Thursday, December 31, 2020


If there is anything Israel did right in this past year’s battle against coronavirus, it was in securing enough vaccines to start a massive inoculation campaign. At this stage, citizens over 60 and at-risk groups are eligible and an incredible 1/3 of that population (nearly 700,000 as of yesterday) has already been vaccinated.

Israel currently leads the world in vaccinations per capita, with 7.44 doses administered per 100 people. Bahrain is second, followed by the United Kingdom and the United States. Although there is a fear that Israel may run out of vaccines in mid-January, enough are being reserved for the second required dose for those who have already been vaccinated.

With such a huge rush to get vaccinated, my wife and I were worried it would be difficult to set an appointment. We had heard stories about people waiting on the phone for over half an hour before getting disconnected. But for us, the process was extremely simple and efficient.

Jodie registered us on our health care provider’s website and our vaccinations were set for January 6th. However, a few days later, the nurse on our moshav called to say that there were openings on December 30th. We would get our shots at a clinic in Mevesseret at exactly 14:09 and 14:14 on Wednesday afternoon.

We showed up at the clinic and walked right in, directly to the nurse’s desk. No crowd at the entrance, no waiting in line. The nurse took our details and within 2 minutes, I sat down for my shot. And then Jodie got her shot. We were told to wait outside for 15 minutes, to make sure there were no immediate reactions to the vaccine, and then we were able to go home.

Today we will set our appointments for the second dosage in three weeks’ time. Both Jodie and I feel a slight pain in our shoulders—nothing more serious than a muscle cramp—but overall, we are just relieved that we got our shots.

As we start 2021, our sincere hope is that everyone will get vaccinated so that we can put COVID-19 behind us!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Review of ‘The Devil’s Gorge’ by Dora Ilieva

Sam Angelov, a University of Toronto student, receives notification that he has inherited an apartment in Bulgaria from his grandmother. Accompanied by his friend, Ben, Sam flies to Sofia to meet with a local lawyer. While the inheritance paperwork is being processed, Sam sets out to meet a distant cousin, Kossara, and her father Kiril, a well-known history professor.

Sam and Ben travel with Kossara to the Thracian city of Perperikon in the Rhodope Mountains, where Kiril and a group of archaeologists are working at a dig. Perperikon sits high on a rocky hill and its history revolves around a temple of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and fertility; and Orpheus, the legendary musician and poet. Kiril is convinced that two invaluable treasures from the ancient world are buried somewhere on the site.

The Devil’s Gorge by Dora Ilieva (2014) is an engaging archaeological thriller set in one of the most beautiful regions of Bulgaria. The settings described in the book are real, and as colorful and fascinating as described. The Nestinarstvo fire dancing tradition is still practiced in rural areas of Bulgaria.

The Devil’s Gorge of the title refers to the stunning Devil’s Throat Cave, through which Orpheus is said to have descended into the subterranean kingdom of Hades to seek his lost love Eurydice. The cave plays no significant role in this story, but perhaps Sam and Kossara will return to it in the novel’s sequel.

Dora Ilieva is a Bulgarian-Canadian author who grew up in Sofia, Bulgaria, and moved to Canada when she was twenty-eight. She is married and has three children. She works as a teacher and writes in her spare time. The Devil's Gorge, the author's debut novel, was followed by The Master and White Clay in the Across the Ocean series.

Monday, December 21, 2020

"The Bear" - short story

A 65-year-old man was killed by a bear in the Rhodope Mountains on Friday. The victim was in the woods collecting firewood when he was attacked, villagers said. More than 200 wild bears roam the forests in the Smolyan District, but this was the first reported case of a bear attacking a human.

“The bears are starving,” explained the mayor of the village.

“They may be starving, but that doesn’t mean we should be served as their dinner!” complained one of the terrified villagers.

“He killed a cow last year,” cried another.

“He’s a killer bear!”

“There’s no need to get alarmed,” cautioned the mayor. “The appropriate authorities have been contacted and they assured me they will deal with the problem.”

The appropriate authority was Anton Monev, head of the Regional Police Directorate. Anton called me shortly after being notified of the incident. He urged me to come, saying I could join him the next morning when he went to hunt down the bear.

Read the rest of the story on Potato Soup Journal.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

"The Baker" - short story

“I’ve heard you have the best pitas in all of Sofia.”

“Who am I to argue with what people are saying?” Jamal said, looking up from the cash register to find a well-dressed middle-aged man drumming his fingers on the counter. “What can I get you?”

“Would it be possible to make an order for one hundred and fifty?”

Jamal stepped back, not surprised at the large order but rather that the man was speaking to him in colloquial Arabic. “I’m sure that can be arranged,” he said, turning to his brother for confirmation. Standing near one of the ovens, Amar nodded his consent.

“Good,” the customer said. “I will pay you now, in advance. Could you have the order ready if I come by tomorrow at three?”

Jamal rang up the purchase and handed over the change and a receipt. “Dovizhdane,” he said, instinctively saying goodbye in Bulgarian.

Shukran,” the man replied in Arabic as he left the bakery.

Read the rest of the story on Isele Magazine.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

The Mousetrap

We first sensed something odd in our kitchen when we noticed that the top part of a Shabbat roll had been pulled off. Maybe one of our granddaughters had torn the bag open as part of a pre-dinner “I am starving!” tantrum? The next morning, we discovered a damaged section of banana bread.

And then there was a fruit platter left out overnight. Pomegranate seeds were spilled all over the counter. A week later, a purple plum fell to the floor during the night. Maybe someone had bumped into the fruit bowl?

But when we found tiny chewed-up pieces of beet all over the side of the stove, we realized this was no accident. We had had kubbeh soup for dinner, so there were plenty of beets around. One of them, apparently, was left out on the counter and it had been attacked overnight.

The final straw was when we woke up to find that a ripe plum had rolled across the kitchen floor. It was chewed into small little pieces. We had a mouse!

We borrowed a mousetrap and primed it on the kitchen floor before going to bed. First, we tried a piece of yellow cheese. Nothing. And then half a plum. Nothing. A piece of chocolate. Chocolate coated in peanut butter. These all resulted in an empty trap.

Maybe the mouse was gone for good? We went about our normal business. On Friday morning, Jodie stood at the stove preparing chicken soup for Shabbat. She heard something and looked down at the floor. A tail! A very long tail!

The animal escaped into the front room and we set the mousetrap on the floor and closed the door. Suddenly, there was a noise of something falling! I opened the door and entered slowly. One of my daughter’s artworks on canvas had fallen from a small ledge. I put it back in place and closed the door. A short while later, the picture fell again! No sign of a mouse, but we knew it was in there, even though we couldn’t see or hear it.

We kept the door closed all day. When we needed to go into the front room—to take clothes out of the dryer, retrieve a cookbook, get onions, or to check the computer—we entered cautiously, closing the door quickly behind us. We were careful to avoid the mousetrap. Apparently, the mouse was avoiding it as well.

Dinnertime. We sat at the Shabbat dinner table and enjoyed our meal. After dinner, a quick check of the front room to see that the mousetrap was still empty. Dinner dishes washed and put away. Desert served. Family time in the living room. The family left, things quieted down, and we turned on the television.

And then, a noise from the front room.

It was in the trap, pacing back and forth. And it was much bigger than we had imagined, with a very, very long tail. This was no mouse!

“House mice measure 12 to 20 cm in length, including the tail.” On the other hand, “rats may grow to be as long as 40 cm or more and weigh considerably more than mice.”

We had a rat in the house! I found it quite cute, actually—standing in the cage staring at me with its curious eyes. Jodie found it disgusting. “A rat! Get it out of here!”

I put on heavy gloves, covered the cage with rags, and carefully carried it across the street. I bent down, opened the mousetrap, and the creature dashed out and disappeared under the bushes. Maybe the rat would survive. Maybe it would be attacked by the stray cats that hang around the trash barrels. Not my problem. It was on its own!

The rat is gone, our plums and beets are safe. Still, we will not leave Shabbat rolls or banana bread unprotected overnight. Maybe the rat has brothers and sisters.