Friday, December 30, 2016


But on her face, as she trudged along, hugging the pole of the great pennant that flapped in the breeze, was stamped a look! . . . It wasn't merely a look. It was a story. It was a tragedy. It was the story of a people . . . It spoke eloquently of pogroms, of massacres, of Kiev and its sister-horror, Kishineff. You saw mean and narrow streets, and carefully darkened windows, and, on the other side of those windows the warm yellow glow of the seven-branched Shabbos light. Above this there shone the courage of a race serene in the knowledge that it cannot die.
—Edna Ferber, Fanny Herself

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Altogether Now

On Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah, I cannot help but remember my schoolgirl days when reaching Hallel. The institution's policy was that for Hallel, all the girls would gather in the auditorium, and would sing it altogether.
I have been told my singing ability is questionable, yet when hundreds of children belt the tunes out, it doesn't matter. Singing together was an uplifting experience. No matter what was contributed, a softer voice, a jarring bellow, a mellifluous harmony, a discordant squawk, the end result was the same: Beautiful unity. 
I feel an additional pleasure, though, greater than flow, when I sing in a choir. It’s a mode of singing that strikes a balance between feeling necessary — each voice must participate to achieve the grand unified sound — and feeling invisible, absorbed into the choir, your voice no longer yours. I can work hard, listen hard and disappear, let the ocean of sound close over me. It is comforting to disappear into all that sound and to know that no one else will hear me, either. The performance feels like a secret.
So writes Sarah Manguso, in Letter of Recommendation: Choir. Whilst Jewish (I think), she joined a church choir in college for the above experience. 

That transcendence stays with me for the rest of the year following Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. I dare to presume that everyone's favorite piyut is "Ki Anu Amecha." There is an increased surge in the room's energy when it is reached. The words are simple for such eloquent yearning—where we all join together, on various levels and beliefs, as one. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Stuffed Pepper

I'm a sauce lover. Anything that involves a sauce, I'm there. I often ignore the ikkur (i.e. meatballs). Just sauce me. 

Stuffed cabbage is the stereotypical dish of my people, but Ma has always preferred preparing its close sibling, stuffed pepper. Not much difference between the two, except that stuffing pepper is an easier task than pre-wilting cabbage leaves and carefully folding the contents therein. 

My household has now entered an age of new and improved eating, which usually means that old-timey favorites may require . . . reinvention.

How does the classic stuffed pepper go? (1) canned tomato sauce = copious sodium. (2) white rice = unnecessary carbs/little nutritional value (3) red meat = obvious reasons, as well as the fact that I'm not crazy about beef. I like birds. (4) green peppers = aesthetically lacking. 

Research commenced. Recipes were summoned. Grated vegetables appeared in many, replacing the rice. Others used red, orange, and yellow peppers, turkey and chicken instead of cow. 

Although, none that I could find used tomato sauce. Philistines. I don't need you. I would note, however, that at least one pepper should be green, since that adds an extra dimension to tomato.

The results of the first attempt were quite tasty, minor tweaks required. The joy of stovetop cooking is that rarely are exact recipes needed, more of a general guideline. 

Various recipes used various quantities of various vegetables; I used some of each, to palatable delight. So one doesn't need to use specifically what I used below; mixing, matching, and omitting is fine. 

Stuffed Pepper—Vague Guideline (please alter/improvise) 
4-5 bell peppers, one green (try to select peppers that will stand in a pot)
1 lb ground meat (I like chicken) 
2 carrots, grated*
2 zucchinis, grated*
1 onion, grated (or shallots, or scallions, or leeks)*   
2 stalks celery, grated*
2-3 fresh mushrooms, grated* 
4 cloves garlic, grated/minced
hefty gratings of black pepper 
squirt of mustard
squirt of sriracha
1 spoonful tomato paste (from the below jar)  

(one can also sauté an onion for the base)
1 15 oz. jar diced/crushed tomatoes
1 6 oz. jar tomato paste
1 tablespoon honey/sugar
1 tablespoon to ¼ cup vinegar/wine  
generous sprinkle of Italian seasoning (oregano and/or basil will do
shake of red pepper flakes 

1. Buzz vegetables of choice through the grating blade in the food processor. Heat oil in bottom of pot, pouring in these vegetables to sweat down a little, along with the spoonful of paste. Initially cover, then remove lid as the heat builds. The intent is not to caramelize, but to shoo out some liquid. Stir from time to time. When they are at the desired limp state, remove from heat. 

2. While the above is shvitzing, prepare the peppers. Carefully cut off the tops, trying to keep them whole, if possible (if not, no biggie). Remove seeds with knife, fingers, serrated spoon. For steadier standing, slightly slice the bottom bumps to make them more level.

3. Being careful not to overwork the meat, mix in, along with the seasonings, about half the vegetables.

4. Stuff the peppers, and place them aside. 

5. Heat a little more oil (if sautéing an onion, this is your moment) and add all sauce ingredients and remaining buzzed veggies. Tomato sauce can burn easily, so keep an eye on the flame once it reaches a vigorous simmering point. 

6. Once tomato sauce is good and hot, carefully add the peppers. (I miscalculated the roominess of my pot, and had to move some peppers and sauce into another.)

7. Cook for about an hour, checking to make sure nothing "sticks."

8. I was very, very happy.

*Vegetable quantities is based on preference. No hard rules here. Leave them out; add more of others. Your call. (A recipe I recently discovered for stuffed cabbage uses cauliflower to replace the rice. That's also an option.)    

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Go Low to Go High

It happened many, many years ago. Yet I still shudder in memory. 

I had volunteered (or had been volunteered) to watch the kinfauna while the parents went on a trip. Nearly as soon as they left, I felt the pangs of a stomach bug. 

My nephew was not happy with his parents being away. On top of that, he was overtired and cranky. Until he merrily adjusted to my consistent yet benevolent regime, he was a demon.
A berserk three-year-old isn't a picnic in general. Add the fact that I was folded up in nauseous, agonizing pain, I was beyond miserable. His older siblings, of course, were rays of sunshine, but still required basic maintenance, which took effort. At one point he broke away from my grasp and took off down the sidewalk, wailing, while I, terrified he would run into traffic, high-tailed after him on wobbly legs. Hauling him back was almost as much work.

Did I ever forgive him? Well . . . 

What I do remember clearly is how I fought to keep it together that day. I plastered a grin on my green face as I tucked the good children into bed. I then scurried out, confirmed the hellion was safely asleep, closed my door behind me—and lost it. 

I wept out the gallons of salt water that I had been holding back for hours. Because I knew that there is nothing more frightening for small children to see the adults, upon whom they rely, break down. Their sense of stability in the universe would be compromised.

I recalled that heinous day as I read Daniel D'Addario's interview with Natalie Portman in Time Magazine regarding her depiction of Jackie Kennedy following the assassination. 

DD: Did being a parent add to the role for you?

NP: It makes you understand the ability to be calm and collected under that kind of emotional and psychological pressure. When you have kids, you can't afford to be a mess. There's moments when you are, but you need to pull it together. You see how that impacted her ability to gather herself under such awful circumstances. 

The mere presence of those kids gave me the strength to do what I didn't think was possible. If I had been at home, leaning on my parents as opposed to toddlers leaning on me, whatever self-discipline I would have summoned then, I would have thought was my max. 

I have very, very few excuses at hand. I can push myself to go farther.   

Monday, December 26, 2016

A Fetik Holiday to All

I can't believe it took me until now to find latkes historically inaccurate. After being unnerved by a Jeopardy! clue that stated that the latke is a knock-off from—get this—a Greek sidedish, I gave it a google, leading to "What's a Latke, Really?" by Yoni Appelbaum.

Yet I had known that potatoes were indigenous to South America, making their European debut after the explorers lugged them back in the mid-1500s.
As for frying in oil, Eastern European Jewry did not have canola. They had schmaltz, animal fat. If shooting for miraculous similarities, that ain't exactly from an olive. 

"Ma, did you have latkes in Hungary?" 

Snort. "Nope."
Via Dinner With Rachel
Ah. Chremslach for Pesach, at least. I always liked those better than latkes. Babi did make donuts, though, for Chanuka—fánk.

But both latkes and donuts have limited appeal. Latkes are only good while still warm, and keeping them that way without drying them out is tiresome. Donuts are great fresh. Not longer than that.
Baruch Hashem for our lives of prosperity; every home is equipped, year-round, with extra-virgin olive oil—shemen zayis zuch. However, it has a low-smoke point, meaning it is not ideal for frying. So instead of using the oil of the neis, we use the oil of . . . dubious origin to celebrate the holiday and consume needless calories. 

I think this year, I shall commemorate Chanuka with salad dressing. How authentic! 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I Really, Really Don't Want To Know

I've become a Facebook cynic. When people post photos of their families being oh-so-happy, I'm the Scrooge that eye rolls. "My husband is the best! #breakfastinbed Love you sooo much." That translates to me as, "I'm insecure so I must let everyone know that I am totally enviable!"
Am I just being jealous? Perhaps. Yet my reactions are the same when it comes to vacation shots, and I'm a terrible traveler who dreams of her own bed. Seriously. The last time I went to Miami I packed so reluctantly I wondered if I was getting sick. 

Henry Alford's "Wish You Weren't There" researches yet-another oversharing situation.
While it’s fairly easy to categorize the photographically incontinent under the headlines Narcissistic and Insecure, or some combination thereof, the photo-posting folks may not have the same clarity about themselves. “People often don’t know that they’re the culprit,” said Marla Vannucci, a clinical psychologist who is an associate professor at Adler University.
In my tolerant moments I cringingly recall my early relationship with Facebook, where I felt obligated to post photos of my life. There wasn't really any thought behind it. FB is constantly begging and wheedling for me to share so they can blast me with targeted advertising, and my giddy young self succumbed. 

Yet the people posting aren't giddy young things anymore. I passed a mother and child on the street the other day; the mother had her phone up to snap a picture; the child threw her hands up to shield her face, wailing "NO!" The mother, flat-eyed with intent, grimly tapped away; she's taking the (unnecessary) picture. It was a mindless, and so thoughtless and inconsiderate, action. 

The Jabba in me was cheered by the news that the IRS now prowls through social media for proof of expensive lifestyles. "Can't pay your taxes? But you could pay for Disney World?" 

Hee hee.   

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


After recently seeing Fiddler on Broadway (thank you, sis), and finding their inaccuracies tolerable, along with the affirmation that the only true Tevye is Topol, I decided to take out the original text to compare. 
Wow. "If I Was a Rich Man" is so loyal to the source material that the lyrics are practically copied from the book—down to Goldeh's double chin. Yet, in others . . .

The one movie scene that always irritated me is when Tsaytl begs Tevye not to force her to marry Layzer Wolf, to which he initially, coldly replies, "If I say you will, you will." 

Sholom Aleichem puts it quite differently. After getting the mix-up vis-a-vis the cow cleared up, Tevye specifically says that the engagement is only on if Tsaytl is willing, and Layzer pours liquor down Tevye's throat to guarantee an understanding. Then, he cockily tells everyone in town before getting her okay. 

When Tsaytl runs up to Tevye, weeping, he immediately tells her that she doesn't have to marry Layzer. Shortly thereafter, a confident (yes, I know, confident) Mottel Kamzoyl appears and boldly asks for her hand (they did have an understanding). 

Oh, and there's no Yente. Shocking, right? There is Efrayim the Matchmaker, and his lines are pretty good. Goldeh comes off as a simple woman with no wit or wisdom, contrary to her sharp stage tongue (a constant refrain of Tevye's is that he "is no woman"; meaning, he can keep it together unlike some people). As for the name of the movie itself, Fiddler on the Roof, that imagery was ripped from Chagall; it ain't in the text at all. 

By the way, if anyone dares to say that it's harder to raise kids nowadays then ever before, read about Tevye's headaches (based on the happenings of the time). In Russia at the turn of the century, some stupid book came out which glamorized suicide, and teenagers were doing themselves in all over the place—including Jewish ones.

At least the wedding doesn't coincide with the pogrom. . . 

The translator, Hillel Halkin, writes in the (lengthy) introduction: 
Halkin presents Tevye as the "God-arguer," like Job. Once, as Halkin gave a talk on the subject, a member of the audience said that Tevye was a fool; he should have denied God after all his suffering (not all the misery made it to the musical. That guy caught one break, then it was downhill after that). Halkin notes that was the reaction of Iyov's wife as well: "Curse God, and die!"
For Job—and for Tevye—to curse God is to die, because neither can live in a world without Him. Even if God never answers, even if He never will, Tevye must go on debating with Him, for the minute he stops, his life has lost its meaning. And besides, who is to say when God answers and when He does not? In Job's case, you say, it was obvious: "And then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind." Yes: but has you or I been present in that whirlwind, would we have heard anything but wind?  

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

By Any Other Name?

My personal definition of "friendship" aspires to a threshold few can achieve. It involves qualities like "loyalty," "caring," "devotion," stuff like that. 
Then I observe a supposed friendship, and I witness back-stabbing, jealousy, and indifference. Head scratching ensues. 

When I hear, "I can't believe my friend said/did that," then I must respond: Sweetie, she wasn't a friend in the first place. Then the sentence makes sense. 

My befuddlement with the modern perception regarding "friendship" is shared by many, I was relieved to read ("Do Your Friends Actually Like You?" by Kate Murphy). When asked, study subjects couldn't say what "friend" means. 

We can say what it isn't: It is not a symbiotic relationship. Take the SJF; she has time on her hands, and would like someone to hang with. Other SJFs oblige. Then one of them gets engaged. Despite their generous gifts and showers, following her marriage she disappears. Not a text, email, or gushing voicemail. 

Time for the grand reveal: She wasn't a friend in the first place. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. If any of the others had married instead, it would be the same. 
By [Ronald Sharp's] definition, friends are people you take the time to understand and allow to understand you.
Friendship involves depth, vulnerability, a meeting of minds and souls. Just because you do stuff with someone doesn't automatically make you friends. Ask yourself this: If a better offer came around, would you leave them in the dust?

This is not a matter of quantity, says the article. Schoolyard pride in "a million friends" is kinda sad in adulthood.   
Such boasting implies they have soul mates to spare in a culture where we are taught that leaning on someone is a sign of weakness and power is not letting others affect you. But friendship requires the vulnerability of caring as well as revealing things about yourself that don’t match the polished image in your Facebook profile or Instagram feed, said Mr. Nehamas at Princeton. Trusting that your bond will continue, and might even be strengthened, despite your shortcomings and inevitable misfortunes, he said, is a risk many aren’t willing to take.
One can stand in a crowded room of so-called "friends" and still be very, very much alone. I would much rather be seen by one or two.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Down with the Borg

Generalizations complicate matters. They encourage conspiracy theories and dwindling faith in humanity. In single women's case, in mankind. 

Take the potentially broiling topic: women and careers. In my case, I have received many a puzzled look as to why I do not have a career ("What a waste!"), along with the ubiquitous "Well, boys nowadays want ______." 

A few girls I know, following some such comments, reluctantly went back to school; they didn't pursue those higher degrees because they felt a burning desire to experiment in other employment. They ended up marrying men who didn't care either way.

Yet, I have come across quite a number of articles opining how "all men want" a trophy wife who'll stay home with the kids, and also won't have an opinion. 

There you go, folks: All men want a women with a career. All men want brainless bimbos. 

That's quite a trick. 

I don't appreciate it that as a female, there will be guys out there complaining, "Well, girls nowadays want ______." I'm me. An individual. The men I've gone out with were individuals too, with their own versions of what they seek in a life partner.

We aren't the Borg ("Self-determination is irrelevant"; "You will become one with the Borg"), who have a warped concept of perfection (which is, if clarification is needed, that "perfection" is no identity, no individuals). There is no right. There is no wrong. There is no good. There is no bad. There is no "all they want." 

There is "What works for me." Which won't be the same as "What works for you." And that's fine. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016


It is a memory that haunts me still. 

I believe I was around 5; it was summer camp; we were waiting outside the building for our saviors. 

"There's my Daddy!" one girl called out happily. 

"'Daddy?'" I had sniffed. "Who calls their father 'Daddy'? You're supposed to call your father 'Tatty.'" 

Besides for the fact that today, all the kinfauna call their own fathers "Daddy," I still wince at that narrow, childish (although in my defense, I was a child) view that Judaism possesses only one culture. 

When a community is large enough, ironically, that is when they can afford to create sub-groups—schools, shuls, friends can be all alike. 

That is what I thought of when I read "A Secret Life With the Misfit Toys" by Lesley Blume. When she was in high school, her parents insisted on a job, thus forcing her to see and meet others beyond her contemporaries. 
Eventually it dawned on me that I had begun leading something of a secret life. None of my classmates had such a coterie of characters in their hockey-stick-and-mouth-guard-filled lives. But my toy store colleagues, in a way, were becoming my people. I realized that I was actually more comfortable with them than with many of my own peers. We were all bonded by the undignified fact that we peddled hand puppets and yo-yos and plush pigs in tiaras while wishing that we were doing something else.
But there was more to it than that. Something about my cohort promised that adult life would be more diverse, more interesting, more peculiar than the preppy, homogeneous teenage world I inhabited during school hours. . .
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that three years at Toys in the Attic influenced my disposition, and helped shape my ability to sit in peace with people from all walks of life. Back then, during a stage in life when most young people were vying for sameness and were desperate to blend in, I opted out of the clique and never sought any sort of permanent refuge in sameness again.
I'm still recovering, in some ways. I have also been on the receiving end; it's surprising how Hungarian Jewry still gets stereotypically mocked.
Yet the brilliance of Bnei Yisroel is that we can be one while being many.    

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Last and Only Stop

My train was canceled. So was the following, and the one after that. The next train was in an hour, and it was delayed as well. 

I resignedly walked over to the subway, and hopped on (more like wedged in). After a few stops, the announcer blares that this train will be moving onto another line; I clamber up stairs and escalators to transfer. Eventually, I arrive close enough to my destination, and plod over. 

My time of arrival? The same as if I had waited at the original station.

I heard this concept from Rabbi David Fohrman—the end result will be the same, but the story could have happened in a multitude of ways. Yosef was supposed to end up in Mitzrayim and be in a position of wealth and power that would ensure his family's survival. Yet did his brothers have to chuck him into the pit? No. For Yosef to become vizier, matters could have unfolded in a multitude of scenarios.

In Judaism, the ends don't justify the means. I read this story this past week, related by Rabbi Ephraim Nisenbaum: 
An outreach organization once asked Rabbi Elazar Shach if they could host an event that would not necessarily be in the spirit of halacha, but would attract many people who would be open to outreach. Rav Shach told the leaders of the organization, "Hashem does not need you to help people become more religious. He wants you to observe the Torah faithfully. If you could help people while remaining faithful to the Torah—that is wonderful. But hosting this kind of evening is not being faithful to Torah, regardless of outcome." 
I heard it from Rabbi Moshe Shapiro: If a person will become frum, he will become frum. Just don't get in Hashem's way. 

In our need to control, we may err in our well-meaning intentions. Being honest for "someone's own good," that ruinously hurts feelings—which is flat-out forbidden. Transgressing mitzvos for "the bigger picture." Claiming that one way of meeting a spouse is better than another, when it doesn't matter—all shidduchim are from Hashem, no matter how they play out.

As Gandi said: Truth is one. Paths are many. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Real Funny

Jews, I had heard it said, became masters of humor because of our persecuted existence; Yiddish quips to counteract daily misery. 

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz ("Why Are You Laughing?") tested the theory of horror  ▻ ha-ha by analyzing google searches. Nay, it is not as believed—news that I find heartening.
Another interesting data point on the relationship between trauma and jokes is a search unusually popular among Hebrew speakers about one of history’s most horrific events, which wiped out nearly half of my family. In Israel, “Holocaust jokes” is the 12th most popular Hebrew-language search for jokes.
Holocaust jokes are extremely crude. An example — and this joke will disturb many readers: “What’s the difference between a ton of coal and a thousand Jews? Jews burn longer.”
The Google data shows that Jews seek out these jokes far more than anybody else. This seems to support a view of humor as helping people deal with extreme suffering and fear. But the timing of these searches reveals a more nuanced story.
Hebrew-language searches for Holocaust jokes tend to be lowest when threats to Israel are highest. In June 2014, after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Hamas operatives, Israelis’ searches for Holocaust jokes dropped to their lowest level in more than five years.
This is not only in the case of Holocaust humor. If anything, when horror becomes real, people seem to realize that horror isn't funny. They just now realize that the Holocaust is not meant to be laughed at. 

I don't find the early seasons of M*A*S*H watchable. When the character of Frank Burns, a caricature of spite and selfishness, was written off, then I tune in. Colonel Potter was a good man with a funny bone, and even Charles Winchester, while a snob, cared for his patients. It was those seasons that were the funniest—those lines! My ribs are still recovering.
Mean humor—mockery, snark, ribbing, teasing—is a no-no. It's just not funny, in my opinion, that someone slipped on a banana peel and sprained his ankle. If anyone finds that hilarious, I urge you to seek professional help immediately for sociopathic tendencies.     

Monday, December 12, 2016

Rethink Our Vexation

. . . What good was berating women for being single or for the growing divorce rate if men were not ready or did not have the skills to deal with being married?

The community leaders got together to discuss the issue. They agreed that there were huge problems around arranging suitable marriages and keeping them together. They agreed that they must get together again and discuss the problems. They reconvened and discussed that the problems were growing and that solving them was a community priority. After all, a community is made up from the building blocks of solid families. They planned our a series of seminars to brainstorm ideas and engage the community. The community duly held the meetings and agreed that the problem was now of significant magnitude and that Something Must Be Done. They concluded that it was important that young people should get married. They would discuss further with experts. The experts agreed that the situation was dire and that doing nothing was Not An Option. If nothing was done then things would go from bad to worse. Action was demanded. They would reconvene to discuss the matter. 

Sounds like a frum gal describing the *snort* "shidduch crisis," no? Except this is an excerpt from Love in a Headscarf. Yep, the author's Muslim. 

Singledom was growing around me as well — women across wider society seemed to be suffering. We moped collectively at work. Emma was single. So were Elaine and Nicola. The men, peculiarly, were all married or in long-term relationships. Why suddenly this universal explosion of female singleness?

There we have it: all women, not merely the frummies, are supposedly having it hard. The "age gap" theory can evaporate on that alone. If those outside of the frum world, who do not have "freezers," who possess a multitude of social venues to mix and mingle—if they are finding it hard to land a dude, how does it follow that it is the shidduch system's "fault"?
The "shidduch system" is merely one method, among many, of meeting someone eligible. Hishtadlus means trying; there is no doing more or doing less. What is perceived as "required effort" depends on the individual (just heard this in a shiur).  

When the Muslim shidduch-system failed her (their protocol sounds so similar), Janmohamed tried alternatives, like speed dating, online dating, and even asking a fellow out: no joy. She did find her spouse (and he was worth the wait); they were introduced by a mutual Muslim friend.  

I think us ladies—all ladies—have to rethink this. If "all" women are on the search for longer (and their future husbands are too), perhaps this is merely indicative of a global shift. As Janmohamed writes, previous generations married for status and security; the current hungers for spiritual connections.

Why are we frantic? Because an arbitrary deadline has been drawn in the sand. Because dating and dating and dating is emotionally draining. Because we do wish for that special someone who isn't in the market for a brood mare, like he may have been once upon a time. 

We don't cook how we used to; we don't work how we used to; we don't dress how we used to. Heck, we've got indoor plumbing.

Why should we marry how we used to?   

Friday, December 9, 2016


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Getting to Know You

I once was helping a woman (a Hungarian survivor) with her memoir. Well, what happened was, she wasn't happy with how it was coming out with the writer she had hired, and had called me in to give it a once over. 

I had an advantage simply because I was told plenty of stories of what life was like in Europe prewar, so I made notes when I read passages in the original manuscript that didn't compute. Then I was sent to face the ire of the author. 

"But that's not what happened!" she snapped at Mrs. P., after I tentatively suggested my corrections on discrepancies.

"No, no," Mrs. P. sheepishly demurred. "Um, actually, that's how it did." 

Has it ever happened that practical strangers come up to you and state things about you that aren't true? I have had one or two commenters do that, because they use my blog—the content of which I select to release to the public—as the basis for their conclusions. I am more than my blog, people. 

Readers can confuse memoirs with total reveals; Dani Shapiro's "Pretend You Don't Know Me" gently reminds us otherwise. A book (or an article, or a blog post) is not the same as verbally sharing memories or thoughts. Assuming that a memoir (or blog) contains all intimate information there is to know is a fallacy. 

I often pretend I don't know someone. If on a date, I wouldn't cut off his story of his trip to Iceland because not only would that mean confessing to cyber stalking, but that would be preventing my getting to know who he is. I know part of the story, not all, and I would really like to hear all the bits and pieces.   

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Crossing Delancey"

I was very young when I first saw Crossing Delancey*. All I remembered as a kid was the closing scene, and that I was in love with Peter Riegert (I was heartbroken when he played a mistress-murdering attorney on Law & Order).
It was on recently, and figured I should throw it out there as a Shidduch Flick recommendation (Like Fill the Void, Arranged, and I guess Fiddler). 

I shopped around for others' takes; different reviewers walked away with different thoughts. What I concluded was "He's right. She's also right." 

Anywho, it's just a movie. One can see it as an admonishment to settle; others will see that it doesn't work to fight against your past; others will simply wait for Bubbie to talk. Her Yinglish is delicious. Those priceless Yiddish actors of once-upon-a-time are now extinct. 

The character of Izzy, the "older" single Jewish woman with Lower East Side roots who revels in her "classy" work involving pretentious literature (which the movie regularly lampoons), is infuriating in her wishy-washyness. Her one major plus is her devotion to her grandmother; she spends a lot of time with her. A lot of time. Like, the best granddaughter ever. They shop together, walk together, cook together. She even lovingly massages out the ravages of her Bubbie's arthritis. 

Since CD doesn't rush, one can see how Izzy's prejudices slowly unravel. For all her aspirations, she's not very secure, unlike Sam, her shidduch date. While she unfairly labels him as low-brow, he exudes cool confidence, knowledge, and kindness. He's even vulnerable with her, not fearing potential rejection (a Brené role model!) He knows who he is; she thinks she knows who she is (but doesn't). 

So I can't understand what it is about Izzy that draws Sam to her despite her repeated rebuffs. A man in possession of such self-worth wouldn't (at least shouldn't) take this.

The problem for me is, the moral of the story is to expand one's vision beyond the narrow (the title is from Sam's mashal of an anecdote). In other words, giving something a chance against one's personal judgement—which is what every single shadchan says to sell their idea. Yet I can't go out with all off-base suggestions, or else I'd go mad

Although, if someone insisted that they knew, for sure, that he was a mensch . . .

*While rated a decorous PG, there are scenes which are not for children or the prudish. It could very well receive the UA (un-aidel) rating established by Bad4.    

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

It's Okay to be Happy

"I'm just so tired from the l'chayim," she sighed. "and this hall for the vort is so expensive. Finding dresses for it was such a hassle. The place we wanted for the wedding is all booked up; we have to use another one, which I don't like. . ." 

I felt like reminding her: Your daughter is engaged. Doesn't that qualify as a happy occasion? Does this come off as "happy" to you?

Humblebrag may apply here, but then I had second thoughts coming across an article in Glamour (don't judge me, the subscription was free with a Sephora purchase): "My Dirty Little Secret: For Once, Actually I'm Happy" by Abigail Libers. Her opening: 
"So how are you?!” a friend asked me at brunch recently. I hadn’t seen her in a while and thought for a moment. “Great!” I replied. “Things have been going really well for me.”
Even I was surprised by my response; it’s rare that I don’t have a complaint at the ready. Apparently my friend was taken aback too. “Really?” she asked. “That’s awesome. I’m happy for you.” And there was an awkward pause. In the silence I realized I had violated an un­­spoken code. The answer to “How are you?” is supposed to be “I’m so busy and stressed!” And indeed, when I asked what was new with her, she stuck to the script, rattling off complaints: annoyed with her mom, drowning at work.
Contemporary culture perversely equates "importance" with being stressed and busy. Takka, humblebrag is the usual response to "How are you?" (another reason why I don't ask). Yet the state of happiness can also tag along ubiquitous guilt for the ride, as Libers experienced. 

Not only is there guilt that I have joy while she does not, there is also fear: Happiness is usually so elusive that when it comes, there is anxiety that it was a mirage, it will be taken away, it is too good to be true. You know what? This is what I have decided: So what? 

Happiness doesn't last, this we know. Then just enjoy it while you got it. I heard this idea from Charlie Harary—and he was quoting someone else—that we should live life like kids at suppertime. They negotiate with Ma for how much chicken and vegetables they have to consume before they get dessert. When they get the dessert, they revel in it. Tomorrow will be another tedious healthy meal, but tonight, let's live it up.
Got happy? Don't overthink it. Wallow in it, inhale it, savor it. It doesn't have to be rubbed in anyone else's face, mind, but park the guilt and worry at the door.     

Monday, December 5, 2016

Favorite Authoress: Liane Moriarty

When it comes to genre, I rarely stray from historical fiction. There are a few exceptions, like specific sci-fi or fantasy or mystery-involving-horseracing authors, but gripping must be that which is contemporary. 

TooYoungToTeach introduced me to Liane Moriarty's work with What Alice Forgot. After I woozily, dreamily, joyfully savored it, she mentioned Three Wishes, which I checked out and gobbled up. Following that, I decided to go chronological with The Last Anniversary, The Hypnotist's Love Story, and The Husband's Secret
You know when an author is reliably awesome when you can't wait to go to bed just so you can read. 

Moriarty is Australian, and her books take place there. Somehow, the conversation there is more . . .  real, I guess. I usually prefer historical fiction because back then no one had time for self-made problems, and most modern-day stories seem contrived regarding difficulty. Moriarty cannily grasps in simple, unaffected language, valid millenial drama. 

Perhaps because she might gather her material from her own personal experiences, there are a number of repetitive themes: infertility, marriages in crisis, old love rekindling, the sadness of singlehood. I find that I can't read her absorbing books back-to-back because there will always be an echo to a previous novel, and sometimes I get irritated. But then I apologize to Liane in my head.

Three Wishes: Adult triplets Lyn, Cat, and Gemma have turned 33, and what an eventful year it will be. For all their closeness, and accepted "roles," there is still more to them than the others know.

What Alice Forgot: Alice wakes up to find herself a decade older—amnesia after a head injury. To her shock, she finds herself vastly different, even unlikeable. Can she be saved?   

The Hypnotist's Love Story: Eileen, a hypnotist, has finally found the man of her dreams. The problem is that he's being stalked by his ex. Eileen—and the reader will too—feels for her. 

The Husband's Secret: Very, very dark. A modern Pandora's box alter the lives of three women—and their families.

The Last Anniversary: On a family-owned island marked by sinister mystery, a love-seeking newcomer arrives, entangling herself in the various lives that live there.    

Thursday, December 1, 2016


I was rolling as I watched the black-ish episode, "God." The scene where Dre struggles to concentrate while praying was so, pathetically, true

Following those rare moments of rapt kavana, I feel like high-fiving myself—good job! You stayed on message, girl!—only to flunk all over again the next day, as I suddenly recall what face creams I should reorder during Baruch She'amar. Girl, you suck. 

It is a work in progress. According to the method of meditation, instead of beating up oneself if thoughts drift, merely draw it back into the center, and move on. Not a bad idea if self-flagellation poisons the rest of prayers. 

Every week, the NY Times Magazine recommends a poem. Matthew Zapruder submitted this: 

Yehoshua November integrates his Orthodox Judaism with the everyday, through poems of radical clarity. Throughout his work, he shows that religious faith can be compatible with a poetry of deep, uncertain feeling. Poem selected by Matthew Zapruder.

Credit Illustration by R. O. Blechman


Before the Silent Prayer,
some slip the hood of their prayer shawls
over their heads,
so that even among many worshipers
they are alone with God.

Primo Levi wrote about the sadness of
“a cart horse, shut between two shafts
and unable even to look sideways ... ”

Let me be like those pious ones
or that horse,
so that, even amidst a crowd,
no other crosses the threshold
of my dreaming.

During davening, the avodah, we are supposed to stick to one message: "Know before Whom you stand." To be a blinkered horse, indeed.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yom Shabbos Menucha

"Yehoshua, get up off the floor! If you can't sit nicely at the table, go to bed. Mendy, put down that book! It's a long enough night, and you won't have anything to read later. Miri, leave your sister alone! Raizy, why did you take so much chicken if you knew you couldn't eat it all? No, Baruch, you can't have anymore grape juice. Shua, off the floor!" 

Well, I did volunteer for the task. With their parents out for Friday night, I was presiding over chaos. In under five minutes, the prettily set table had morphed into a mess of purple splatters and soggy napkins. I'm sure my hair was standing on end, with a few bits of shnitzel stuck in there.

As the youngest, my memories of Shabbos meals were tame; all of us sitting properly around the dining room table. Yet Ma tells me that before my time, she would tell Babi, "Ma, it's a three-ring circus." 

We sing bensching together (with Mendy barely mumbling along, much to my displeasure). With an hour until bedtime, I whipped out the stack of Berenstain Bears I had brought with me. 

The hysteria immediately vanished into peace. Each (even the 12-year-old) eagerly selected one. I read out loud, surrounded by cuddling children all sighing contentedly. This was the scene more apropos to the serenity of Shabbos.
After tucking the smaller ones into bed, I played cards with the older ones. I lost "I Doubt You" ungracefully. I thought I had a better poker face. 

The night closed pleasantly, despite the mad opening. 

We are creatures of habit and minhag. Shabbos meals are supposed to be calm and enjoyable. Yet when kids are too young to handle the expectations of the dining room table, maybe the method needs a little tweaking. 

If a formal dinner will devolve into (1) shouting matches of "But I wanna sit next to Abba!"; (2) Grabbing for the kois until it inevitably spills; (3) food battles; (4) really, really unnecessary stress, let's take the munchkins out of it until they are of an age of self-control and interest. 

They can be fed earlier, left to play or put to sleep (depending on the season), while Mom and Pop revel in a romantic dinner for two by candlelight.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ride the Pendulum

Unlike a number of my high school classmates, I never went through a "dark" phase. I've always preferred metaphorical sunshine and roses—why can't we talk about something more pleasant?
Some gals noted that, depending on the English teacher, all they had to do was spin the most miserable yarn possible to score a good grade. Apparently, while lacking black lipstick, there are educators who should be classified as goth. 

In response to the question "Which subjects are underrepresented in contemporary fiction?", Ayana Mathis replies: Joy. 

Authors do err, she says, in believing that the only true and real expression of the human experience is Dickensian (I avoid his work, even film adaptations, like the plague). Life is composed not of one extreme, but of both, and everything in between. Queen Elizabeth II said, "Grief is the price we pay for love"—one cannot grieve unless one has known love.

Mathis quotes Thomas Aquinas: "Joy and sorrow proceed from love, but in contrary ways." Same premise. 
Joy, it must be remembered, is nothing like happiness, its milquetoast cousin. It is instead a vivid and extreme state of being, often arrived at in the aftermath of great pain. 
I'm gonna Brené you—again: Many attempt to numb pain (with alcohol, drugs, food), without realizing that it is impossible to selectively numb emotion. If you numb the sadness, you will also numb the joy. You can't have one without the other.

A date once asked, "Are you a Buddhist?" because of my interest in yoga and Eastern medicine. I responded: "No. Buddhists believe life is all about suffering; I don't." (Okay okay, don't get technical with me, I know Buddhism doesn't quite work like that, but "suffering" is its go-to word.) 

I don't ignore the sadness, yet I do not find anything noble in unnecessarily wallowing in it. If it comes my way, and cannot be avoided, I shall acknowledge it to the best of my ability. Because unless I learn how to sit in discomfort, only then can I savor moments of bliss.   

Monday, November 28, 2016

Paper Dolls

"Send out your information onto this shidduch e-mail list!" 

"Um, okay." 

What followed was two weeks of bizarre e-mail exchanges and phone calls. The first rang that she doesn't know me, right, so why don't I come over and scroll through her database? 

But if she doesn't know the guys either, what would be the point? 

The next called that she has just the idea for me, but I happened to know who he was and thought not. Then she carelessly suggested his friend, whom his pal spoke highly of. It's his friend. I don't think his required positive feedback means all that much. 

Then two more calls with ideas that went against exactly what I expressed in my information. We are not acquainted beyond what I stipulated in my profile. So why is your first move to recommend guys who don't even remotely fall within my criteria? 

I began to dread unknown numbers chiming on my cell. Because I hate, hate, having to explain to someone who thinks she's being nice and considerate that her idea is so catastrophic I'm considering going off the grid. 

I'm just curious how many of these women met their husbands by shidduch date. Because they have no idea how the "shidduch system" works. There are very few who can have the happy talent of matching paper with paper. I think they are the stuff of legend, as opposed to reality. 

If you want to make a shidduch, may I suggest keeping things closer to home? Singles in your extended family, in your shul, your children's friends, friends' children, etc. Why outsource complete strangers from backgrounds you don't understand, fruitlessly stapling together random ideas?

*Ping* An e-mail inviting me to come over and scroll through a database. Sigh. Please inform me if there is a single possibility, not a multitude.  

Friday, November 25, 2016


"Ye do not seem very upset at the loss of your boat, Captain Poldark."

"I am becoming philosophical," Ross said. "As one nears thirty I think it is a state of mind to be sought after. It is a protection, because one becomes more conscious of loss—loss of time, of dignity, of one's first ideals. I'm not happy to lose a good boat, but sighing will not bring it back any more than yesterday's youth." Demelza, by Winston Graham
You'll notice that I haven't talked about love. Or about happiness. I've talked about becoming—or remaining—the person who can be happy, a lot of the time, without thinking that being happy is what it's all about. It's not. It's about becoming the largest, most inclusive, most responsive person you can be.—Susan Sontag, in her 2013 commencement speech at Vassar College 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Fave Oils

The oils are back, my peeps! Good fats are making a comeback, in the kitchen and the medicine cabinet. 

For the last few years argan oil has been my baby. I use it on my hair—I rub a few drops between the palms and run my hands through the strands. Instead of a bushy 'do, it behaves itself come Shabbos morning (my hair always looks great on Shabbos afternoon, never during Shacharis). The ends of the mane are so soft.
As the weather has cooled, I've been dabbing it onto my face after cleansing, before applying my other nightly creams. Nourished skin is young skin. I have to avoid the milia-prone areas, although argan oil is considered not to block pores (I had a bad experience with jojoba oil). 

When selecting oils, check the ingredients. Many can be cut with nastiness like mineral oil. Get 100% only. 

Next, coconut oil. I hate coconut, the taste of coconut. Bleh. I do not cook with it, but use it on my hair once a week for an intense mask. Previously, I used standard tubs of the stuff, which in winter would solidify and be a pain to extract and spread.
Enter Carrington Farms Liquid Coconut Oil. It remains liquid, no matter the temp, making it easy to apply. I also don't have to use as much since it doesn't have the consistency of thick goop, and in turn, less shampoo to remove the grease. 

It's also great for applying to the body. Don't neglect that as chilly days threaten. Coconut oil supposedly reduces inflammation and redness. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

I am Teflon

All (at least most) of us have our triggers. Some barbed remarks slide off like a bundtcake from a well-oiled pan; others stick like burnt paprikash. 

The comments that float unheedingly by, while barbed, don't excite the immune system the way others do—those flip, supposedly innocent words that awaken the self-questioning monster within. 

As the Good Book (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) says: 
One of the things Ford Prefect had always found hardest to understand about humans was their habit of continually stating and repeating the very obvious, as in It's a nice day, or You're very tall, or Oh dear you seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well, are you all right?   
Ford Prefect (an alien) deduces: 
At first Ford had formed a theory to account for this strange behavior. If human beings didn't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths would probably seize up. After a few months' consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favor of a new one. If they don't keep exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working.
Think once. Think twice. I am so very, very frightened of brainlessly opening my mouth and unintentionally awakening another's insecurities. The worrisome part is that one can't know what may be another's perceived weakness. We all have our baggage, and my baggage is not yours.
In Henry Alford's "The Remarkable Shelf Life of the Offhand Comment," he opens with an incident where he was thoughtlessly admonished to be "a little more effusive." As I can relate, that critique haunted him for years, haunting all social interactions.
As the article relates, there are a few types of shots: 1) the statements that reinforce our personal fears; 2) the remarks that make us question our beliefs/taste/self; 3) comments that are so mind-boggingly stupid that they trigger sensations of superiority and, in turn, guilt. 

To illustrate type 1: I have—bless genetics—epic dark circles. I am familiar with every means to cover them up, yet for the most part some purple leaches through the layered concealer. I receive plenty remarks casting aspersions upon my night's sleep or general health to shake my faith in ever looking good. 

To overcome these shots, one can 1) Be snarky. However, in my experience, that rarely achieves anything. Usually the other party is blankly humorless, and will not grasp the point. 2) My preference, which is to be compassionate. While it is not an excuse, when under stress, disciplining the mind-mouth connection can be difficult, and the "better left unsaid" slides out anyway. We've all had our moments. Cut 'em some slack. 

As for those transgressors who make it quite obvious that they are being bi—, um, catty, all I can think is "nebach." How sad that they are such miserable human beings that nastiness gives them an ego boost. 

A dangerous possibile outcome is grudge nursing. Grudges can become part of one to the point that shedding it is the equivalent of cutting off a toe. Let it go. Please let it go. For all our sakes.