This is another long one - mostly because this week has had some amazing ups and some distressing lows and it's hard to talk about either one briefly. Bear with me.
I have always enjoyed cooking and baking - when I was younger, I remember loving when I got to pull out the step stool in the kitchen so that I could see the counter tops and help cook dinner. I learned how to make all sorts of good food standing at that counter next to my mom - meatballs, spaghetti sauce, snickerdoodles, macaroni and cheese, steamed artichokes, a good grilled cheese and a great egg in a raft. And I distinctly remember when my father decided he wanted to learn how to bake - I learned right along with him, acting as sous chef and getting to do all of the fun things like crack eggs and dump flour into the mixer.
In the last two years, cooking and baking have become something of a stress-relief activity for me. I enjoy the process of finding a recipe, shopping for ingredients, preparing and assembling a great meal or a wonderful dessert. It's something concrete - the steps don't change, no matter what you're putting together. I also get a lot of joy out of providing food for others - it's such an easy way to make people happy, and I've found that my friends are always grateful when presented with a cookie or a cupcake or a really well made salad.
It makes me so happy to learn that this year at Pardes I'm gaining a little bit of a reputation as a baker - it's not something I purposefully attempted to do, but knowing that the things I've been putting effort into have been making people happy is a really great feeling. I love that in the past few weeks I've brought two different people over who wanted baking lessons (once for challah and once for cupcakes) and that both times, they've left with new knowledge, a good memory or two, and some delicious baked goods.
Another thing that I've always gotten a lot of joy out of is sewing and making clothing, a talent which has been a little underutilized since I came to Jerusalem because I left my sewing machine behind in Chicago. A few weeks ago, however, I was approached by a friend looking for some assistance with a clothing related project. In Numbers 15:38-40, God commands the Israelites to bind a fringe to the corners of their garments; this fringe is called tzitzit, and it's found on the corners of tallitot. In many observant communities, it is a custom for men to wear not just a tallit, but also a tallit katan (basically an undershirt with four distinct corners and tzitzit tied to each corner). It is becoming more and more common for women to take on this mitzvah as well, however, it isn't something that has hit the mainstream and so it is difficult for women to find tallitot katanot that fit them well.
My friend asked me for assistance in converting some of her form fitting tank tops into tallitot katanot - a process that involved opening up the side seams to create four distinct corners and sewing a buttonhole into each corner so that the tzitzit would have a finished hole to be tied through. We spent a really lovely evening together figuring out the logistics of completing this project, both in terms of the halacha involved and the construction steps necessary. I was really glad to be able to help her take this step on her Jewish journey, and also really enjoyed getting back into the simple rhythm of using a needle and thread.
And now for the not so great stuff. On Tuesday of this past week, I woke up to the news that my maternal grandfather had gone off of dialysis. In conjunction with this came the realization that my mother had a major surgery scheduled for Wednesday which could not be rescheduled. My grandfather passed away on Friday, and the funeral will be tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon.
It's really difficult to be away from my family during this time. I want to be there for my mom, and my grandmother, and to be with my dad and my brothers and my extended family of aunts and uncles and cousins. We're taking great advantage of Skype and cell phones and gchats but it's not the same as getting and giving a real life hug or being able to hold someone's hand.
My friends here have been amazing - calling to check up on me, offering hugs and condolences and prayers. So many people have asked if I needed anything, and simply been present when I've needed a shoulder to lean on or a friendly face. The same goes for my friends in the States - offering up words of wisdom and listening to me talk about my Grandpa Max.
I have a lot of really complicated thoughts about everything that's going on with my family. Suffice it to say, this has been a very difficult year, and while I appreciate the lessons I've learned in stress management, resiliency, and grieving, I would also really appreciate a few months where nothing crazy happens in my life. I wish that I were able to go home, and I struggle with the fact that I was pretty sure I was going to face this situation before I left the States. Mostly, though, I'm just really sad, and while I know it will get better in the long run, it's not so easy right now.