going fishing.

The box is also a bed for her “babies,” a house for various stuffed animals unearthed from their lower level lairs and storage for the kid stuff when Sunny goes home.

About 17 years ago, similar magic occurred in my son’s kindergarten class. I walked into the room where the teacher sat at her desk – and wondered where the kids were.

She motioned to her right. They were inside a giant box at the other end of the room. Every kid in the class!

“I get a big box from the furniture store in town every year for my class,” the teacher told me.

That day, the box morphed into a castle. Dragons, knights, princes and princesses created a medieval world under the watchful eye – and bossy voice – of a blond young lady, apparently the queen.

Months later, the box was more round than square, the result of a particularly wild pirate escapade. (Boxes seem to make excellent boats – unless, of course, the box is placed in real water.) One kid – probably my son – drew a primitive skull-and-crossbones in heavy black marker over the rainbows, flowers, windows, doors and other decorations from prior adventures.

I thought of how years before, my sister and I had the best box.


My parents purchased a velvety chair that had an exceptionally tall back – we referred to it for the following decades as the “queen’s chair” (partly because it was my mom’s chair.) Two men delivered and unpacked the chair, then placed it in our living room according to my mother’s wishes.

Meanwhile, my sister and I eyeballed the box that moments before contained the chair. The box was amazing, a sort of box-on-a-box, with one end big enough to fit the seat and legs part of the chair (and two excited little girls.) The other end was narrow, like the back of the chair.

The men prepared to break down the box and take it away. I begged my mother to let us keep it, please! Please, mommy!

She said yes, I suspect for the same reason the kindergarten teacher made sure her class had a box to play with every year. Keeping the box would mean hours of peace for my mother while my sister and I determined how to best use it.

That didn’t matter to us – we had the best box ever and we would make it into something WONDERFUL!

First, it was a house with a secret passage. Mom cut windows in the sides and we hung scraps of fabric fastened with paperclips inside as curtains. We furnished our house with an assortment of dishes, pillows, blankets and whatnot to make it a home. We begged mom to let us sleep in our house. She probably let us.

We played with that box for weeks, maybe months. The house eventually morphed into a puppet theater, with mom’s help cutting bigger holes for the “stage.”

When the box’s useful life was served – or maybe when my parents were tired of moving it every time they cleaned our play area, we dragged it outside. We turned it sideways, climbed inside, took deep breaths for courage and began rolling across our yard and down the small hill, picking up speed, imagining a trip over Niagara Falls – until the box’s sides split and we lay on the grass screaming with laughter.

Boxed in? Not kids. Give them an empty cardboard container and they’ll fill it with dreams.


Posted in Columns

Family Tradition Tucked into 500 Squares of Pasta

There’s nothing like coming home from a long day at work to a flour-covered kitchen.
I mean really flour-covered. Flour on the counter, flour on the floor and in the sink, flour in piles and semi-wet splotches on the table. Flour on my husband and flour on his mom.

I made a snapshot of the image in my brain, the two of them working independently together to preserve their 50-plus-year-old family tradition.

My husband sat at one end of the table feeding golden dough through a machine that complained in a shrill voice – much to the dog’s dismay – with each pass. This was his dad’s job for more than 15 of the 50 years. Dad died five years ago and the machine has pretty much been silent since then.

This was the week for a ravioli revival.

To my husband’s right, his mom focused on flouring the back of

each dough rectangle, placing it on the form, making the pockets and filling them with cheese or meat mixtures that merge the flavors of her marriage with mine, with my husband’s and even our kids’ childhood memories.

Her fingers worked with precision:  Flour. Stretch. Place. Pockets. Fill.

Flour. Dough. Roll. Peel.

Flip. Arrange. Repeat.

All the while, the motor’s symphonic whine continued as the dough was readied for the next batch.

Ravioli revival became ravioli marathon – 10 hours’ worth when those delicious little pasta pockets were all in the freezer and the kitchen made spotless.
I volunteered for cleanup. It was my contribution for being privy to taste-testing a half-dozen or so ravioli.

They tasted like they have for the nearly 30 years I’ve been part of this Italian family.

It made me think about tradition and how so many things weave our short lives into the intricate web that is our family, friends and community.

For the most part, we probably don’t think about them until something changes. Children grow up, get married and have their own kids. Someone moves. Someone dies.
Ravioli was always a New Year’s tradition. After seeing how much work it took to make enough ravioli to feed my husband’s immediate family – nearly 800 squares – I understand why my mother- and father-in-law only did this once a year!

Jan. 1 is four months away, but at this point, it didn’t matter. Son and mother wanted to spend time together so he could learn the process – and the “recipe” his mom has carried in her head for so many years.

We created little traditions with our kids when they were growing up, sometimes by accident. A giant Hershey Kiss on Valentine’s Day. First day of school photos. Notes from the tardy tooth fairy – with a dollar or two – when she forgot to make her rounds the previous night. Decorating school lockers on birthdays. Hiding plastic Easter eggs filled with candy throughout the house – even for the working college kid. Visiting Duluth (we lived in Minnesota for a long time)and eating at the same Vietnamese restaurant and then buying a sweet treat at the candy store next door.
Some of those things morphed from my childhood traditions – though the tooth fairy was always punctual at my house. Some started on a whim – going into school at the crack of dawn to plaster baby pictures and hang streamers all over a kid’s locker for his or her birthday.

I can’t wait to see which of those traditions our kids continue in their own lives. I look forward to a time when each of them will sit at the end of the table feeding golden dough through a flour-covered whining duck-taped machine, their dad at their right, flouring, stretching, placing and thinking about how connected they are to family.