I did not grow up in a coffee house.  Neither of my parents drank coffee and I don’t even recall ever seeing a coffee jar of any kind in our pantry.  But I did have many opportunities to inhale the delicious aroma of coffee.  My very dear childhood friend, who lived directly across the street, did grow up in a coffee house and we had many sleepovers.  Besides the countless hours of preparing and performing award-deserving shows, playing Risk, Racko, and Rummikub (the three R’s), trading stationery, and engaging in whispered conversations and giggles late into the night, I also relished the scent (first C, and yes, I’m allowing myself the use poetic license) of freshly brewed coffee wafting up the stairs even before we opened our eyes and rolled out of bed. It was paradise.  I hope my friend never finds out my true motivation for our sleepovers.     

About fifteen years ago, I was home alone, working upstairs at my computer when I suddenly heard a strange sound as my entire house began to sway from side to side.  At first, I thought I was imagining things.  My house had never swayed before. But it was real! As I was carried from side to side, I recalled discussions with my neighbors about how our homes were built on swampland and that slowly, one millimeter at a time, our homes were sinking into the ground. I worried that the process had suddenly accelerated and our houses were going down. Fast.  I ran down the stairs and out of my house as quickly as my feet would take me.  Once outside, I noticed my neighbor across the street standing at her second-floor window.  “What on earth was that?” I screamed.  “It’s an earthquake,” she answered.  An earthquake?! Earthquakes happen in places like L.A.  Japan. Indonesia.  I’d never experienced an earthquake before and it definitely did not feel like I would have expected.  I believe it measured “only” about 5 on the Richter Scale, but even so, it shook me up, both literally and figuratively.

For me, Shmita has always been about the challenges in managing my kitchen and providing my family with fruits and vegetables during this special year.  But to be perfectly honest, I never really thought much about the financial difficulties that farmers face due to not being able to work their fields during Shmita. But a recent event held in Ramat Beit Shemesh opened my eyes to the mystique of Shmita, the potential brachah that lies in its observance, and the incredible emunah and mesiras nefesh exhibited by the farmers who keep Shmita.

As you all know, in Israel the army is not voluntary; most young Israeli men and women serve in the IDF, although there are many notable exceptions.  Any soldier in any army faces many challenges. 

I don’t recall exactly how old I was when “the man in the car” showed up on our street, but I was a young child and the incident made a lasting impression.  It was smack in the middle of a New York winter - when the cold is brutal and being outdoors can at times be downright dangerous - when a creepy-looking man pulled up in front of our house, parked his car, and decided to dub that particular spot his new home. At the time, I didn’t understand the incongruity of a homeless man driving a car. He wore a shabby coat and could have used a haircut. 

Chanukah started off unusually hot this year, but by the end of the holiday, the winter was upon us with lower temperatures and some much-needed rain. But even in the cold weather, there were many touching moments that kept our hearts warm.  One day, as we approached the Old City, the walls were lit up with projections of menorahs and other Chanukah symbols. The Kotel had a celebratory feel with a huge Chanukah sign, a very big menorah, and a significantly larger crowd than on a typical day, which made for a very festive and pleasant atmosphere.  Notwithstanding, finding a seat was not too difficult and one didn’t need to hide in the shade. As I sat and davened next to my daughter-in-law, I was treated to a moving rendition of Hallel sung by a mother and her approximately ten-year-old daughter. Arm in arm, they sang the entire tefilah out loud, audible enough for me to hear the innocent and tender voice of the little girl, but quietly enough so as not to distract those nearby from davening. What a sweet moment!