Thursday, December 31, 2015

Protein, Longevity Feasts, and Water

I am a born carb eater. I am not kidding when I say that I get weak-kneed at the sight of potatoes. Any potato will do, even reconstituted. And don't mention bread. I'm not strong enough.
Scrape me off the floor.
But for the scale-conscious, carbs are austerely limited. Sigh. Fruit instead of cereal for breakfast; vegetable soup rather than pasta for lunch; broccoli instead of rice for dinner. 

Protein, they say! Protein will save us all! The thing is, while I have cut back on carbs, I haven't really replaced them with protein. There's only carbs for me; protein doesn't fill the void. I eat fish a couple times a week. A Greek yogurt here and there. But I've been primarily subsisting on produce, healthy fats (nuts, oils, avocados), and legumes with a dusting of carbs (oat bran, Korean/Oriental/Japanese/Asian sweet potato, Shabbos whole-wheat matzah/challah) here and there, and I gotta say, I feel quite good.

Dean Ornish will bum out the protein lovers with "The Myth of High-Protein Diets," along with Time magazine's Markham Heid's piece.
Animal protein is not very friendly on the body. It prematurely ages it. Those in the Blue Zones rely on legumes for protein, and live, like, forever. 

Jeff Gordinier went food shopping with Dan Buettner (of "Blue Zones" fame) for a "longevity feast."
Dan Buettner
Current research shows that those who dutifully pop kale into the shopping cart park a pint of ice cream right next to it; Buettner advocates basic healthy yummies, and no processed so-called "health food," like juices or shakes. 
. . . Seventh-day Adventists have a tendency to outlive their fellow Americans, thanks to a mostly vegetarian diet that is heavy on nuts, beans, oatmeal, 100 percent whole-grain bread and avocados.
Sounds good to me, although the bread has to be "real sourdough bread." Oh, and go for long walks. Blue Zonies are always walking. 

Lastly, "The Persistent Health Myth of 8 Glasses a Day." As Aaron Carroll reports, water is in a lot of the things we consume, and coffee doesn't suck the liquid out of you, either. 

According to the Rambam, one should only drink when thirsty. The awesome bodies we've been given will tell us when we are.  

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In the Moment

While I was walking home, in a near-perfect Hallmark moment, a monarch butterfly fluttered past. It perched upon a flower, lazily and poetically opening and closing its wings. I almost continued on my way, but paused. 

Cherish the moment

I knelt down, face inches away, to watch the butterfly eagerly jab its proboscis into a pink bloom, absorbing the white-spotted abdomen, the stunning delicacy of the winged patterns.
It then took loopy flight. I walked on

The next morning I yawningly padded outdoors to the garbage. On the bushes next to the can, awash in dawn light, sparkled the ethereal tendrils of a fresh spider web. 

I bent over to observe a tiny arachnid patiently march in circles, laying down the gauzy outline of its net. I didn't realize that my breath caught, watching the creature given praise for saving Dovid HaMelech.
Via Kevin Anderson
The following night I heard the distant boom-boom of fireworks. I raised the shades to see spewing sparks across the sky, brilliant and vivid. Eventually I was tired of standing, but told myself that it won't be here for another year. Savor it now
I watched until the end, soaking in the loud hues, awash in my own childish glee.

Months later, on a frozen morn, I awoke to find the grim winter-ravaged surroundings being gently dusted with fluffy white confetti. I eagerly tied on my boots and with a wide, goofy grin, merrily tramped out as the leafless trees were adorned yet again. I savored the descent of each snowflake, remembering that each vary with artistic precision.
Don't read, I admonished myself when ensconced aboard. Look out the window. Who knows when there will be snow again? I gazed upon the whizzing white, a glowing in my chest.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Julia Baird, "Was It Cancer? Getting the Diagnosis": 

. . . When I came out of the hospital, everyone suddenly seemed consumed with irrelevant, foolish, temporal worries. Reading the fine print of your mortality is a great sifter of rubbish. I frowned at the complaints posted on social media when I was recovering — people who had the flu, were annoyed by politicians, burdened by work, or who were juggling jobs and children — and wanted to scream: BUT YOU ARE ALIVE!!!! Alive! Each day is a glory, especially if upright and able to move with ease, without pain.

I am still grappling with what all of this means. But in this short time, three age-old truths became even more apparent to me.

First, stillness and faith can give you extraordinary strength. Commotion drains.

The “brave” warrior talk that so often surrounds cancer rang false to me. I didn’t want war, tumult or battle. Instead, I just prayed to God. And I think what I found is much like what Greek philosophers called ataraxia, a suspended kind of calm in which you can find a surprising strength.

Second, you may find yourself trying to comfort panicked people around you. But those who rally and come to mop your brow when you look like a ghost, try to make you laugh, distract you with silly stories, cook for you — or even fly for 20 hours just to hug you — are companions of the highest order. Your family is everything.

Third, we should not have to retreat to the woods like Henry David Thoreau to “live deliberately.” It would be impossible and frankly exhausting to live each day as if it were your last. But there’s something about writing a will that has small children as beneficiaries that makes the world stop.

My doctor asked me a few days ago how I became so calm before the surgery. I told her: I prayed, I locked out negativity and drama and drew my family and tribe — all big-hearted, pragmatic people — near. I tried to live deliberately.

“Can I just say,” she said, “you should do that for the rest of your life.”

I am all for learning lessons while in a place of health and happiness, rather than being hit over the head with them in less pleasant times. 

Living deliberately, living in the moment, being mindful—these are "trending" concepts. Being present in our relationships, leaning in to wonderful, fleeting moments and memories—and teaching the next generation, by example, what it means to "be there."

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hail the Bran!

Through Amazon's Subscribe and Save, along with intermittent filler from Vitacost, 40 oz. bags of oat bran are regularly deposited on the doorstep. Emblazoned across the box: "Life insurance you can eat.",320_.jpg
I like to cook mine with extra water for longer, thickening the liquid. The serving of 1/4 cup morphs into a brimming bowl of heartiness, made heavenly by a spoonful of raw honey.
Via livestrong
For those with celiac disease, it is particularly miraculous. Many gluten-free options out there are nothing more than simple sugars; oats are the one halachic grain without gluten, yet it is, nutritionally, a star. 

But it has a multitude of uses beyond an anytime meal. Along with my trusty spice grinder, I can make it finer if I so desire and slip it into meals in countless ways. 

I've used it in kugels instead of flour. I've used it as a binder wherever stale bread is called for, like in meatballs and fish patties. I've ground it and used it for roux in soup; I've also shaken it in during the cooking process to thicken. I've used it instead of flour in the beloved cheese latkes, and they were all gobbled up by the "picky" ones. The original recipe for túrógombóc called for Hungarian "grits"; I used oat bran instead. 

Pretty much anywhere matzoh meal is called for as a binder, oat bran can replace it. 

Although, it can't be used everywhere; gluten is the protein that makes flour rise. But if not relying on any sort of height, send in the bran.     

Friday, December 25, 2015

Who's Life are We Living?

"Help, My Parents are Millenials" by Katy Steinmetz in TIME: 

In scores of interviews for this article, just the mention of social media elicited groans and sighs from young parents who are barraged by handmade birthday invitations and color-coded clothes-pin chore charts on Pinterest. They debate whether Facebook or Instagram is "the hardest," whether it's the images of the home-cooked organic feast or the just-cleaned house. It helps only a little to know that people are being highly selective about what they share. "Someone will put out there, 'Oh, I just braided my child's hair.' But you just yelled at them like 50 times to sit down," says 30-year-old B. Marcell Williams, a mother of four living in St. Louis. 


Thursday, December 24, 2015

You Know Nothing

. . . Jon Snow. When's the next book coming out, already?

We think we know. We are so sure we know so much. And we do know a lot. We laugh how previous centuries couldn't understand something as basic as hand washing to prevent death. We roll our eyes that anyone could have thought the sun revolved around the earth. Yeesh, those people didn't have smartphones. Why did they bother living? 

Yes, comparatively, we rock. But there is still so, so, so very much that we are ignorant of. There are many things that "science" doesn't really know fo sho. I'm not quoting myself here; I'm relying on Jaime Holmes' "The Case for Teaching Ignorance."
People tend to think of not knowing as something to be wiped out or overcome, as if ignorance were simply the absence of knowledge. But answers don’t merely resolve questions; they provoke new ones.
As Aristotle put it: "The more you know, the more you don't know."  

Yet this doesn't apply only in the secular science field. We Jews, as we like to say, are encouraged to question (although it may often depend on which school you end up in). Although, I am noticing that many of my coreligionists are nodding a lot in that "yes, of course" sort of way. They want to know reasons. They even have the reasons. 

When one is so sure of the answer, then one stops bothering to question, then one no longer learns. 
Our students will be more curious — and more intelligently so — if, in addition to facts, they were equipped with theories of ignorance as well as theories of knowledge.
Anne Lammot said, "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty." Being religious doesn't mean being all-knowing. It actually means saying, "I don't know. Maybe there's an answer. Maybe there isn't. Let's find out which."     

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


3PO and R2, two nephews close enough in age to get on each other's nerves, were going at it on a Friday afternoon. The go-to move is "divide and conquer"; I plucked away R2 from temptation, but needed to provide entertainment. 

R2 is familiarly adorable; he takes after Luke in looks and personality, but with some quirks thrown in. Like how he loves to clean (he was delighted with the toy broom and shovel I bought him) and he loves to cream. 

Yup, he got Babi's cream gene. This kid never gives me a hard time about shmearing coconut oil on his chapped cheeks and mouth. 

"C'mon, baby, you can watch me put on my Shabbos Face." I plunked him on a stool in my bathroom and he watched, fascinated, as I brushed and buffed. 

"Layla," he lisped, "what you doing?" 

"I'm painting my Face," I answered simply. 

"But why you paint your face?" 

"To look pretty. Do I look pretty?" 

He smiled sheepishly. "Yesh," he giggled. 

He's Hungarian, all right. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hear Your Elders

Not only am I the youngest in my family, I'm amongst the youngest of my cousins as well. To me, everyone was always older.
Via bazanphotos
I don't know if it is just my nature, or because I was always around those who were older, but I like older people. We seem to have more similar interests than I do with my contemporaries. 

Silas House notes "The Growing Generational Divide," and the cost to the next generation:
This is the main thing we lose when we don’t talk to our elders: the histories. How many teenagers, for example, know the intimate details of the Kardashians’ lives but don’t know the love stories of their own parents? The joys and sorrows of the older generations serve as examples for us to learn from, to emulate or, perhaps even more useful, to avoid. As age segregation becomes more ingrained in our culture, what cycles will be repeated, what misconceptions will flourish? 
Quite a lot. I try to tell over the family tales to the best of my ability, but with every re-teller they get contaminated. I just took my niece's head off because she completely butchered/fabricated her report on Ma's coming to America ("They never referred to it as the 'Goldeneh Medinah!'")

The younger generation may roll their eyes at how the relatively elderly struggle with technology, but as Ma heard a personality proclaiming on a talk show, there is more to knowledge that smartphone savvy. Yes, she may not know the iPhone—but that means she has nothing to teach? There is plenty the young people don't know that she does.  

Monday, December 21, 2015


My nephew was born with food allergies (which he has b"H since outgrown) but for the first couple of years he couldn't eat . . . well, anything with taste. A lot of rice and sometimes applesauce. 

He would sit on laps, hungrily watching all of us stuff our faces, and if he felt any sort of slackness in the grip of his keeper, he would lunge at a plate. The floor had to be carefully monitored for scraps. His throat would work yearningly in the presence of the sights and smells of the tantalizing untouchable.

Perhaps because he was the youngest of a rather large brood, my sister-in-law took a more pragmatic tactic: That he would just have to get used to it. Tough, but he can't eat what everyone else is. 

Before he was three, he was able to chow down with the rest of us, but for those two years of restriction a toddler of steel emerged. He's tough. He won't be pushed around. After all, what can anyone do to him? Eat while he has to watch? Been there. He's got true grit. 

Pretty much any movie that has Billy Crystal in it I can watch on a loop. One lazy Sunday afternoon I reacquainted myself with City Slickers, about three male friends with mid-life crises who head out to a dude ranch to herd cattle.
Every once in a while one would say to the other, "What, you think playing at being a cowboy will fix all your problems?" But funnily enough, it somehow does. 

After a number of snafus, the three are left alone with the herd. It is not a matter of life or death to bring the cattle in; but by tackling their mission, and emerging triumphant, they feel like absolute kings. 

Why did they head home with their backs straight and their problems worked out? They took on a challenge. They pushed themselves. They succeeded. They know now what they are capable of—making the choice to live life better, not merely accepting the situation given.

Again, read Eric Greiten's Resilience. 

My little nephew, the runt—you don't cross him. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger."  

Friday, December 18, 2015


Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinrib:

I picked him up at the airport. He was arriving in Baltimore, where I was then a rabbi, to deliver an address and then return home to New York. 

The plane was late, so that when he came, I told him that we would have to hurry to be at our destination on time. He was already showing signs of age, so that walking quickly was hard for him. We moved rapidly past the gates, at which other flights were disembarking, including one at which the arriving passengers were being welcomed warmly by friends and family. 

That is where he stopped, transfixed. He could not take his eyes off the scene of the small crowds embracing and kissing each other tearfully and emotionally. 

Reluctantly, he responded to my rude insistence that we move on, and together we rushed to his appointment. 

He was Rav Avrohom Pam, of blessed memory, the late lamented sage, Yeshiva dean, mentor to hundreds of rabbis and scholars, and above all, gentle soul. When we finally were in the car and on our way, I asked him what it was about the airport scene that so fascinated him. 

His response was the greatest lesson of the many I learned from him. "The saddest of all human happenings is separation," he said. "And the most wonderful of all is reunion. Whenever I see people, of whatever background, who are joyfully coming together after a long separation, I feel spellbound, and I must stand by and witness that pure innocent joy as long as I can."  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What's My Purpose?

I've finished reading Eric Greiten's Resilience, and for the umpteenth time I am frantically recommending it. It's a mussar sefer, really; there are tons of Jewish references.

Of the multitude of quotes that would send me out of my room blaring, "You gotta hear this!," one was this concept (that I cannot find the exact quote for)

So, apparently, the reason why there are veterans who spiral downward when they return home is not necessarily from the trauma. It's from the lack of purpose. 

You wake up and you know your mission. You know your team. You know what you gotta do today, how you will serve.
Then you go home. No more mission. No more team. Now what? 

Roger Cohen's "Why ISIS Trumps Freedom" explains the allure of ISIS on westernized individuals who should know better. What makes us even more confused is that they voluntarily leave independence and plenty for restriction and privation. What gives? 
Perhaps that something is at root a yearning to be released from the burden of freedom.
Western societies have been going ever further in freeing their citizens’ choices — in releasing them from ties of tradition or religion, in allowing people to marry whom they want and divorce as often as they want, have sex with whom they want, die when they want and generally do what they want. There are few, if any, moral boundaries left.
In this context, radical Islam offers salvation, or at least purpose, in the form of a life whose moral parameters are strictly set, whose daily habits are prescribed, whose satisfaction of everyday needs is assured and whose rejection of freedom is unequivocal. By taking away freedom, the Islamic State lifts a psychological weight on its young followers adrift on the margins of European society.
Purpose is dependent on discipline. Without discipline, we are adrift, rudderless, and while there may be some slackers who are happy enough with that life, for many it leads them into insanity. Sort of like how our sterilized lifestyles jacks up our unchallenged immune systems to attack our bodies out of boredom.

From what I've seen, not all FFBs can see the purpose. We rely too much on birthrights; we often forget that we each still have to seek and discover our "own truth."  

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I Believe in You

When we had first met, all those years ago, I thought she was amazing; brilliant, bright, bursting with sassy self-respect. I was smitten. 

As we first embraced, and then came to be disillusioned with, the dating scene, I noticed a difference. While I am thankful for my family support system who do not believe that I am doing anything "wrong," her family was telling her to get therapy. I was hurt and horrified for her, yet she matter-of-factly questioned herself. I knew that it was simply she had not met the right man for her; she didn't. 

The last time we met the girl I had always admired was a shadow of her vivacious self. Doubt had robbed her of the intellect I had adored. Her eyes darted in worry.

Rabbi Yisroel Reisman said in his Navi shiur entitled "The World's Worst Shadchan," (it's a great shiur, it really pays to pay to hear it) he said our community has a tendency to "blame the victim," meaning "older" singles. It isn't right, he said, that we cause those who are suffering to suffer even more. 

Do you know how many times I have had to deflect a mean comment, simply because I am single? Apparently everybody else who has a difficulty can't help that, but singles can.

The last time we met she was low, the lowest I had ever seen her at. It is not right, it is not right that those who just need a little amount of bucking up, not much, just a little, are left to feel as though they are lonely freaks, when they have so much to offer

Quite some time later, I was giddy to hear she was engaged. Not only that, he's great. He looks like the guy I had always known she would end up with; someone who is worthy of her, and she of him.     

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Another Luddite Rant

The kinfauna are growing up, becoming hulking, terrifying teenagers, all with—oh dear—phones in their undisciplined hands.
To be clear, my annoyance is not with cells themselves, but how people act around them. I know I have done stupid things because I was looking at a text, like almost walking into traffic. Idiot idiot idiot, you are not allowed a smartphone. 

Take that sort of mindlessness and hand them a car. Whoop de doo. 

Because of the novelty of phones, too many people allow them to take over their lives. So the next generation, the children who were born in to this current techie existence, need ground rules, which Bruce Feiler provides in "How to Manage Media in Families" and "Hey, Kids, Look at Me When We're Talking." 

After he lists all the ways parents can monitor their children's phone and media, he writes: 
One surprising thing I heard about these agreements: They should include restrictions on the parents, who are the most egregious technology abusers of all. Ms. Schofield Clark’s daughter insisted on the clause, “When I have something to say, Mommy has to close the laptop and listen.”
Her son added a rule. Beginning when her children were young, Ms. Schofield Clark took their photo with Santa every Christmas. She forced them to do it when they were teenagers, then posted the photo on Facebook. Within seconds, her otherwise hibernating 14-year-old son came bolting from his bedroom. Their agreement now includes the plank, “If Mom wants to post a photo with a kid in it, she needs to ask.”
Parents can't be annoyed if their kids ignore them when using technology if they do the same thing. It's called being a role model.

In his second article, Feiler discusses the worry that children today are lagging in deciphering face-to-face interactions. I, for one, am relieved that Shabbos enforces a day of no phones and yes shul to demand social dexterity.
Sharon Turkle's "Stop Googling. Let's Talk" has more terrifying data to prove her point. Because of the imminent possibility of "more interesting" distractions, conversations aren't invested in. Deep, fully present, vulnerable talk is where empathy happens. 

On the flip side, with phones we are never alone. But empathy also needs alone time. 
The capacity for empathic conversation goes hand in hand with the capacity for solitude.
In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.
It takes a tremendous amount of effort to see oneself, almost as though it is a separate entity. That cannot be done without removing distractions and plunging into the abyss.
This actually exists!
Turkle is also aware that phones aren't going anywhere, but we should be more proactive in limiting their influence. Packing it away, going out without it . . . believe me, it is quite freeing. 
Friendships become things to manage; you have a lot of them, and you come to them with tools. So here is a first step: To reclaim conversation for yourself, your friendships and society, push back against viewing the world as one giant app. It works the other way, too: Conversation is the antidote to the algorithmic way of looking at life because it teaches you about fluidity, contingency and personality.
Human connection isn't here to entertain us; it is here to bind us, even in times of boring silence.     

Monday, December 14, 2015

Battle of the Bulge: The Charming Dinner Guest

When it comes to temptation, there are few areas that still wield power. Through force of will, I've managed to crush a number of bad habits. 

While food shopping, only the produce section calls my name, which means, in turn, that the house is only stocked with the waist-friendly and the heart-healthy. Even if there is a squirreled away gift box of chocolates, I don't even desire to look for it. I wait for what really makes me dance (Shavuous cheesecake).
Eating out never was a family pastime, and if I am ever tempted I reckon that the price of the meal could have been put towards new shoes, which I would own and enjoy for years as opposed to the 30-minute bliss (and 30-day workoff) of anything off the menu.

Of the last lingering dragons to slay, there remains this: The Shabbos meal invite. 

Platters and bowls of the often salt-infused tasty and trans-fattening is placed before me, and here's the thing: Once I am in eating mode, I can keep on going, refilling my plate repeatedly and constantly munching.
Meaning, I return home moaning, groaning, and self-loathing. 

Many a time, before such outings, I would give myself a stern talking-to. Don't overeat. Savor the food. Don't feel compelled to eat anything out of politeness. All for naught. 

I stumbled across this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: 

A goal without a plan is just a wish.

I didn't get to this point in the Bulge Battle by wishful thinking; I had a system of attack. I to plot a clear guideline. 

I winnowed it down to two main tactics: 

1. Chew SLOWLY and THOROUGHLY. Chewing slowly means that 

  (a) I have to daintily put down my flatware between bites;

  (b) My stomach has the necessary minutes to register food; and

  (c) I can stretch my portion all the way to the next course, leaving little time for further sins. 

2. No seconds. NO SECONDS. No matter what. Even if it's salad. Even if it's vegetables. Make up the plate and THAT IS IT.

Marching along to my hosts, I chanted to myself: Chew slowly, no seconds. Chew slowly, no seconds. Chew slowly, no seconds. 

I chewed slowly. I took no seconds. I sailed home triumphant, having relished my appetizer, main, and dessert, while my boch was only slightly stretched. I felt civilized again just a few hours later. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

My Bad

"I'm sorry, Luke, I made a mistake." 

"Lea? Did . . . you . . . just . . . apologize?" 

I blinked. "Uh, yeeeeeaaaaah? Wow, so I did." 

My family upbringing doesn't have an overt approach to apologies. We usually won't say, out loud, the word "sorry." It's more subtle. The sheepish grin. The begging eyes. The sudden, unwarranted charming disposition. And that works for us. We know the agony that is asking for forgiveness, and we would prefer to allow the other to save face, knowing he/she will try to avoid that boo-boo in the future.
Laura Zigman's "I Can't Apologize (Sorry!)" explains the phenomenon of "a nonapologist's apology."
“Here’s how I apologize,” Amy Dickinson, who writes the “Ask Amy” syndicated column, told me. “After a conflict, I just let things simmer down. Then I give a nudge. A little poke. Basically I telegraph to the other person that I’m fine now. I’m no longer in that bad place. It’s time to move on. If, after my charm offensive, the other person still has a problem with me, I’ll say, ‘I’m sorry you’re upset.’ ”
Sure, childhood shame can be blamed as the root of the inability to apologize, but really, how long can adults cling to that excuse? The other option is being a narcissist. 
Guy Winch, a psychologist and author of “Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts,” explained lack of remorse to me this way: “Apologies involve an admission of wrongdoing, and people with fragile self-esteem — like narcissists whose self-esteem is high but also brittle — can be highly resistant to apologizing as they feel it is threatening to their egos.” (I’m sorry, am I the narcissist in this equation?)
Apologizing isn’t fun. But neither was kale, until some brilliant publicist/food gentrifier got a hold of it.
All about the spin, eh?

I always liked to think my aversion to apologies was because I'm very hard on myself in general, and adding fuel to the flames would push me over the edge. I'm still hard on myself, but maybe I'm getting a little better at acknowledging that I'm human, albeit in progress. I haven't reached the pinnacle yet.

So, I apologized! Once, out loud and everything.       

Wednesday, December 9, 2015


That song was so off. Tevye lumps together mitzvos with minhagim into one category, whereas only the latter applies. I suppose "Commandments!" is less catchy.

To our benefit or detriment, Fiddler on the Roof is for the rest of the world an image of orthodox Jewish life. 
I know a non-Jewish woman who expects all aspects of Judaism to perfectly mimic Fiddler, to the point that a man's Shabbos bekechel should be patched and worn. She calls shadchanim or any female over 50 (because they must also be matchmakers) "Yentas." Such as, "She will be your Yenta."

R2 adores "If I Were a Rich Man" strictly because of the mooing cow at the end.  "Moo the cow!"
As a kid I was terrified of the Dream scene, and even now, after seeing it, I can't bear the dark. The kinfauna handle it better than me, actually. 
I once saw a clip of Zero Mostel as Tevye, and he was terrible. Not heimish at all. His "bida bida bida bum"s were more like "hipa hipa hipa pum"s.

I saw Alfred Molina on Broadway, and he was  nearly as good as Topol (nearly as good, but Alfred Molina can play anything). Time magazine had a review, and I always remember this bit:
But when his third daughter chooses a husband outside her religion, he can debate no more. "There is no other hand!" he cries. From Mostel's mouth, it was a howl to the heavens; Molina spits it out abruptly, angrily. He's not suffering for all Jews; he's one man drawing an ethical line in the sand.
Topol's Tevye had a similar reaction. He roars "No! No! No!" and angrily stomps away, closing his ears to his daughter's weeping. I always found it interesting how Tevye, an unlearned man, was able to accommodate his other daughter's unorthodox (not unobservant, but non-PC) marriages, knowing of no halachic reason to say no, whereas here he is firm. 

Here is my favorite, "Sabbath Prayer." My family doesn't bensch the children every Friday night, but many families do. It never fails to make me sniffle.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Potatoes + Brooks = Bliss

We can't have a Jewish holiday without a recipe, right? This past week in Dining, Joan Nathan shared her recipe for Mashed Potato Latkes with Dill and Shallots.

A little backstory: Mashed potato latkes, a.k.a. Chremslach, were always a Pesach specialty in my house, dipped in sugar (not anymore, cough cough). I was never really crazy about latkes, especially with the tedious amount of prep; for chremslach, the potatoes are painlessly boiled, rather than grated, squeezed, and prayed over that they don't turn brown.
Latkes always seem to fry unevenly, burned on one side and and raw on the other. 

But why must I be a slave to tradition? I can have chremslach whenever, right? Nathan's potatoes are baked, which means there is no excess water to be drained, and the batter is prepared calmly in advance. I'm also a sucker for dill and shallots.

However, Nathan breads her latkes. That's really not necessary. Potatoes can stand on their own two feet.  

Now, I am hopelessly behind on my David Brooks' links. Savor them slowly. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Deanna the Condescending Twerp

Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Loss" 

Deanna Troi is half-Betazoid, a telepathic species; that manifests in her as empathic ability, knowing what others are feeling (as opposed to specific thoughts). She utilizes this "super-power" as Counselor, the ship's psychologist; because she knows what others are feeling, it always gives her a one-up in any situation. 

In this episode, some odd space patterns generated by a two-dimensional species robs Deanna of her empathic abilities. The constantly smooth, calm, wise Counselor goes absolutely to pot. She screams, she rages, she sobs at the loss.
Commander Riker, her on-again-off-again boyfriend who is usually a reliable source of manly understanding, is oddly unmoved.

Troi: I look around me and all I see are surfaces without depth. Colorless and hollow. Nothing seems real. 

Riker: I'm real.

Troi: No, you're not! You're a projection. With no more substance than a character on the Holodeck.

Riker: I don't believe that. 

Troi: You have no idea how frightening it is for me to just be here without sensing you, without sharing your feelings . . . 

Riker: That's it, isn't it? We're on equal footing now.

Troi: What do you mean?

Riker: You've always had an advantage, a little bit of control over every situation. It must have been a very safe position to be in. To be honest, I always thought there was something a little too aristocratic about your Betazoid heritage. It's as if the human aside wasn't quite good enough for you.

Troi: That isn't true.

Riker: Isn't it?

I was taken by this episode. The considerate Deanna Troi, unmasked as a condescending know-it-all who believes herself surrounded by sub-species! Physician, heal thyself. 

Deanna Troi, the counselor for those who have experienced loss, can't help herself. If anything, her true, petty self emerges. 

It is very easy, from a distance, to say what yenem should do. And perhaps, when we are unhinged by sorrow, we require the assistance of someone emotionally unattached. 

But wouldn't we want someone to truly understand? For that's what we seek: empathy, not sympathy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


I was flipping through a People magazine in my dentist's waiting room when his previous appointment emerged, a frazzled African-American mother with three kids. One boy, around 8, was obviously a special needs child. Out of the hubbub of his clamoring siblings, he headed straight at me. He gazed frankly into my eyes and bluntly asked, "Can I give you a hug?" 

In today's "Stranger-Danger!" society, and being an aunt myself of young children, I was hesitant. "Ask your mother first if it's okay," I answered. 

"Mom, can I give her a hug?" 

Mom, dealing with the other two, distractedly answered that a high-five was fine, which he took to be assent for his original request. He opened his arms. 

It was one of the best hugs I've ever had. His head tucked trustingly into my shoulder, his body a cuddly mass. I gave his back a couple of pats. He pulled away in the perfect time frame (one Mississippi, two Mississippi), and earnestly waved goodbye.
I sailed forward into the dentist chair, fearing no Novocaine. 

Ma, like me, struggles with small talk. She and I are great at deep discussions, but meeting someone at shul or at a wedding and idly covering "so, what's doing" territory is awkward. Then, decades ago, she observed on a Brooklyn street her redemption: Physical contact. 

For us Jews, it's gender-specific, but it really works. "Hi!" Move in for a smooch (even though with women, it is more of a cheek-graze air-kiss). Fondly stroke an arm. Place a hand on a shoulder. All conversational crimes are absolved.

I've been making a conscious effort to be more lovey-dovey with the kinfauna—hair stroking, spontaneous kisses, stuffing-squeezings. I'm still surprised how they sigh happily and burrow against me, no matter their age.
The men on my father's side of the family are big smoochers. His male cousins kiss, hug, pinch cheeks. With those opening salvos, any tension just melts away. 

Give it a whirl. It does wonders.   

Monday, November 30, 2015

Better . . . Together

The Mindy Project, "While I Was Sleeping":

Mindy is currently pregnant by her boyfriend, first office colleague then boo Danny. Mindy has always fantasized about marriage, but Danny himself, after a failed go at it, does not wish to marry again. 

After a sobbing scene where Mindy tries to explain to him how important marriage is to her, Danny disappears. Unknown to Mindy, who fantasizes the worst (another woman), Danny has flown to India to explain the situation to her parents, whom he has never yet met.
Mindy says to herself before going to sleep, "I wish I fell in love with somebody else." She awakens (obviously, while dreaming) in a magnificent apartment with an unknown man, Matt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the most likable actor ever), who claims to be her husband.
She arrives at work, where Danny treats her with snarling contempt. It turns out that she herself is pretty gross; she's having an affair. Confessing this to Matt, he looks at her oddly. "Yeah, we have an open marriage." 

She realizes that Danny made her a better person by his prudish sensibilities tampering her extreme mindlessness. While she, in turn, mellowed his crabbiness with her sunny, cheerful disposition. 

She runs after him (of course, in the rain), wailing, "We make each other better!" 

When her eyes open (for real), she knows that Danny is the man for her, even if he doesn't want to put a ring on it (but then, of course, after meeting her adorably close parents who were wed by arranged marriage, he changed his mind about the institution and flourishes a rock).

This is on par to an article I read about the current state if marriage: As the wedded state evolved from business arrangement to love pairing to the modern psychological marriages, "How We End Up Marrying the Wrong People" explains what a true connection is. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

It's Not About the Money

Steve Jobs was not known for his cuddliness. However, Nick Bilton discovered an important lesson upon hearing a story when Jobs was being a jerk to a waitress ("What Steve Jobs Taught Me About Being a Son and Father"). 
No matter what you do for a living, should you do the best work possible?
It's not about vocation, Bilton realized. He spent plenty of time in non-vocational work—waiter, hair washer, costumed cartoon animal. 
And yet it wasn’t until my mother found out that she had terminal cancer in mid-March and was given a prognosis of only two weeks to live that I learned even if a job is just a job, you can still have a profound impact on someone else’s life. You just may not know it.
His mother's appetite dwindled, then disappeared; the end was nigh. But suddenly she asked for her favorite, shrimp. Bilton bolted to the nearest Thai restaurant to fetch his mother's dying request. 
While I stood waiting for my mother’s shrimp, I watched all these people toiling away and I thought about what Mr. Jobs had said about the waitress from a few years earlier. Though his rudeness may have been uncalled-for, there was something to be said for the idea that we should do our best at whatever job we take on.
This should be the case, not because someone else expects it. Rather, as I want to teach my son, we should do it because our jobs, no matter how seemingly small, can have a profound effect on someone else’s life; we just don’t often get to see how we’re touching them.
Certainly, the men and women who worked at that little Thai restaurant in northern England didn’t know that when they went into work that evening, they would have the privilege of cooking someone’s last meal.
Shortly thereafter, Barry Schwartz's "Rethinking Work" presented this concept under more scientific parameters, complete with cited studies.
Though the custodians’ official job duties never even mentioned other human beings, many of them viewed their work as including doing whatever they could to comfort patients and their families and to assist the professional staff members with patient care. They would joke with patients, calm them down so that nurses could insert IVs, even dance for them. They would help family members of patients find their way around the hospital.
The custodians received no financial compensation for this “extra” work. But this aspect of the job, they said, was what got them out of bed every morning. “I enjoy entertaining the patients,” said one. “That’s what I enjoy the most.”
Finding meaning in what may be considered menial work is what makes life great. 
These are just ... examples from a literature of cases demonstrating that when given the chance to make their work meaningful and engaging, employees jump at it, even if it means that they have to work harder.
Humans are not motivated by money alone. We are more likely to help if not offered financial compensation. Schwartz was arguing for a change in workplace policies that would make meaning part of the job, but Bilton shows how one can find the meaning, even if it isn't obvious.   

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Shidduch Lit IV

1) I fell in love with Herman Wouk after laughing and crying over Inside, Outside more than once. When Jewish Spectacles wrote a post on This is My God, I felt compelled to comment. She mentioned, in response, her recommendation of Marjorie Morningstar to her romantically inclined students as a cautionary tale. 

Sounds like Shidduch Lit to me! 

Marjorie Morningstar does not plumb the depths of pathos or scale the heights of humor, as Inside, Outside did. After all, Wouk is writing through the perspective of a female teenager, then young woman; Inside, Outside was an semi-autobiographical novel.

Yet I thought he did the job well. Many females felt so, too; Marjorie Morningstar was the bestseller of its time, and does pretty well still (I got my own copy after finishing it). 

The book opens with Marjorie, a bright and beautiful 17, greeting the sunny morning after a standard evening of parties and fending off the advances of enraptured boy-men. The plot advances forward from this relatively childish viewpoint as Marjorie learns from her experiences and relationships as to what makes a man worthy. 
I don't want to give away the plot, or the many underlying messages, but I can say that love isn't about crushes and fantasies. That's where exposure is so vital—reading, seeing, traveling—exposure allows us to glance beyond our own petty little thoughts and then, from a place of complete knowledge, execute educated decisions. 

2) In my last Shidduch Lit post, an anonymous commentator nominated Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Adams by Boothe Tarkington.
Katherine Hepburn as Alice
Wow, Alice qualifies for a Brené Brown intervention, stat. I thought insecurity was a new-ish invention, but Alice screams with it. She is so ashamed, seething with self-doubt, and, sadly, that makes her all too relatable.

That shame leads to her lie when no falsehood is needed, to the point she does not know herself. How many of us suffer from that same lack of self-faith that we suppress who we are in the name of acceptance? 

Even when that acceptance is not even forthcoming?