#BlogElul 1: Prepare

Today is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul, which means we are precisely one lunar cycle from Rosh Hashanah, the new year. There is a whole lot of preparation going on around our house, and some of it is even related to the upcoming holiday. Quite a lot of the non-holiday prep has to do with what my husband and I want to be when we grow up my husband comes to the end of his time on active duty in the Navy. That won’t be resolved by the time we welcome 5776, though.

After taking leave to visit family for the High Holidays last year, this year we are once again hosting Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner for our friends in the local area, especially our fellow military folks who aren’t able to be with their loved ones during this busy time of year. I’m narrowing down my list of recipes and coming up with a dazzling array of excuses to try even more varieties of local honey. I’m kicking myself for not having been on the ball enough to start brewing our own mead (honey wine) early enough for it to be ready for the new year.

My preoccupation with dinner planning is not, perhaps, the most spiritually elevated thing on which I could be focusing now. It may be a distraction from everything else we have whirling around right now, from my husband’s résumé honing to my rabbinical school application. I think, though, that by turning my attention to something as concrete as figuring out how best to feed and entertain an as-yet-unknown number of guests, I free up my mental background processes to work on deeper things.

The image of my subconscious diligently yet mysteriously plugging away while I look for the holiday table linens is a comforting thought, but I’m not going to bet on its success unless I set aside some time to prepare my mind and spirit, not merely my kitchen and table.

BlogElul 5776


Spring Gives Way to Summer

I know that the summer solstice isn’t for another couple of weeks, but it has felt distinctly summer-like here in the Florida panhandle for at least the past month. Sampson and I have been busy with projects, visitors, and travel, and that level of bustle shows no sign of abating anytime soon. I thought I’d check in with a little peek at what we’ve been up to lately.


Despite the fact that it is far too early to have any definite timeframe nailed down, we cannot deny that our next move is on the horizon. Neither can we deny that eight years of marriage and a series of military moves that happened to put us in successively larger houses have allowed the Law of Expanding Crap nearly unchecked play. Our next move is almost certainly going to be to a much smaller space, and we have a lot of stuff that does not need to make the trip with us.

Sampson and I are off to a decent start at being more mindful about what we want to keep. We have severely pruned our wardrobes, scrapped bags upon bags of papers I don’t even know why we kept in the first place, and even filled boxes with books to donate. That last one is the toughest for this bookworm, so I’m most proud of that area of reduction. (Our bookcases still look full, mind, but they are no longer overflowing.)

We still have a long way to go, but seeing such major progress nearly every weekend for the past several weeks is motivating. Our goal is that by the time we move, we will take with us only those things we truly need and appreciate. I don’t want to dig through boxes in the new place and unwrap items that make me go, “Ugh, why on earth did we bother to pack this?” I’d much rather be excited about being reunited with our household goods.

Atlanta and New Orleans

In an effort not to let ourselves stagnate, we took a couple of long weekends for short road trips. Sampson wanted to see The Mitty at Road Atlanta, so we made a trip of it. In addition to seeing (and hearing, and feeling) amazing classic race cars whip around a beautiful course, we enjoyed all kinds of great food we can’t get in Pensacola. Among the highlights was my first time trying Ethiopian food in Little Five Points.

For my birthday weekend, we headed three hours west and wound up in New Orleans. Although we rapidly discovered that we are way too old and crotchety for the nonsense on Bourbon Street, we discovered all manner of other delicious dining spots and even enjoyed a cocktail or three. We spent most of the day on my birthday exploring the National World War II Museum.

(He)brewing Up Summer Learning

I had such an incredible experience at Middlebury College’s Hebrew for Lifelong Learners program last summer that I signed up to go this summer, too. I must have made it sound like fun, because this time my mother-in-law will join me for the intensive immersion course. I can’t wait to spend three weeks with lush green mountain landscapes in my eyes and no English in my ears or on my lips.


So, what have you been up to lately?


#blogExodus 12: Find

#blogExodus 5775 topicsHave I ever told you about the year that that our search for the afikomen (a piece of broken matzah that is hidden during the Passover Seder for kids to find and subsequently ransom, because the ritual meal can’t end until everyone takes a bite of the afikomen) took four months? It is a tale of mystery and intrigue and military movers that spanned 1,400 miles!

Back in 2008, when the glitter of Sampson’s newly-awarded Navy Wings of Gold was still a dazzling novelty on his uniform, we were getting ready to ditch South Texas for glamorous Norfolk, Virginia (well, it had to be more glamorous than Kingsville or Corpus Christi). Eager were we to leave behind the grind of flight training for an exciting life of… well, more flight training, but this time in a haze-grey Fleet Replacement Squadron aircraft with wings on one’s chest instead of in the clown-like orange-and-white birds of the training commands wearing a sad, wingless name tag. Before we could start that thrilling new chapter, though, we had to get ourselves and all our worldly possessions from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast.

That meant military movers. When Uncle Sam is picking up the tab, you don’t exactly get to shop around for the best moving company on the block; the government’s primary criterion for its choice of relocation contractors seems to be the price. Our much-anticipated pack-out day, which fell during the middle of Passover, was fraught with a number of issues that one might expect when dealing with the lowest bidder, not the least of which was the driver forgetting to bring the key to the back of the truck so that the boxes and furniture could be loaded.

The wait while someone went to fetch the key would have been no big deal, ordinarily. However, for reasons known only to them, the movers had decided to stage all the boxes and furniture outside on the lawn. That would have been no big deal if thunder hadn’t started rumbling and the clouds hadn’t begun to threaten everything we owned with a thorough watering.

Luckily for us, someone returned with the means to open the truck so that loading could commence, and they managed to get everything safely aboard the truck before the skies opened up and soaked our stuff. Still, that last hour or so of willing the rain not to fall had added even more stress to what is never a relaxing day under the best of circumstances, so we were doubly relieved to see the truck drive off. Exhausted, we went back inside our empty house to grab a snack of matzah we’d stashed with the “Do Not Pack” collection of snacks and drinks we had left on the counter for the packers and movers.

MatzahThough the other snacks remained, the box of matzah — our last one — was nowhere to be seen. We looked through drawers (empty), the fridge (likewise), cabinets (also no joy). “They must have packed it by accident,” said Sampson, shaking his head.

And now it was on its way to storage in Virginia until we had a house to which our stuff could be delivered. “This is going to be the longest afikomen hunt ever,” I said, through giggles of disbelief bubbling up from the dregs of a long, long day.

We spent several months bouncing from temporary lodging facility to my parents’ place while Sampson was at SERE school to different temporary lodging facility before we finally closed on our Virginia house and took delivery of our household goods. With every cardboard box we ripped open, we joked, “Is this where they hid the afikomen?”

In the end, I won the prize–the long-lost matzah turned up in a box of miscellaneous kitchen stuff. Matzah being what it is, its apparent condition was indistinguishable from when it had been packed four months prior, but neither of us was particularly inclined to put it to a taste test.

#blogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#blogExodus 10: Join

#blogExodus 5775 topics

My husband was kind enough to allow me to share the story of how he joined together with his Jewish community aboard the USS Enterprise despite the difficulties of deployment in the spring of 2011. I’ll turn it over to him for today’s post. Enjoy!

I knew before the deployment started that celebrating Passover would be a little challenging. But, like most things, it’s just a matter of finding the community and going for it. The Navy is very good about arranging to have rabbis come out to forward deployed areas for Jewish holidays. The only question that remained was whether to enjoy the holiday aboard Naval Support Activity Bahrain or try to stay overnight on the Enterprise.

I made that call once I saw an old friend from Jewish Midshipman Club (JMC) aboard the ship. He was a submariner on a shore tour. But, since he was attached to the destroyer squadron as an undersea warfare specialist, it was one of those deploying kind of shore tours. So, counter to every single bit of COD guy training I had received since officially becoming a COD guy, I asked our officer in charge if I could stay aboard the ship for a night. On purpose. No mission requirement for such. He didn’t see a problem with it.

I rode in the back of the COD out to the ship. As I was walking through the Air Transfer Office shack, I spotted a man with a black kippah on his head. This, evidently, was the rabbi. The ATO shack is where all passengers going onto and coming off the ship via aircraft muster. He had conducted a pre-Pesach Seder the day before, with the intent of celebrating aboard NSA Bahrain on the actual day. But, he assured me there were plans to have a Seder-in-a-box shindig aboard the Big E.

A COD sits aboard the USS Enterprise beneath a star-strewn night sky. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr./Released)

A COD sits aboard the USS Enterprise beneath a star-strewn night sky. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brooks B. Patton Jr./Released)

I ran into one of the ship’s chaplains who got me the time and place for the Seder. We managed to snag the captain’s in-port cabin. Nice! With this critical question answered, I spent most of the day getting a sunburn out on the LSO (Landing Signal Officer) platform watching recovering aircraft. I even got up there to see a night recovery for the first time. The night was absolutely gorgeous.  A full harvest moon hung lazily on the horizon directly behind the aircraft coming in on the approach, illuminating some distant clouds. Directly over the ship, it was painfully clear, a million stars lighting the night.

Seeing flight operations at night is one hell of an experience. On the cat shot, the afterburner seems to leave a trail of fire behind each jet.  For landing aircraft, even with our exceptionally bright night, at first all you see headed towards the ship are a series of position lights. The LSOs record which wire the aircraft caught for each pass. In the day, it’s a trivial matter to see. At night, you have to catch seeing the sparks next to the capstan for whichever wire plays out. Once we completed the recovery, I went down to the in-port cabin.

A photo of the "Pre-Pesach Seder" conducted the night before Sampson arrived aboard the USS Enterprise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nick C. Scott/Released)

A photo of the “Pre-Pesach Seder” conducted the night before Sampson arrived aboard the USS Enterprise. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nick C. Scott/Released)

The captain’s cabin was set up with a white lace tablecloth and plastic dinnerware. Two huge boxes contained our Seder supplies. For karpas, there was raw onion.  The charoset was this compressed stuff that looked like a PowerBar. The maror was in little single-serving packets. There were the obligatory boxes of matzah, plus round matzah, which I had not seen before. There were a bunch of plastic Seder plates as well. For wine, we had enough boxes of grape juice to supply a third-world country.

If the supplies were a bit, ah, expeditionary in nature, the company was fantastic. My friend from JMC showed up. A department head from HS-11, our helo squadron, was the only other pilot. There was a lieutenant from Supply who was born in Columbia and raised in Venezuela.  The Seder was led by an Intel ensign. On the enlisted side, there was one guy from the ATO with whom my detachment worked all the time, so that was another familiar face. There were four ladies, three of whom were nukes, one of whom was not actually Jewish, but came along to support her friend.

The Seder was conducted a bit quickly. Most of the crew had done a pre-Seder with the rabbi the previous night that was exceedingly lengthy. Just as we reached the Festival Meal, an alarm sounded over the 1MC.

“Man overboard, starboard side. This will be a helicopter recovery.”

When a man overboard happens, it is necessary to account for every individual aboard. The boat exploded into a controlled kind of chaos.  People in shower shoes and bathrobes started moving towards their work centers to muster. With my detachment not aboard, I didn’t actually have anyone with whom I had to muster. I decided to go down to the VAW-123 Screwtops ready room since the ship’s E-2 squadron is who typically takes care of us.

We watched the action on the PLAT camera as the helo spun up. On the water, someone had dropped flares to mark the position of the unfortunate individual. The helicopter lifted, cut back and forth several times, and within thirty minutes, plucked the man from the Arabian Gulf. Later we would find out that this was a suicide attempt.

Actually, many Jewish holidays fall on good nights for a high probability of rescue from the sea. That full moon provided 99% illumination. When the person you’re looking for doesn’t have a float coat, cranial, or any other reflective material, you need all the help you can get.

We returned to our Seder once the action stopped. There was no real Festival Meal to speak of, so after helping the mess cranks clean up, I went down to Wardroom 2 for some midrats. There are two basic foods aboard a ship that are almost always going to be delicious: omelets and soft-serve ice cream. The ice cream is called dog. The machine has an arm you lift that looks like a tail. Lifting the tail of the dog to get some ice cream is an appropriately crude visual metaphor for the environment. I don’t know how exactly, but I definitely want to integrate these foods into my Passover tradition from now on.

It was a wonderful experience to celebrate the holiday underway, about as close as one could get to celebrating with family while thousands of miles from home. It can be a strange thing to be a Jew in the service. You are a minority among your fellow sailors and the Jewish population at large. But, I just can’t see doing it any other way.

#blogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.

#blogExodus 7: Ask

#blogExodus 5775 topicsI am a long way from home through this weekend, on a trip whose entire purpose is to ask questions. For years, I have been daydreaming about the possibility of one day applying to rabbinical school, and that “one day” isn’t so far off anymore. I’m visiting one of the school’s campuses this week, to meet faculty and staff and current students and to see if I could envision myself among them. Today was filled with asking, and my mind is buzzing with new information (or possibly the unaccustomed Cherry Coke I had with dinner).

It rained and got progressively colder while I moved between classes and lunch and meetings, but the dark clouds that held court throughout the day were not so boorish as to withhold the sunset.


The only other thing I could ask of today would be a camera to capture the brilliant pinks and oranges that apparently exceed my phone’s capacity.

#blogExodus, the brainchild of Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, invites participants to chronicle the weeks leading up to Passover through blog posts, photos, and other social media expressions.