Portland Ashkelon Sister City Association

Connecting Our Cities for Our Common Good

This is the second of two personal bulletins from Jerusalem from PASCA member Diane Blitzer.I am here to assist my daughter, Sara, and her brand-new fiance, Yehuda Leib, plan their wedding. When I left Portland, I thought it would be a Jerusalem wedding. When I arrived 3 weeks later, I learned it would be a Portland wedding. So Sara and I will be back in Portland soon.
Material below that is underlined is specific to PASCA.



Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Mishpochah~~

There is an expression in Hebrew, "Gam zu l'tovah," which translates "This, too, is for the good."
People here say "Gam zu l'tovah" when in other cultures people might say, "This, too, will pass;" or "Every cloud has a silver lining, " or "Heaven works in mysterious ways."

Now that you understand "Gam zu l'tovah," I am going to tell you a funny story and then about gam zu l'tovah as I am experiencing it.

Funny story:
Back many centuries when the Greeks had Jerusalem under seige, a Jewish heroine named Yehudit (whence the American name "Judy") invited the Greek commander, Holofarnes, to her place 'for a good time'. He accepted, and Yehudit served Holofarnes some potent wine. When Holofarnes dropped into a drunken stupor, Yehudit cut off his head. Yehudit stuck the head of Holofarnes on a pole in a public place and this so impressed the Greek army with the fierceness of Jewish resistance that the siege was broken.
Sara says -true story- that two kids under five were talking about this event (immortalized by several European Renaissance painters), and one asked the other "Did the head of Holofarnes cry when it got cut off?'
The other kid answered that, "No, it didn't cry; the head said, 'Gam zu l'tovah!' "


Gam zu l'tovah as I am experiencing it
The good news is, Sara and I are both happy and excited.
The bad news is, Sara is ill.
The good news is, we visited a clinic and the doctor thinks it's a treatable bacterial infection.
The bad news is, we're still waiting to get clearance for lab tests.
The good news is, once we have the lab results, Sara can get treatment.
The bad news is, all this scurrying around to clinics and insurance companes interferes with wedding planning and enjoying daily life here.
The good news is, sooner or later Sara will recover.

The good news is, we have identified several Portland venues that are available on Sara's target date for her wedding (31 March).
The bad news is, we can't tell until we visit them whether they are big enough for 200 dancing guests.
The good news is, I will get back to Portland soon to firm up our plans.
The bad news is, I have to re-finance my plane tickets.
The good news is, we ain't broke yet.

The good news is, I got the laundry done yesterday.
The bad news is, given the weak dollar and strong shekel, using a washer here costs as much as dry cleaning in the US.
The good news is, we have a laundry line on the roof, so I saved the additional charge for drying.
The bad news is, while I was on the roof hanging clothes, someone walked into our house and stole my wallet and my rental phone.
The good news is, I had insurance on the phone, and the thief didn't take my credit cards or passport.
The bad news is, the phone insurance has a deductible larger than the value of the phone and I needed a bunch of cash last night to conduct urgent business with a lawyer.
The good news is, I got a replacement phone (same number) and the lawyer was extremely pleasant and ATMs are still working and we ain't broke yet.
The bad-and-good news is that everyone here is as shocked as we are that we were robbed.

The good news is, the doctor said Sara can eat plain rice.
The bad news is, we had no kosher pot to cook in.
The good news is, I found a nice cooking pot for Sara.
The bad news is, I had to walk across town to teuvel it(teuvel = special treatment to make a pot kosher).
The good news is, I found the teuvel mikveh on only the fourth try and second inquiry; and Sara learned to cook rice.
The additional good news is that if Yehuda Leib gets nothing else to eat, he can be sure to get coffee, noodles, poached eggs, and rice.

Other news

Among our favorite familes are the Oppenheimers, of New York, New Jersey, Jerusalem and other places. A whole bunch of Oppenheimers happened to be together in Jerusalem and Sara and I dropped in on them. We wished not to interrupt, but were welcomed into their midst with swelling choruses of 6-part harmony and good things to eat. One of the more magnificent evenings of my life to date.
Next morning, we joined the Oppenheimers on a "V.I.P. tour" of Yad Vashem, the building housing Israel's enormous collection of documents and objects from the Second World War. Yad Vashem is sometimes called a "Holocaust museum," but we are on notice from our "V.I.P. " guide that "Holocaust" is not a preferred term, and "museum" is too suggestive that the Nazi regime achieved its goal of making our culture a residual artifact.
I have been to Yad Vashem twice before, each time for 3 hours, and have never seen the whole collection.
I think every head of state should be obligated to visit Yad Vashem and gauge the effect of unbridled power.

Sara and I had a lovely Sabbath at a yishuv - a small community (350 households) in the wilderness east of Jerusalem.
A yishuv is:
- a little like a suburb but much more close-knit,
- not really like a kibbutz though you might think so,
- not to be confused with what the press calls "settlements" in areas where Arabs are restless and dissatisfied.

The family we stayed with has 10 children. Those not away at school are the youngest: 6 boys with red hair between the ages of 18-months and 11 years. The energy level in this household is ASTONISHING. Like all Israeli children, these 6 boys constantly invent ways to amuse themselves using found objects and no electronic devices. They had us in stitches dragging piles of each other across the floor and engineering a ping-pong table and the sports tournament that followed.
Straight from the portfolio of Jewish genre painting (Moritz Oppenheim, et al) was the gang of boys sitting together with their father taking turns leyning Torah (leyning = reading aloud with a sort of chant) - even the 5-year-old.

My friend Tamar from Portland arrived recently.
She is here primarily to do some reporting about the situation in Gaza and the Israeli government for the Portland Jewish Review. If time permits, I may accompany Tamar to Sderot or Ashkelon, cities currently under rocket attack even during Israeli military action to exterminate Hamas centers of attack.
I am not of suicidal disposition - I have been to Sderot and Ashkelon before; and they are unattractively but life-savingly equipped with alert systems and concrete shelters every few yards. Under years of constant fire from undirected rockets, you are more likely to lose your mind and muscle control than your life. There have been casualties; but Stress Disorder is endemic. Visitors there for a day are under minimal risk; and communicate solidarity to the locals who haven't slept well for several years.


My impression of the campaign in Gaza is that it mimics US action in Iraq. George Bush the First went into Iraq but left the mission incomplete. In the interim, the forces we opposed were able to increase and fortify themselves. Thus, George Bush the Second felt obliged to go in and finish the job - which had become less predictable and more prolonged and expensive in both dollars and lives.

Local news outlets are probably more thorough than the US press in describing the network of underground bunkers and tunnels Hamas has created, with strategic nerve centers under hospitals, schools, and multi-family residences; and the broad extent of explosive devices at all points of ingress and egress, and even among zoo animals. We also hear about how Hamas deals with individuals who've collaborated with Israeli intelligence: not pretty, as you've guessed.

Tamar's conversations with soldiers indicate that, while they'd all rather be at home with their families or in college, they are loathe to quit the action until Hamas is significantly weakened or, better, decapitated and dismantled. If the government pulls out now, predict the soldiers, they will only have to go back again and fight a stronger enemy.

Portland has a "sister city" relationship with Ashkelon, and Tamar and I are both involved with the Association that fosters this relationship. In fact, I am composing this in Tamar's apartment in a mixed Jewish-Arab-Russian Orthodox- Christian part of Jerusalem. Tamar and I are calm and enjoying peace. If you think life in Jerusalem is otherwise, you are reading the wrong newspapers.


Sara and I last night attended a siyyum celebrated by her fiance, Yehuda Leib. A siyyum is observed when one completes a unit of study. Do not confuse "siyyum" with graduation - it has nothing to do with credits or degrees - only with personal accomplishment and application of self-discipline.
Yehuda Leib's objective is to observe a siyyum every year on his birthday, indicating to himself that he has made good use of another year. I remarked that this explains to my satisfaction why we have birthdays.
The siyyum occured in the home of one of Yehuda Leib's teachers. Since this teacher lives outside Jerusalem, a minyan (ten men of at least bar mitzvah age - 13- necessary to such an event) was assembled among the neighbors. At the appointed time, ten pink-cheeked eighth-graders in black hats marched in and took their places at the table. There was a little giggling, the siyyum was observed with solemnity and respect, the black hats soon found their way to the floor, and cake was served. The ten lads then left and the family and visitors had dinner.
We are pleased as punch to be able to celebrate his accomplishment with this fine young man - and we are also glad to have clean clothes to wear, now that the laundry is done.

Thus, the circle of this narrative closes.

Until next time~~

Kol tuv (all good) from Jerusalem

Diane Blitzer and Sara

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