Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Brooks' Inspiration

Yom Kippur may be over, the war isn't done. "The Moral Bucket List" by David Brooks:
I came to the conclusion that wonderful people are made, not born — that the people I admired had achieved an unfakeable inner virtue, built slowly from specific moral and spiritual accomplishments.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Diatomaceous Earth

"What was that now?" I inquired faintly. 

"We, er, um, well, so, yeah, have . . . bedbugs." 

"Nosferatu! Nosferatu! Out! Out!" 

My paranoid mind scrabbled to recall how many times she had entered my house in the last few months. I attacked the internet, my hysteria growing at the inflammatory articles available.
There was one comforting one on Slate; bedbugs are, apparently, not so contagious, nor so necessarily impossible to vanquish. I managed to suck in a few breaths. 

However, I still wanted to comfort myself (and be unafraid to cuddle once again in my own bed) by taking some precautions. But if I didn't yet have a visible problem, I didn't want to poison myself with pesticides. 

With a little more digging, I came across diatomaceous earth. It's clay, and some even nibble on it for the silica content (it's also used in pools, so make sure to get the "food grade" D.E.). Harmless to humans (and kids), the dust is murderous on bugs of all kinds, being hazardously sharp on the microscopic level.
Once applied, it can be easily vacuumed up, along with the remains of any it has annihilated. 

Peering at the options, I decided on one that came in a squeeze bottle for easy dispersal. I dusted areas around furniture legs, my mattress, and tossed some around the basement where crickets were making an unwelcome appearance. 

After a few days, I felt secure enough to hose up my preventative measures. The powder from pillows, mattresses, rugs disappeared without a trace up the vacuum.   

Analyzing the fine print, I discovered other uses, like absorbing stains and removing odors. So after an einikel wet my bed (that's right, my bed) I sprinkled it on top and left it there for the day. I vacuumed it up in the evening, and sniffed—no smell whatsoever. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Visit

Courtesy of "Metropolitan Diary": 

As he pulled the car away from the curb at my hotel, my Uber driver, Chaim, who looked to be in his late 20s, cleared his throat: “Would you mind if I asked the purpose of this trip?” His electronic instructions were to bring me to Beth El Cemetery, just over the George Washington Bridge.

“Sure,” I said. “I’m going to visit my grandfather’s grave; no one from our family has been there since 1959, about a year after he passed away. That’s when we moved from New York City to the Midwest. I had just turned 2 years old.” I then added, “It’s not that we haven’t been back to town — we all have always visited New York City frequently. I think we’ve just always been a family who studiously avoided cemeteries — you know, the ‘creep out’ factor.”

“Why now, then?” the driver asked? 

“I’m not completely sure,” I replied. 

And then in a bashert moment if there ever was one (Yiddish for “meant to be”), Chaim smiled at me in the rear view mirror and gently said: “Well, I happen to be a rabbi in case you’d like me to say a blessing or read the Hebrew on the headstone.” 

A couple of hours later, as we were headed back to the City, and after Chaim had done exactly what he had offered (a beautiful recitation from Psalms and some help with the Hebrew inscriptions), I must admit, this basically secular Jew couldn’t help but feel that Grandpa Jack, a deeply religious Jew whom I never had the chance to know, had somehow sent this lovely man, Rebbe (Uber) Chaim, from above.

Jacqueline Jacobs Caster

Monday, September 21, 2015

Love is Not All I Need

There is a lot of conversation nowadays about "love." I don't mean romantic love, although I do find that rather tediously oversold. I mean love in terms of how God loves you, loving the whole entirety of humanity, and so forth. 

From what I am hearing in his music, Matisyahu is awash in awareness of Hashem. Interestingly, the lyrics on Matisyahu's most recent album, Akeda, got a lot of "love" in 'em.

I began to wonder if that is where our kiruv focus possesses a weak spot.

As a child, I was not taught that the essence of Judaism was love. Yes, there is "Thy shall love your friend like yourself," but that love was never depicted as the hugging, smooching, drunken "I love you, man" kind of love. 

"Love," in essence, has lost it's meaning. "I love fish" means I yanked a happy salmon from its home, whacked it over the head, gutted it, steamed it, and savored it with a sprinkling of dill. It is the same thing when some claim to love their partners, but harm and control their spouses. "Love" is often mistranslated via the satisfying feeling I get. 

But Jews believe we are judged on our actions, not on our feelings. So "love" must be a verb. Like Rabbi Hillel said: “That which is hateful to you, do not unto another.” It's about doing, or in his case, not doing.

There is a string of videos on Rabbi David Fohrman's Aleph Beta website where he shows that the basis of Judaism is not love. It is respect.
Respect is all about action. While gals nowadays may not be touched if their significant other breathes, "I respect you," that phrase possesses a few more guarantees than "I love you" ever will. 

I don't need anyone to tell me they love me; chances are, I won't say anything about love either, because to me such words are meaningless. I make a point to show it, however. How could a child not know that I love him when I scour the house for the softest of blankets for his bed, when I cook her favorite supper, when I read The Berenstain Bears until I'm hoarse, when I stroke and kiss his rumpled hair?

When it comes to kiruv, those who are spiritually awakening may be initially drawn to the concepts of love, but it is vital to familiarize them with the concepts of respect. Respect to elders, for starters, as that has fallen by the wayside in general. Respect to pretty much everyone. And to know that there are many times that respect will trump perceived religion. 

Friday, September 18, 2015


As a child, I was never instructed to say "Sorry." When I became a professional aunt, I never instructed a child to say "Sorry." 

Note a typical spat between two rugrats. One offended the other. The other is silently furious. The attacker says "Sorry, let's go play." The hurt one is immovable. Huffily, the transgressor complains, "But I said 'Sorry'!" 

Hear her words: Not that she is sorry, merely that she said sorry. Not the same thing, cookie.

I don't tell the kinfauna to say "Sorry" to each other, because that cheapens the process of regret. If possible or appropriate, I insist upon acts of kindness or affection. A hug, a kiss, make nice, help packing away the toys. Or I simply separate them until they wish for their irritating company back.
Etgar Keret's "Taxi Driver" is a beautiful example of the redeeming power of "sorry," when done right.  

Teshuva is the act of contrition, whereas Tefilah is the "saying Sorry." If they were one and the same thing, they would have been conflated together. But they aren't. 

To say it, and mean it . . . oy.   

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Go to the Source

"Enriched white flour." When I see that on a label, I politely put the box down and move on. As I understand it, "enriched" means that in the processing, all the nutritional value is sucked out, than added back in. Not exactly ideal.
"Vitamins Hide the Low Quality of Our Food" by Catherine Price explains that food manufacturers know that chucking in a little supplementary nutrition into their quasi-edibles will bump up sales. Sure, you may be getting your vitamins, but it's from junk that isn't exactly health-friendly. 
Nutritionists are correct when they tell us that most of us don’t need to be taking multivitamins. But that’s only because multiple vitamins have already been added to our food.
Fortification is everywhere, like fluoride in the water and iodine in salt. 
But the very processing that’s necessary to create long shelf lives destroys vitamins, among other important nutrients. It’s nearly impossible to create foods that can sit for months in a supermarket that are also naturally vitamin-rich.
Consuming the actual vegetable, however, as opposed to various isolated vitamins: 
And adding back vitamins after the fact ignores the issue of synergy: how nutrients work naturally as opposed to when they are isolated. A 2011 study on broccoli, for example, found that giving subjects fresh broccoli florets led them to absorb and metabolize seven times more of the anticancer compounds known as glucosinolates, present in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, than when glucosinolates were given in straight capsule form. The researchers hypothesized that this might be because the whole broccoli contained other compounds that helped people’s bodies put the anticancer chemicals to use.  
"A Handful of Health for Rich and Poor" by Jane E. Brody reports on the miraculous qualities of nuts. Across the board, risk factors included, consuming nuts reduced death rates. Wild.
That should be the snack of choice—not the prepackaged, fortified stuff. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Tichel Bonanza

This post is for the wedded Jewesses who opt to cover their hair:
Ma, for casual about-the-house headgear, has only one choice: the kerchief. Not just any kerchief. It must be: 

1) 100% cotton. In her experience, any other materials, or even blends, don't grip the hair sufficiently, and tend to slide off; 

2) The fabric should be thin and lightweight (she feels excess weight of all forms quite keenly);

3) It must be perfectly square, to become a neat triangle; and 

4) The dimensions should range between 33-ish to 39-ish inches, neither too small nor too large. 

It is a tall order. Most scarves are silk or synthetic (how do the shpitzel wearers keep them on?), most are rectangular, and if a square one is discovered, it often isn't the right size. 

So I scour. Often my online discoveries would be less than promising, to be returned or tolerated. 

I then came across The website is geared for women dealing with chemo-related hair loss, and contain an insane amount of options, including 100% cotton, square scarves in a variety of sizes.

Tentatively, I purchased two clearance item scarves, figuring that for $11, they'll be spares. But the scarves that arrived were deliciously soft and deliriously light. Gleefully, I began to sift through their regular price options ($14 to $17). 

That should make up for melting that tupperware lid back in 1998.

*Disclaimer: I'm recommending this website simply because they booted me back into the favorite child running. They do not know of me, nor are they showering me in complimentary scarves. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Random "This Morning" Vids

If there is a story in the morn' that piques my interest, I bookmark it, figuring I'll stick it into an appropriate post, but that leaves too many random details to keep track of. So, here they go in one shot: 

3) For gut health, embrace germs (I've read a book of hers on keeping the boch happy, and I miserably nibble on crystallized ginger nearly every day). 

4) Who said adults can't still color? (I like coloring with the kinfauna. It's very relaxing.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


"Forgiveness" is probably one of the most frightening words out there. 

But God forgives those that forgive. So I have been trying to let go. 
And golly, do I feel good. I'm surprised to what extent anger and resentment weigh in one's chest, tightening breath, dulling the senses, spreading wrinkles.

I became so hooked on that floaty sensation that when I was verbally shoved, I immediately, frantically, called up the methods to let it go. 

I find that it really helps to mentally chant: "It's not about me. It's not about me. It's not about me." Often, the transgressor is so mired in insecurity she cannot even see her own actions or herself. Sometimes the offender is having a really, really bad day/month/year, and unequipped with the mental tools to keep his behavior in check, merely lashing out wherever he thinks is "safe."

Previously, I would have thought it a weakness to let it slide, that "I'm letting them get away with it." I'm not saying that one should be a willing target. If possible, fade away from a negative presence, and the other side will get the hint and pull herself together. If not possible, wait until one's reactions will be fueled from a place of calm and collectedness, not roiling anger and humiliation, before responding. 

It takes two to make machlokes. If I say, "I'm not playing," it's a win-win.

This is very much applicable in personal relationships. Susan Cain's "5 Practices for Cultivating More Loving Relationships" was humbling as I now see a glimmer of a truer definition of love, real ahava.
It's not about who's right. It's about doing what's right. To quote the Rabbi of Lublin: "It is far better to have an imperfect peace than a perfect controversy."  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Where's That Rod Again?

Ah, teenagers. The bane of our existences. Parents love to complain about them, while they glare sullenly beneath overgrown hair as they mysteriously "come of age," or something.
Personally, I don't recall my teen years as being combative and cranky (except for my frustrations with high school teachers and classmates), so I can't relate. What's so incredibly difficult and complex about adolescence that gives youngsters a pass to constantly mope and snap?

In an article about the rise of dating websites in India, this quote jumped out at me: 
“Intergenerational relationships in India aren’t hostile. Our teenagers don’t have angst. They don’t rebel or misbehave with their parents,” said Madhu Kishwar, a prominent feminist author and a professor at the Center for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi. “And the reason marriages in India are more stable than those in the West is because families are actively involved.”
Shortly thereafter, I read Rachel Cusks' "Raising Teenagers: The Mother of All Problems" and found her tentativeness around her own bratty offspring to be quite tiresome. It seems to be an American thing.
When people asked me how old my daughters were, they would grimace at my reply. Poor you, they’d say, or, Good luck, or, at best, Don’t worry, it’ll pass, you’ll get them back eventually. Stories began to emerge in my circle of acquaintances of shouting and slammed doors and verbal abuse, of academic failure, of secrecy and dishonesty; and of darker things, of eating disorders, self-harm, sexual precocity and depression. They used to be so sweet, a friend of mine said of his daughter and son, shaking his head. I don’t know what happened. It’s like a nightmare. Another friend says, It’s as if they hate me. I walk into a room and they wince; I speak and they ball up with irritation. 
Considering how Indian parents don't have these issues, it's not a given that one's teenaged offspring will go berserk. 
So why do they do so on this side of the pond?
It is possible, I have discovered, to attribute an inordinate power to your children. . . I don’t doubt that my parents saw themselves as my hapless victims, as many parents of adolescents do (“You have this lovely child,” a friend of mine said, “and then one day God replaces it with a monster”) . . .
Hold up. Why should a teenager have any power? Do they support themselves? Do they contribute to the household? And even if they did—say, by helping out with younger siblings, fetching some groceries, doing an occasional chore—does that give them any management rights? I don't think so. 
And indeed, at meal’s end, it is I who rises and clears the plates, just as I always have. . . The traditional complaint about teenagers — that they treat the place like a hotel — has no purchase on me. In fact, I quite like the idea. A hotel is a place where you can come and go autonomously and with dignity; a place where you will not be subjected to criticism, blame or guilt; a place where you can drop your towel on the floor without fear of reprisal, but where, hopefully, over time, you become aware of the person whose job it is to pick it up and instead leave it folded neatly on a chair.
One thing that I have definitely learned, as an aunt and as an adult: Unless incredibly self-aware, there isn't a magical day when someone realizes that something is not a given, but a gift, unless it is pointed out to them.

I used to scurry about at the kinfauna's demands, but I comprehended that, in the long run, I am not doing them any favors. I've started demanding little efforts: put your plate in the sink when you're done; if you want the bowl of sliced apples, come to the top of the basement steps to get them; pack away most of the toys when you're done playing (all toys would be too much to expect).
The surprise on their faces when they have aged out of helpless-baby status is priceless. Especially when they see me not as an indentured servant—that it is not my sole purpose on earth to serve them. "You teach people how to treat you" goes with children as well, most definitely. They have to be told, quite boldly, that clean underwear does not magically appear at the behest of woodland elves.  
. . . now my daughter’s friends encounter me in the kitchen, in the hall, with barely a word of greeting. They are silent; they look shiftily to the side. They move on fast, up to my daughter’s room, where the sound of talking and shrieking and giggling resumes the instant the door is closed. Quickly they forget I am there; when occasionally they emerge for reinforcements and supplies, they talk in front of me as though I am invisible. 
Same thing with these obnoxious friends. I remember the childish awkwardness of attempting to interact with adults (I still have some lingering symptoms). But to ignore a human being because she is this tedious, oppressive entity called "mother"? Nuh-uh. 
Among her friends, there are some in serious conflict with parents who continue to insist on the family story. She admits now that her greatest anger at her parents has come from their failure to correspond to the image she has in her head of what a parent should be. . . 
Strange as it may seem, they are still children, still having to operate bodies and minds that are like new, complex pieces of machinery. . .
For an instant I see something in her eyes, a spark of childlike, innocent fear; and she is still, after all, a child. In some respects she always will be.
Teenagers like to swagger about that they are grown-ups in training, perhaps because they can do a lot of things that were forbidden until now, like driving. But here's the thing: most of them are still, mentally, kids, still harboring childhood fears. Like lack of control and worry over security.

To (loosely) quote Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, a parent always has the requirement to scream at and guide their child (in-laws are another story). I think that what a teenager craves is the same thing it sought as a five-year-old: consistency. That comes from a parent who has reasonable expectations for proper behavior. I'm guessing that's what India is doing right.
Parents are supposed to be rendered obsolete, by their own design. Allowing slamming doors, eye rolls, and back-talk isn't ensuring a future adult; it permits children to wallow in selfishness and myopia. It is up to the parents to educate, because chances are, no one else has the position or the influence to do it so well. 

Friday, September 4, 2015



2) As well as this version. The paiyos could have looked a wee bit more authentic . . .

3) And "The Shidduch Crisis Blame Game" by (Rabbi) Josh Yuter.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Guest Post: Luke Being Luke

When I see people across the entire religious spectrum (myself included) resort to ritualistic observance of the commandments as well as faith itself it occurred to me that many people don't believe in G-d but rather a deity known as "Religion."

Religious practice was always intended to stimulate a thought process. Recognition of good (hakarat hatov),  kindness and compassion is the foundation of Judaic dogma. All of these elements are deeply rooted throughout the Torah and the commandments. Practicing the commandments by studying the text and the rabbinic discussions is supposed instill the aforementioned elements within us through thought stimulation. Without these elements one can never truly be elevated to a purposeful and meaningful life. 

What I see today is that mainstream religious practice has been reduced to a system of incantations and hocus pocus. This is perhaps due to the infusion of kabbalistic thought which has permeated religious practice for so long in a way that was never intended.

—Eilu v'Eilu 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Shidduch Lit" III

This post begins with a heartfelt apology to Sporadic Intelligence, a.k.a TooYoungTooTeach. 

She had fiercely recommended to me Anna Karenina. I fiercely declined.
"A 1,000 page novel about romantic histrionics? Nuh-uh. Not my thang." 

TYTT insisted. She cajoled. She threatened. Okay, she didn't threaten, but her vehemence was such that I felt myself to be irrationally implacable. What's the worse that could happen? A hernia from hauling the tome around? 

I requested a copy from the library, and—according to literati, it is important to note the translators—I received the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky version (apparently, when Oprah selected it for her book club, she used this edition as it had most recently come out, and was therefore readily available). 

Sighing, I opened it—and was sucked into the wormhole. 

What I did not know, which makes all the difference, is that Anna herself does not take up significant page time. There are many subplots to the story: Levin's search for a wife and a philosophy to live by, Dolly's dealing with her philandering husband, Kitty's vacillation between two suitors . . . 

Because the language is simple, unlike other classics, it is an easy as opposed to exhausting read. Ergo, it is painless to connect concepts to the contemporary age, and there are many. In short: There is nothing new under the sun. The same issues plague all of humanity, including (in terms of Shidduch Lit) dating, marriage, and the wedded state. 

Tolstoy grasps so well the differences between the thinking in men and women—how they approach matters, who is truly stronger. Many times I laughed, since I can see my own real life interactions within. 

Therein is also an internal philosophical debate, which actually results in a not-un-Jewish concepts. I'll give the audience a chance to read it before I plaster it all over. 

With flying colors, Anna Karenina qualifies as "Shidduch Lit."  Not only that, it has been added to my unofficial list of favorite books. I even bought it for my own bookshelf.

And TYTT . . . I'm groveling in shame.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Battle of the Bulge: What Does Coke Do For You, Anyway?

"I don't exercise enough," he sighed with a fatalistic shrug. "Not like you."

"Me? Please. I don't 'exercise' exercise," I scoffed. 

"Yes, you do, you walk," he retorted. 

"Yeah, but not that much. I walk less now than I used to, and I weighed more then." 

He stubbornly shook his head. "It's because I don't exercise." 

I know it's because of what he eats. It would be impossible for him to haul around all those pounds if he was consuming the right foods. I have hit many a mental wall as I attempt to preach the Gospel of Produce. 

"It's exercise!" the masses scream, takeout, chips, and sugary pink beverages in hand. 

"Eat a cucumber!" I roar back. 

Why this insistence that it's not the fault of donuts and ice cream?  

Recently, I have come across articles holding "Big Food" accountable for this belief; in order to keep peddling their quasi-food products, they need consumers to think that the fault lies in their unchallenged abs. 

You may not have noticed it yet, but sodamakers are working hard to get you off the couch. On Aug. 9, a New York Times article revealed that Coca-Cola was quietly funding a group of scientists called Global Energy Balance Network that emphasizes the role of exercise, as opposed to diet, in fighting obesity. There's also Mixify, an advertising and social-media campaign launched by Coca-Cola, Dr Pepper, Pepsi and the American Beverage Association that suggests "mixing lazy days with something light, following sweaty workouts with whatever you're craving"—encouraging the idea that when you're active, you can afford to eat or drink whatever you like. . . 
"The notion that we can exercise away a bad diet is absolutely unfounded," says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children's Hospital and professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Harvard, "and it's contradicted by many research studies." Indeed there isn't strong evidence to show that exercise alone—at least at the level that anyone other than a marathoner maintains—can help people shed pounds and keep them off. 
Park continues that people are starting realize this, and are curbing their soda intake, panicking sodamakers to encourage their product, brightly proclaiming those calories can be easily burned off. But not all calories are created equal, and excess sugar destroys the metabolism's efficiency over time. 
"If you're a toaster oven, then the calorie-balance model is for you," says Ludwig. "If you're a human, it's not helpful."  
There are a number of food-based documentaries out there; I watched Hungry for Change a few weeks ago, and felt like braying "Aaaaamen!" half the time (not all the time, half the time).