| SisterSchmooze |

Flying without a Plane

Come travel with the Sisters… you won’t even have to take off your shoes at the airport!

Yearning to visit exotic, faraway places? Not easy these days, with skyrocketing air fares and horror stories about flight delays, missed connections, and lost luggage.
And even if you can face schlepping your bags through long security lines — how about your own security? More and more countries, many with ancient Jewish roots, are off-limits to anyone wearing a yarmulke or a Magen David necklace.
The Schmoozing Sisters have a solution. All you have to do is… schmooze! Jews have lived in so many corners of the world, in fascinating places with fascinating histories. Talk to people who grew up in neighborhood streets that looked, sounded, and smelled so different from our own. Recreate customs from faraway places. Taste foreign cuisine by sharing meals and recipes.
You don’t have to fight for an aisle seat to travel: Leave your passport at home, and just be a Jew open to the stories and ways of other Jews. Travel with the Sisters and help embroider a Tunisian trousseau quilt; enjoy a spicy Teimani pancake; and meet a special Ashkenazi guest as you dance at a Moroccan henna.
Come travel with the Sisters… you won’t even have to take off your shoes at the airport!
Miriam travels...

From Brooklyn to Yemen via Har Nof

With scruffy and murderous thugs flinging missiles and western countries shooting them back, Yemen isn’t high on my “can’t miss” travel list. The travel advisory issued by the US government — Do not travel to Yemen due to the dangerous security situation and the threat of armed conflict, kidnapping, and terrorism — makes it even less tempting.

And yet... Yemen! The land that hosted Jews from the time of Bar Kochva, and perhaps even earlier. The land to which Rambam sent his famous Iggeres Teiman, when a false messiah threatened the G-d-fearing Jews there. The land of young boys with long, curly peyot, sitting around a table with one sefer among them. The land of the Magic Carpet, which brought entire communities of Teimanim to Eretz Yisrael.

This was the land that my husband a”h and I lived in for two years.

Kind of.


Following the passing of my mother a”h, who’d lived with us for 21 years, my husband and I — missing her presence at the Shabbos table and in our lives — decided it was time for a change of scene. Some people take two weeks’ vacation; ours lasted two years.

Moshav Yish’i features red-roofed cottages, lovely gardens, and a peaceful country atmosphere. But what makes it so special are the people who founded it and live there — Yemenite Jews.

So what happens when you put two Brooklyn born-and-bred Ashkenazim on an almost wholly Teimani moshav?

You might find they’ve changed your name, as well as your driving habits. We’d park on the gravel outside our cottage and, when taking out the car, my husband — who’d learned to drive on the mean streets of Boro Park — would roar his way out. Within days, our landlord had some crisp words for him: “Zalman, kahn zeh lo Chicago — Zalman, this isn’t Chicago.” The fact that my husband’s name was Nachman didn’t disturb him; apparently, to Teimanim, all Ashkenazi males are named Zalman. Ditto for Chicago, a city Nachman had never visited. If you were from America, driving like a wild man, clearly your roots were in the Windy City.

The culinary differences, too, were interesting. Every Friday, my neighbor would bring me her homemade “lachuch” (pronounced with a guttural “ch” that I couldn’t possibly replicate), which looks like a pita on steroids. When I asked what to eat with it, she gave me choices. I could smear it with labaneh and za’atar or dip it into Yemenite bean soup, liberally laced with the Yemenite spice hawaij. Since labaneh tasted to me like yogurt that’s been in the fridge way too long, and the one time I ate food spiced with hawaij I had a coughing fit that lasted off and on for three days, neither option was tempting.

I looked at Nachman (Zalman?), and he looked at me. They might call it lachuch, but we knew what it really was.

A pancake.

And so we ended every Shabbos with a Melaveh Malkah featuring lachuch topped with Ben & Jerry’s and a generous helping of maple syrup. We swore any guests to secrecy, not wanting to be run out of town by horrified natives.

Our elderly landlord and his even more elderly friend would sit outside on Fridays, sipping homemade arak (a licorice-flavored liquor) and smoking khat (don’t even ask what that is, but it’s illegal in most countries) as they listened intently to shiurei Torah. Luckily for me, Teimani women don’t share this custom, but it wasn’t easy for Zalman to find weekly excuses not to join them.

More memories of “Teiman”: The “mori” — the rav — racing after his runaway white donkey, purchased in the hope of doing the mitzvah of peter chamor. Musa the Bedouin who, if my landlord was to be believed, had three wives back in Be’er Sheva. The vatikin minyanim, where Teimani boys would repeat each pasuk of the parshah in Aramaic during Kriat HaTorah.

But if some of my memories of our sojourn in “Teiman” are about our differences, most of them are about what we shared: the Torah and mitzvos, the love of Eretz Yisrael and of our people. Those belong to Teimanim, Ashkenazim and, indeed, to every single Jew.


Marcia travels…

From Florida to Tunisia

“It’s so pure, it’s magnificent. Hashem gives you the food you eat, the money, everything you need.”

Myriam — the spunky little lady in the condo beneath mine — is talking about Bircas Hamazon. In her heavily accented English — Israeli? French? — my new friend often asks me for help in davening. What tefillah to say? When to say it? How to daven more quickly and keep up in shul?

What drives this heartfelt determination to connect with Hashem? She’s about to turn 85. Some of our friends are taking her out for a birthday dinner. Maybe I’ll understand if I get her to tell us about her life.


Tunisia, 1939. Myriam was born in Sousse, a city south of Tunis, when Tunisia was under the French protectorate.

She’s descended from ten generations of Tunisian rabbanim. Her maternal grandfather, Rabbi Youssef Guez, was Grand Rabbi of Tunisia. He received medals for his work with the poor from both President Doumergue of France and the Pope. Myriam’s mother emulated Rabbi Guez’s chesed, always cooking for others and giving to neighbors.

Myriam can still picture her mother cooking: kashering each piece of meat, checking each herb or spice sprig for bugs, making special Shabbos couscous from scratch from semolina.

“You couldn’t just walk into a store and pick up a spice jar or a shrink-wrapped chicken package,” she comments.

Another memory: her mother working on Myriam’s older sister’s trousseau — for an entire year before the wedding. Along with two seamstresses who stayed in their apartment, she embroidered nightgowns, sheets, and other necessities. At the same time, her mother managed to plan both the wedding and the pre-wedding henna — an elaborate affair with special clothes, delectable food, even an orchestra.

And her father? He managed his family’s olive oil business, toiling especially hard to pay for his daughter’s dunya (dowry). “Still,” Myriam says, “he found time to learn Torah with my grandfather.”


After the protectorate was abolished in 1956, when Myriam was 17 years old, her family moved to Israel — thus her French/Israeli accent. She honed her English after she and her husband moved to America in 1963.

Myriam’s had a hard life. As a baby during World War II, she was transported in a shopping bag to escape the bombing of Sousse. Her aunt and cousins were less fortunate — their entire family perished.

After the war, at age 12, more tragedy struck. First, her father became blind from his diabetes. Then her mother had a stroke, lapsed into a coma, and awoke after a month — paralyzed on her left side.

“I grew up very quickly,” says Myriam.

Although she was the family’s baby — with six older brothers and a married sister living in faraway Tunis — she ran the household and took care of her parents. “I would iron thirty to forty shirts at a time,” she recalls.


Two vivid recollections show how Myriam’s thirst for tefillah began and intensified:

She’s nine years old, peeking through a doorway crack. Rabbi Peretz enters to teach Torah and davening to her rambunctious brothers, but they’re playfully hiding from their teacher behind the curtains. They don’t know how lucky they are to be boys and get the Jewish education she longs for. How she wishes she, too, could open a siddur and speak to Hashem, using the traditional words of our Sages.

Later, she tried to emulate her father, who — even after becoming blind — would daven from memory. “I used to daven in my heart. I made believe I was davening.”


In Israel, Myriam learned to speak Hebrew and recognize Hebrew letters — but not to read. She had to quit Ulpan to take care of her parents. That’s why she understands davening, but she’s slow in reading. “Knowing Hebrew,” she explains, “sometimes interferes, sometimes helps.”

Widowed after coming to America, and home alone during Covid, she decided to teach herself to daven. With advice from her daughter and a neighbor, she started with Modeh Ani and Shema, slowly progressing to Lecha Dodi, Baruch She’amar, Ashrei, and various pirkei Tehillim. Careful to articulate every word, she’s now learning Shemoneh Esreh and — her favorite — Bircas Hamazon.

She concludes with words that go straight to my heart: “For you it’s automatic. For me every word’s a new picture.”

She’s asking me for davening help? Maybe SHE should be helping ME!


Emmy Leah travels…

From Israel to Galicia to Boro Park via Morocco

Driving with my husband from Beit Shemesh to our granddaughter Hadar’s wedding, we passed the cemetery where our parents are buried. I’d visited there days before to “invite” them to the wedding.

“Did you tell them not to be late?” my husband asked.

I groaned at the joke, but it started me thinking about the minhag of inviting “neshamos” to their descendants’ weddings.

Do neshamos actually “come down” from Shamayim in some mystical way? Does the minhag suggest we’re thinking at this emotional time about those we’ve lost? Does it remind us of zechus avos as we daven for the new couple to continue the chain begun generations before?

Honestly, I don’t know the source of the minhag. What I do know is that two hours later, at the wedding, I met, so-to-speak, one of the neshamos who’d accepted our invitation to come to celebrate with us….


The chuppah is over. Laughter, tears, brachos, music. I enter the main room, beautifully set up, like simchah halls everywhere.

But something is different. A corner of the room glows, a fairy-tale version of a Moroccan palace. There are velvety blue Persian carpets on the floor. Behind a golden throne built for two hang shimmering translucent curtains dotted with jewels. In one corner, a table with beautifully wrapped gifts — tallis and seforim for the chassan, jewelry and perfume for the kallah. In another corner, brightly colored, embroidered kaftans hang on a coat rack. Golden vases and lamps fit for genies dot the area. Cellophane-wrapped platters of candies and Moroccan pastries stand alongside a decorated bowl full of what looks like mud or chocolate mousse: the plant-based dye, henna.

Hadar’s mother’s family is Moroccan. Though our family is Ashkenazi, we respect and rejoice in their family’s minhag of a henna celebration for the bride. Right after the main meal, the guests will head to this corner of Morocco-in-an-Israeli-hall and don the kaftans hanging on the rack. The women will dance holding platters of sweets over their heads, wishing the new couple a sweet life together. Then everyone will smear a blob of henna dye on the palms of their hands, leaving a bright orange spot that lasts a few days before fading.

So here I stand, admiring little Morocco, pondering various minhagim and the kibbutz galuyos that brought our families together. A chassidish woman from the chassan’s side joins me to admire the exotic decor.

Then, to my astonishment, she asks: “Was your name Stark? Did your father own a butcher store on 18th Avenue?”

Yes, of course, my name had been Stark. And of course, Daddy a”h had been a butcher. But that was decades ago! Hey, if they make me look so young, I should put on a sheitel and makeup more often!

But then, a more serious thought, as she starts talking about my father. What a yashar man he was. She recalls the good name he had in our community. She tells me that after it closed, his store became a mikveh, a place of kedushah. How appropriate that was, I tell her, for a man who became a kosher butcher when he came to America from Galicia in the 1920s because that was the only way he could keep Shabbos. Zechus avos indeed.

Many reasons are suggested for the henna ceremony. I like the one that says that everyone seeing the orange spot on a person’s hand has a share in the simchah. My father loved his fellow Jews, celebrated their celebrations. If he could see the Moroccan fairy castle at his great-granddaughter’s wedding, he’d be puzzled — no hennas in Galicia, or, for that matter, in Boro Park! But with his love for Jews and Jewish traditions, he would have approved.

I was in elementary school when my father closed his store. A perfect stranger remembering him half a century later at the wedding seemed to me a sure sign that he, and all the neshamos who came before us, were celebrating with us.

And it made sense that my father, Nachum Stark a”h, “represented” the family neshamos at this particular wedding. My father was niftar when I was expecting my first child — and it was that child, Nachum, named for my father, who’d just walked his daughter to the chuppah.


This week will be the 45th yahrtzeit of our father, Nachum ben Avraham Asher a”h. May his neshamah have an aliyah — and attend many family weddings.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 891)

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