Ten Years of This Normal Life

by Brian on September 11, 2012

in A Parent in Israel,Food,Jewish Holidays and Culture,Just For Fun,Only in Israel

The original logo for This Normal Life

It was ten years ago that I started writing This Normal Life, my personal blog. And for ten years, I have posted a minimum of one essay per week. Actually, in the first year, I published more like 2-3 a week, but as the blog became more established and I realized it would be around for a while, I settled down to a more durable schedule. And for these ten years, I’ve only missed a publication date a couple of times. Even when I was on vacation, I would write a few posts in advance, which I would set to auto-publish while I was away.

When I started This Normal Life, it was during the height of the Intifada when suicide bombs were going off nearly every day. I wanted to convey that Israelis were not cowering in their doorsteps, quaking in fear, as the media portrayed, but rather that we were still going out to cafes, sending our kids to school on the bus and, well, living normal lives.

There was another reason I chose to launch this blog. A month before I started to write, our cousin Marla Bennett was killed in the bomb attack at the cafeteria at Hebrew University. Marla was what’s known as a bat bayit in our house – she was over all the time, came for Shabbat meals, played with our kids.

We were abroad when we heard the news. We had given her our car to use while we were away. The day that she died, she had one set of our car keys in her purse. They wound up with the police and were eventually returned to us. There were still bloodstains on them. We’ve never used them since.

I wrote a lot about family in the early days of the blog. I specifically eschewed politics and if I covered religious topics, I always tried to write in such a way that no one would guess my real views on the subject. I’ve since written about both politics and religion in a more biting way; I’ve lost some readers over the years from my sometimes cynical views.

But I’ve never strayed from the main mission: to show the real Israel – and real Israelis – full of joy and fear and bravery and the day-to-day mundane that is often the most meaningful.

For a while, I used to send my blog posts to Jewish newspapers in the U.S. I’d get a whopping $25 a post. But it was something.

I worked in hi-tech for many years where my main writing involved functional specifications and marketing material, not particularly fulfilling for Creative Writing major from Oberlin College. I finally began writing full time (for pay and for thankfully more than $25 a piece!) a few years ago. My clients now include newspapers, online publications, universities, non-profit organizations and other companies’ blogs. Having honed my skills at This Normal Life helped immensely getting this business going.

Unbelievably, given the power of the Internet, all of my old columns are still online and, if you know the title, you can still find them on Google. I thought I’d share a few of my favorites over the years.


On a trip to the U.S., I went in search of the elusive Krispy Kreme donut. But after eating a couple dozen, I concluded that an Israeli version was in order.

My interest in Jewish food continued with this piece on “Matzomelettes” – the only dish I knew how to cook at the time (Perfect for Pesach). This one was reprinted in The Jerusalem Post.

Here’s another story that appeared in The Jerusalem Post – about a visit to the Jelly Belly Factory in California. What is it with food and me, anyway?

But of all my food-inspired stories, none was as lucrative as this one – about the weekly “falafel date” that my friend and Bob have, every Wednesday for nearly 7 years now! The proprietor of Falafel Oved gave me free falafels for a month and even today he sneaks in extra balls. It’s time to reprint the story!

In the summer of 2005, I wrote a satire on how the color orange had been appropriated to identify those who were against Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan. An Israeli blogger liked the story so much that he translated it into Hebrew. Here’s the original.

I documented our first trip to India in 2003 with a story about an encounter with a man who I at first thought was a member of a lost Jewish tribe. We’re still in touch via Facebook. I called the story “The Lost Jews of Jaipur.”

There’s a whole blog I created called “Brian’s Stories” containing what I considered my “best” posts, from 2002-2005. You can find it here.

This Normal Life hasn’t always been so lighthearted.

During the Second Lebanon War, I was hired by Jewish.com in the U.S. to cover the feeling on the ground in Israel. A whole set of my stories can be found here. It’s interesting to read how my reporting of the fighting in real time differs from post-war hindsight.

When my father died in 2009, I organized an evening of stories and songs. I videotaped all of the music, by Nava Tehila musicians Daphna Rosenberg and Yoel Sykes, and they appear in this special section of the blog, along with my talk.

And after the death of 16-year old Lee Vatkin from a drug overdose at the hands of her boyfriend, I blogged about her here.

Then there were the tiyuling posts. Prior to our son Aviv’s bar mitzvah in 2011, we began a program of monthly hikes. I documented each one of them, and so did Aviv on his own “bar mitzvah blog.” The conclusion of this amazing series of hikes was a trip for our whole family to Nepal to trek the Annapurna route in the Himalayas. It was a combined bar mitzvah present and 50th birthday celebration for me. I wrote about it here and Aviv did too (scroll down to read his reports on our hikes in Israel).

And, finally, here’s the column that started This Normal Life – my eulogy of Marla delivered at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, along with a follow-up post I wrote on the fifth anniversary of Marla’s death.

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