Thursday, September 18

HaShem's own mikvah

Things have been incredibly hectic as we try to get settled in a new home and I try to get settled in a new congregation at the same time. It has been hard to find time blog. This doesn’t mean that life has not been “blog-able”. It certainly has been.

For example....

Soon after Typhoon Nuri passed, Rabbi Martha and I officiated at our first conversions at the UJC. Rabbi Joel Oseran, a former UJC Rabbi who returned to Hong Kong for a “tour of duty” on an interim basis, was the Av Beit Din, as he had been working with our candidates. For reasons that I will not go into at the moment, there is no mikveh that the UJC can use for conversions. This is not to say there is no mikveh for us at all, just not one built by human hands. Our mikveh is the South China Sea.

So on a clear, storm-washed Sunday morning we assembled at Nam Wan, South Bay Beach (pictured above). It is a gorgeous, serene spot. A pacific reef egret was patrolling along the breakwater and a fishing boat was trolling just outside the shark net as we brought two beautiful souls tachat canfei haShechinah, under the wings of the divine presence. The beauty of the setting truly matched the beauty of the experience.

It is logistically a bit more difficult to use the ocean as our mikveh, but certainly worth the effort. This mikveh belongs to no one but God. It transcends all categories and barriers. What better place to become a Jew than in these waters that allude so eloquently to the boundless and unfathomable love of HaShem?

Saturday, August 23

Nuri's Passage

The worst of the storm is over for Hong Kong, although we are under signal 3, meaning there are still some strong winds. Apparently the signal 9 conditions that prevailed yesterday are relatively rare for Hong Kong and this was the strongest typhoon to hit Hong Kong in years. Read this Reuters story for an account of the damage. We were quite insulated from the storm in our building, but could hear the winds and see the chop in Victoria Harbor. The winds were strong enough to bring down the bamboo scaffolding that is used even in high rise construction here in Hong Kong.

Friday, August 22

Typhoon Nuri

Here is the storm track of Typhoon Nuri. The asterisk is Hong Kong. What this mostly means is that the city is shut down and people are staying at home. In Baton Rouge we would be sweltering in the dark by now, but here the utilities are underground. The storm was upgraded from a signal 8 to a signal 9 a few hours ago. The Hong Kong observatory says that the center will be passing over Hong Kong in the next few hours.

Thursday, August 21

Getting our Bearings

While most of our time these days has been spent getting our life in order, we have also been able to do a bit of exploring of our fascinating new home. Last Sunday, we truly gained some perspective when new friend and congregant Fiona took us up for a walk around Victoria Peak. The views were a stunning reminder that pulsing urban streetscapes are only part of life on this island. (See below from more photos). The walk was a bit shvitzy, but certainly worth it. The peak is still Hong Kong, so our little hike ended at a cafe overlooking Lama Island. Sitting outside in the relatively cool air, you would never know that nearly 7 million people were a short tram or taxi ride away.

For the 1% of the miniscule readership of this blog who are bird nerds, I also have to report that I got a life bird from the tram on the way up to the Peak-- the oriental magpie robin.

As I am writing this, typhoon Nuri is heading for Hong Kong. I thought I had left menacing storms with names behind, but apparently not. UJC office wonder woman, Nancy assures me that there is no need to buy massive quantities of batteries and bottled water. Even if signal 8 is raised (HK lingo for a storm serious enough to close schools and public transportation) the local Wellcome will still be open. As Hong Kong utilities are underground, typhoons don’t knock out the power.

I close this ramble with thanks to Nancy and Charlene from the UJC office who have been answering many stupid questions about the practicalities of life in Hong Kong. They have removed many obstacles for us with grace and good will and we are deeply grateful.

Victoria Harbor from the Peak

Lantau Island from the Peak. The white structure in the distance is Space Mountain at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Wednesday, August 13

Still Jet Lagging

We have arrived at our new home in Hong Kong, but are still suffering from the time warp. That’s why I am writing at four in the morning. Of the four of us, only Daughter Zamek is still asleep.

Yesterday morning I had my coffee and watched the container ships and ferries in Victoria Harbor. As I was watching a sulfur-crested cockatoo flew into view and landed on the satellite dish of a neighboring building. I hope I never take all this for granted.

We are just starting to feel well enough to venture out into Hong Kong. The need for some computer equipment took us to Wan Chai yesterday. I wish my compugeek friends were here to see the Wan Chai Computer Mall. They would go in and never be seen again. The heat and the crowds in Wan Chai were a little overwhelming for the kids, but we discovered that Son Zamek, despite his tender age and the fact that he has never lived in a large city, knows how to hail a cab.

More later when my mind catches up with my body.

Wednesday, August 6

Come back Tony, come back!

I am a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain’s Travel Channel television show, No Reservations. I first saw the show when we were stuck overnight in Cortez, Colorado after I seriously miscalculated how long it would take us to get from Taos to Mesa Verde. We didn’t reach the park until after the last tours of the ruins had already departed, so we needed to crash for the night. We got a hotel room in Cortez and then I went out to fetch food and new gatkes. As we were eating our take-out and channel surfing, we came across the first episode of No Reservations. I was immediately hooked. The show has everything I like: travel, food, and amusing snarkiness. I have watched the show ever since that first episode (Paris). Bourdain’s mantra, “Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist,” inspired one of my High Holiday sermons two years ago.

So I had huge expectations this past week for Bourdain’s episode on the American Southwest. This is holy ground for me. After watching the show on TiVo when we were collapsed from packing I say to Bourdain: Go back Tony, you missed the good stuff!

There was a good segment on the town of Hatch, N.M., home of the best chili peppers in the world. It was fitting that Tony ate some “red” and some “green” while in the Land of Enchantment. But where was the appreciation for New Mexico’s rich Native American or Colonial Spanish culture? How can you do a show on the cuisine and culture of the Southwest and miss Rancho de Chimayo, the family owned restaurant that introduced New Mexico’s unique food traditions to the world? Where was the Horno baked bread? Why no visit to one of New Mexico’s incredible farmer’s markets? I expected to see Tony sampling chokecherry jelly or heirloom apples or biscochitos. And let’s face it. Going to New Mexico and not eating heuvos rancheros at Michael’s Kitchen in Taos is just tragic.

The real heartbreaker was the whitewater rafting segment. I started screaming to the family to look closely at the screen at this point. There was a shot of Bourdain driving up the red dirt road along the Rio Chama. I had high hopes that Bourdain was going to drive to the end of that road. The Monastery of Christ in the Desert was there waiting for him-- a real traveler’s oasis. But it didn’t happen. It was just fun and sun in the Chama canyon.

Even though I was disappointed by the superficial treatment of New Mexico, my Michigander’s soul did respond to Bourdain’s visit with Ted Nugent at his place in Waco, TX. Still, the episode left me with an empty place that will only be filled when Tony returns to New Mexico. I know he can do better. After all, he is a traveler, not a tourist.

Tuesday, August 5

Moving Day

Nine years of accumulated possessions are now in boxes awaiting the shipping container that will take them on the long, slow trip to Hong Kong.
Like most Americans, we just have too much stuff. Even after winnowing down, after numerous trips to St. Vincent DePaul, the house still looks like a warehouse this morning.

A big part of the problem is my sentimentality. It just kills me to part with anything that embodies even the smallest episode in our family’s story.
An example: I came across a bright yellow plastic, bird shaped pitcher as we frantically prepared for the arrival of the movers. For some reason, this was Daughter Zamek’s favorite toy when she was toddler. I held the pitcher in my hand. I remembered. I kept it. It is not going to Hong Kong, but it is not headed to the thrift store or a landfill either.

Tonight is our last in the house. After today we will be refugees, crashing with the R. family until our departure date. This is only fitting since our two families have merged over the years. We are a kind of clan. It’s such a shame that tunnel we planned to build between our houses was never completed.

We still have some last things to do in Baton Rouge. I need to hit Frank’s again at least once. I am not sure that they really do have the best biscuits in the world, but they are definitely in the running. Beignets at Coffee Call are a must. A last lunch with my Rabbi, Unitarian Rev. Steve is firming up. And there will be just too many good-byes.

To my mishpocha at Beth Shalom I repeat the words I left you with when I gave my last drasha back in June:

We are not leaving here empty handed. We take many blessings with us. This has been R’s only home and the only home A. remembers and they have been given a tremendous start in life from their years of growing and learning here. Baton Rouge has become a part of them. My baby girl says y’all very naturally and my boy has a strange attraction to Camo. And they have both learned what it means to be in the loving embrace of community.
Martha and I too leave dear friends and a home we have loved. We have lived a lot of life together-- your families and mine-- times of real serenity and times of true turmoil. I have had the sad, but sacred duty of laying many of our founding generation to rest and I have watched a new generation of leaders rise to ably take their place. I am especially grateful to my presidents-- Bob who brought me here, Steve W., Debbie C., Laurie M. and Linda P. who have taken on the rewarding, but often thankless job of leading the congregation.
Being your Rabbi has been one of the greatest blessings of my life. I thank you for what you have taught me. I thank you for your friendship. It has been---- Tov.