Monday, February 27, 2006

Is this a sign?

So I haven't run a blessed step since I completed my first (only?) marathon exactly four months ago.

Then, out of nowhere, I receive a package from Nike. To thank me for my "outstanding fundraising accomplishments" in the Nike Women's Marathon last fall! These are not your average parting gifts either.


  • one Imara Run watch

  • one Women's Large Duffel Bag

  • one pair of Shox lightweight socks

  • one shoe wallet

  • one hydration pack

When PC saw these gifts, he remarked, "too bad you've given up running."

I've had a few days to mull this over and now I'm thinking "maybe it's a sign."

Knitting Update

So my Grandma was right. [Wasn't she a pretty little girl? I almost said "cute," Grandma, but I know how you feel about that description!] Knitting does get easier with a lot of practice. I've torn out all of my stiches (3 times!) and finally seem to be getting the movement down smoothly. Even PC remarked how straight and even my stiches seem to be!

Everyone has advice. "You should use bigger needles in the beginning," one woman suggested. "Working on a project is a better motivation that just practicing stitches," commented another. "Think loose!" advised yet a third.

I just keep stitching away, nodding, and taking the advice that makes sense and thanking everyone who offers their expertise. And I keep reading. It turns out that there is another way to hold the yarn that works a bit easier than the way I had been doing it. Experimentation and keeping an open mind are going to be valuable tools for me -- great life lesson too.

"When I be five, I knit too!" exclaimed Poppyseed. God-willing, my Grandma will share her skills with yet another generation.


Saturday, February 25, 2006

Lemon Juice

I can still hear his laughter ringing through the theatre.

Other people must have been laughing because the antics of the Marx Brothers are irresistable. But it is my dad's unmistakable laugh, not to mention the knee-slapping, that resounds in my memory today. This is a guy who really enjoys his comedies.

Duck Soup, I think it was. It wasn't just the movie that was memorable, but the theatre. Back in the "old days," there was a private screening room in the old MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. They ran old films all day long and an usher would bring popcorn and soft drinks to the guests who were reclining on divans and sofas.

Anyway, this past Thursday, I saw a screening of Ushpizin
at the Pacific Jewish Film Festival. What a delightful film. If you have not had the chance to see it, you will be happy to know that it is scheduled to be released on DVD in April. I highly recommend it as well as the critics.

It was interesting, entertaining, and very well acted. Culture warning -- you'll need to enjoy reading your dialogue unless you were paying really close attention in Hebrew school! That's right -- this Israeli film is in Hebrew. Because of the obvious delay, I was about a second or two ahead of the audience and my laughter would ring throughout the theatre well ahead of others. Except that many a time, it was lonely laughter. Apparently no one told the other patrons that this was a dramatic comedy. In fact, several times, the ladies directly behind me would snigger "what is that lady laughing about? This isn't funny?"

I don't know about you...but watching a religious man realize that his secular houseguests had sliced open his $1,000 etrog [thinking that it was a lemon] and drizzled the juice on his salad was funny to me.

The Frozen Chosen

Is it just me or are we actually taking over the world? The world of figure skating, that is.

This is amazing.

Of the three ladies who won medals, two are Jewish. Sasha Cohen (Silver) is an MOT (member-of-the tribe).

So is Russia's Irina Slutskaya (Bronze)

Emily Hughes, who replaced Michelle Kwan on the US team, is also Jewish. [That means, of course, that her older sister, Sarah, who is the 2002 Gold medalist, is also Jewish. Sarah was the very first member of the tribe to capture a gold medal in figure skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics.]

In the ice dancing category, all three of the U.S. ice dance couples at the Olympics feature one Jewish partner.

Melissa Gregory (partnered and married to Denis Petukhov) is Jewish.

So is Jamie Silverstein (partnered with Ryan O'Meara).

So is Chicago-born Jew, Ben Agosto (partnered with Tanith Belbin, a recently naturalized Canadian) who won a Silver medal -- the first for the US in Ice Dancing in 30 years.

For the record: Though he claims to be "a little bit Jewish," Johnny Weir was was raised Catholic.

Definitely not an MOT.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Are you there Moses? It's Me, God

Last week was such an exciting week. Remember? We recalled what we would consider the watershed moment of our ancestors. It was in past week’s Torah portion that the Children of Israel came face-to-face with God. It was in that moment that our covenantal relationship was established and sealed for all time. It was our Sinai moment, and it was so powerful that the Israelites instructed Moses to carry on the conversation...without them. So moved were they that they could no longer bear to be in God’s Presence.

In this week’s portion, therefore, God draws Moses near to Him in order to convey the terms of the covenantal agreement...alone. Without us.

God said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teaching and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.” (Exodus 24:12)

A very straightforward verse and yet there seems to be a redundancy in the first half when God says. “come up to Me…and be there.” Where else would Moses be but “there?” The Kotzker Rebbe, who had the same question, teaches that “come up to Me” speaks of Moses’ physical location while “be there” is God’s way of telling Moses to be mentally present as well.

How often do we find ourselves just going through the motions? We are certainly physically present but we are not always mentally engaged. We get home from a long day at work and go through the mail or messages while our children try to engage us in conversation. We are there in person, but definitely not in spirit. This week’s portion strives to be our mental check. “Make certain,” God says, “that you are fully involved in My sacred work. It is not enough to just show up!”

May we learn from this to connect on every level in order to achieve God’s imperative to His servant Moses.

Keyn y’hi ra-tzon – May this be God’s Will!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"Maimonides, What Say You?"

I love the Olympics! I am actually one of those crazy people who watch skeleton, biathalon, and luge. For the same reason that I watch badminton, track and field, & archery. The pageantry. The sportsmanship. The artistry. The athleticism. I am in awe. And having trained and completed my first (only?) endurance event this year, I have an even greater appreciation for the athletic pursuit.

Of all the sports, I have always love ice skating the most. My laundry list of reasons are no different from anyone else's list [poetry in motion, dazzling spins, Ice Castles, etc.]. Except for this -- my favourite childhood babysitter was an ice skater. And her teacher, if my memory has not been warped by the passage of time, skated on the Donny & Marie show. And that was just sooooo cool!! We even had a picture of my sitter in a blue skating dress posing in front of a winter background. I loved that picture and I loved that sitter. [For the record, my former sitter's son will become Bar Mitzvah in six months, and I'll be on the bimah for it. Who would have thought??]

Whether watching Kristi Yamaguchi skate to gold in Lillehammer from my hotel room in Paris (1992) to watching the 1995 World Championships at Beit HaNasi (Jerusalem) to watching Tara Lipinski skate to gold in Nagano in the Cooks' family room in Rockville Center. I am enthralled with this sport and secretly dream of taking lessons and learning how to skate.

Thanks to TiVo, I have been able to watch every blessed moment of figure skating from Turino. Some of the moments have been breathtaking. And some, well... Is it just me or does skating sometimes bring out the oddity in people?

I have two words -- Johnny Weir. Here's a third word -- excessive. And if you don't think that owning 40 pieces of Louis Vitton luggage is excessive, just read the rest of the Washington Post article.

The RamBaM said it best:
a wise man will carefully avoid excess, lest he give the impression of haughtiness. (Yad: Deot, 1180, 5.7)

Too late.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Betwixt and Between

Is it an awful thing to admit that I sometimes tire of discussing the Middle East?

I shudder even as I write this, but it is true. Sometimes I just want to talk about something else. And yet, I can't help but scour the headlines daily for news about our homeland.

I never completely feel at either place. I am a proud and loyal American. My family has been here for three generations, my grandfather served in the Army, and I consider myself American. And yet my Judaism sets me apart from the majority and I am keenly aware of a sense of otherness. When I am in Israel, I am set apart by both my American-ness (that is not really a word, of course.) and my Reform ideology. And still, I feel a sense of belonging there that I cannot describe.

So when I tire of the discussion, I feel guilty. Guilty because in fact I have no right to tire of a discussion that does not directly impact my physical well-being. It is rather chutzpadic of me to arbitrarily decide when I feel like thinking about the political mess in Israel and when I would rather pretend that it does not exist. You can bet that for Israelis, they would love to have the freedom to take a day off from the national tension that has become part and parcel of living in Israel.

And so I once again direct you to Rabbi Daniel Gordis, whose dispatch this week once again elucidates so poignantly what it means to live in Israel. And I am particularly excited to report that Rabbi Gordis's new book Coming Together, Coming Apart: A Memoir of Heartbreak and Promise in Israel is scheduled to be published this summer. If his earlier writings are any indication, this will be a passionate and insightful look into the soul of our people.

In the meantime, as the Psalmist urges,
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; May those who love you prosper. May there be peace be within your walls, and prosperity within your palaces. (Psalm 122:6-7)

Amen v'amen.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Knit One, Purl Two?

Ok...well I'm not really up to the purl part yet. After about four hours, I'm still trying to get the knit stitch down pat.

I decided some weeks ago that it was time to learn to knit. PC thinks that I'm crazy for taking on something else. Since I've given up running, I figure that I should fill that time with some other worthwhile activity -- and knitting seems to fit the bill.

All of the women in my family are accomplished needle workers. Knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, sewing. A few half-hearted attempts as a young girl and I seemed destined not to join their ranks. Lack-of-patience or perhaps a lack-of-talent. Who knows? Luckily for me, I was born into a generation that did not require young ladies to perfect their needle skills.

Or maybe not so lucky. Instead of being tormented in my youth, I struggle with a new skill in my adulthood. And that adage about old canines isn't so wrong. It is not impossible to acquire a new talent, but it is certainly more difficult to do so as we grow older. So while my childhood was free of the painstaking hours earlier genreations of girl spent knitting rows and then tearing out imperfect stitches, and for that I am thankful, I now wrestle with clumsy hands to create something that might have come much easier to my younger self.

It turns out that you can't actually learn everything just by reading. That's not to say that a little advance research won't help with a new skill. At a certain point, however, one just needs to learn by doing.

I decided to enlist the help of my grandmother. As the matriach of our family, and a most accomplished seamstress, I figured that she would have much to offer in the way of advice and expertise. And even though I have heard many of our family stories from her, I hoped that other information would flow as freely as the knitting needles. [I feel accomplished already for just 10 days ago, I referred to these as "knitting sticks."]

What did I learn during our first lesson?
I learned that knitting requires an awful lot of concentration and patience in the very beginning.
I learned that my grandmother was taught to knit when she was about 15 by a tenant that lived in one of the buildings owned by my great-grandmother.
I learned that the very first sweater that my grandmother knitted was for her beloved brother Henry and that he was wearing it the day that he died.

I didn't know any of those things. The first item I would have discovered on my own, but I could have never uncovered the other two facts had we not been sitting together and knitting.

I don't expect to make great things. If I do, an added benefit. What I am hoping is to to learn great things. Information that will add to my story.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The truth according to whom?

It’s all about perception. Didn’t someone once say that perception is ninety percent reality? Or as Christopher A. Ray wrote, “Perception is merely reality filtered through the prism of your soul.”

Take this week’s Torah portion. After 400 years of Egyptian enslavement and a close escape through the Sea of Reeds, we finally come face-to-face with our God. The details of this experience, as well as our forty years of desert wanderings, will be recorded by Moses. It will be his voice that will reach across the generations, keeping our history alive in every age. Therefore, it will be his perception that will colour our story.

What about the other voices? How can we know a complete story if the other voices are silent? And how would our understanding be altered if we could hear someone else’s perception?

We All Stood Together
My brother and I were at Sinai
He kept a journal
of what he saw
of what he heard
of what it all meant to him
I wish I had such a record
of what happened to me
It seems like every time I want to write
I can't
I'm always holding a baby
one of my own
or one of my friend’s
always holding a baby
so my hands are never free
to write things down
And then
As time passes
the particulars
the hard data
the who what when where why
slip away from me
and all I'm left with is
the feeling
But feelings are just sounds
The vowel barking of a mute
my brother is so sure of what he heard
after all he's got a record of it
consonant after consonant after consonant
If we remembered it together
we could recreate holy time
sparks flying
(Merle Feld, A Spiritual Life: A Jewish Feminist Journey Albany: SUNY Press, 1999, p. 205)

When we hear stories from our children, do we stop and take into account that the facts are being presented from their perspective and may not be the whole story? Conversely, when we form an opinion about something, do we heed the fact that our children may have a very different perspective of the same situation? Poppyseed once took a class that I didn’t think was as good as it “should” have been. And yet, Poppyseed loved it! She could not wait to go to class each week and was sad when it was over. Looking through her eyes, I saw a completely different experience and learned to value the class for what she got out of it rather than what I expected.

As we read our people’s story of revelation, may we remember that we are hearing only one side of a multi-faceted story and learn ways to filter stories through the prisms of other souls.

Kol Tuv!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Where is everyone??

I did anticipate a drop in my readership now that the voting for this year's JIB awards has been completed. But my goodness, it's really been down the past couple of days. And it can't be in reaction to the lack of a good posting because (a) one would have to visit the site in the first place and (b) I've had some pretty good postings this week.

I mean...with just family alone I should be getting about two dozen hits a day ;)

Sydney Taylor

On my way to lunch today, I was thinking about books. Typical since I am almost always thinking about books. It so happens that I was thinking about what book I will start reading next. Strange, I know. But I worry about this. What if I finish a book and I don't already have another title lined up and ready to go? Of course, this makes it seem as though I only read one book at a time and that's simply not the case. I am generally in the midst of several books simultaneously.

As I was considering my next read, I thought back to one of my favourite childhood books and decided it is time to revisit Sydney Taylor's series. Poppyseed is still to young to enjoy them and I don't want to wait another 5 years to reread them. That got me to thinking about the author herself. I know nothing about her! All I know is that I love her books and that a Jewish literary award is named in her honour.

A wonderful essay about Sydney Taylor appears on the website. How ironic (?) that it should appear just this week -- the same week that I was thinking about this very thing. It turns out that Sydney Taylor's given name was Sarah and that she is the middle sister...with four sisters named Ella, Hennrietta, Charlotte, and Gertrude. Just like the book! There were four brothers, but, for reasons the article does not clarify, only one brother appears in her stories. These tales were originally conceived as stories that Mrs. Taylor would share with her own daughter and only became public when Mr. Taylor clandestinely entered one of his wife's manuscripts in a writing contest.

The essay, by author Melanie Rehak, is a particularly well-written and interesting one. It brings to light, however, a fact I found disheartening; Sydney Taylor had come out of this joyful childhood only to become an assimilated Jew. How does this happen? What hope do we have to raise children who will remain engaged and commited Jews when the childhood we offer is not steeped in Judaism as in earlier generations?

Maybe my angst has just been furthered by the valentine-incident of two days ago. Who knows. I mentioned it to the classroom teacher who wasn't exactly clear what the problem was. [Um...Jesus in the public school? Problem seems pretty clear to me.] Maybe I just worry that despite my best efforts to expose my children and their contemporaries to an exciting, meaningful, and beautiful faith and heritage, it just won't be enough. And I will have failed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Much to time to write!

So I've got three entries I'm in the midst of crafting. However, I was slammed with a migraine (nasty things, I tell you) and PC finally returned after a 5 day business trip to NYC. Don't worry -- Frume Sarah will share her thoughts tomorrow ;)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Spreading the Good News

Since I've already mentioned that I'm not a huge fan of Valentine's Day, I won't go into detail. Feel free to read about the origins of the holiday and draw your own conclusion as to why Frume Sarah might have an objection. PC is out-of-town and it didn't phase me at all. He gave me a card. I gave him a card. But if there had been no exchange of cards that would have been OK too.

Beernut brought home a bag filled with valentines, candy, stickers, and other chazzerai. It was not a mandatory event. Kids were given the option whether to distribute valentines or not. The only guideline was that the valentines were not to be addressed to the classmates. The teacher explained that in order not to take out too much time from the lessons, distribution would go more rapidly if the room moms could just put the valentines into the bags without worrying about which one belonged to which kid. OK -- so not the most meaningful valentine exchange in the world, but I appreciate the teacher not wanting to waste classroom time on this.

Beernut was so excited to go through his goodies. There were stickers, notepads, pencils, and candy. And he shared commentary on either the classmate or the particular valentine as we made our way through the loot.

"Scooby Doo! I love Scooby Doo." "Oooo...Spiderman. He is so cool." "Nicole is so nice." "Sponge Bob...he is my favourite" [OK, we've never watched Sponge Bob in our house. How did he fall in love with that yellow sponge?]. "Cool basketball one."

Except, silly little unathletic boy, it's a soccer ball not a basketball. And it says "God's Love. The Ultimate. John 3:16. Established in the beginning." On the back, it has the John 3:16 quote. The first part of the quote, that is. [For those who are unfamiliar with this particular quote, I encourage you to take a look the next time you stay overnight in a hotel.]

I don't subscribe to this theology. Beernut doesn't. Our family doesn't. I am not making a judgement statement about this theology. Just acknowledging that it is someone else's and not ours. And though I know that spreading the good news (this is the definition of "gospel" after all!) is a key tenet of the Christian faith, it blows my mind that any parent would think that a valentine with a strong theological message is an appropriate one to pass out to a bunch of five and six year old children -- in a public school!

Do I say something to the teacher? The room moms? The principal? Do I place a call to the ADL? Is this a battle worth fighting? Is this the price I must pay for sending my son to public school?

At what point do we just sit back and try to blend in with the majority culture? We believe strongly in the public school system, and feel fortunate to live in an area filled with superior school districts. Learning to be a part of the larger community and how to reconcile one's Judaism with the host culture are important life skills. We expect Beernut and Poppyseed to live in America (though they are mostly free to make their own choices!) so it will be imperative for them to know how to live as Jews in a Christian majority.

That being said, I am just left with a bad taste in my mouth.

I knew I didn't like this holiday!

The Scent of A Woman

I love perfume! The bottles are so pretty. And I find that my mood matches the scent I've chosen on any given day.

When I was younger, I thought that I would one day find a signature scent. After all, my mother wears Shiseido and my Tante H wears White Shoulders. To this day, smelling these scents conjures up a vision of either woman. I've searched long and hard and yet that one perfect scent has eluded me.

I started out, like most teenage girls of the '80's, wearing Love's Baby Soft. Tante H gave me Nina Ricci's L'Air du Temps for Chanukah one year and I really loved that. It was my first "grown-up" scent. Chanukah 5750 -- my parents gave me Anais Anais. Ah...I fell in love with this scent and really felt that this was the one. As it so happens, I had fallen in love with a certain young man and felt that he was the one too. However, the scent didn't do it for him...and one of them had to go. I married the young man...and ditched the perfume.

The certain young man had selected a wonderful scent for me in celebration of our wedding. We really thought that we had come upon "the" scent with Jessica McClintock. Oddly, this beautiful scent takes a nasty turn when it hits my skin. Sadly, this was not to be.

The next several years saw a number of scents come and go: Sunflowers, Tommy Girl, Tommy Girl Freedom, Clinique Happy, Clinique Happy Heart. All lovely scents. And though PC enjoyed these, they just haven't felt right to me.

There had been a certain scent that PC had long admired and finally after unsuccessfully trailing after women in public places, he finally got the name!
Estee Lauder Beautiful Sheer. A sweet, floral fragrance. He loves it...and I think that it is fine.

So here's the question: for whom am I wearing perfume? If the purpose is to be alluring to my beloved, than does it really matter what I think of the scent??

"Yes!" scream my feminist friends. "No!" shout my traditional friends. What does Frume Sarah say?

"On the one hand, it is important to captivate my husband. After all, as a Jewish woman, the creation, growth, and stability of a family is my paramount responsibility. On the other hand, if wearing a particular scent makes me feel good about myself, is it not to my advantage to select something that I really love?"

And so the search continues. A recent stop at the frangrance counter yielded the following recommendations [and more importantly, samples!]:
Donna Karan Cashmere Mist
Chanel Chance
Valentino V Absolu
Dolce & Gabanna Light Blue
Ralph Lauren Pure Turqoise

Stay tuned for the results.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Four Recent Experiences That Made Me Feel Like My Mother

They say that at some point we are keenly aware that we have become our parents. Over the past 48 hours, I have had not one, not two, not three, but four experiences that brought me back to my childhood. Except now, I am the mommy and not the child.

1. Taking Beernut to the Pediatrician.
For a variety of reasons, we have decided to switch the kids to my childhood pediatrician. Since they are healthy, it seemed like a good idea to take a trip to the practice under calm circumstances. When Dr. P came in, he drew a face on a tongue depressor. I had totally forgotten that Dr. P and his partners do that. I can't tell you how many of those sticks we must have had around the house. In fact, I am confidant that ACE (PepGiraffe explains the monikers here.) probably still has a stockpile of decorated depressors hidden in the ole' homestead somewhere. It just felt so comforting to see that some things never change.

2. Wearing Bangle Bracelets.
Certain sounds just take you right back to days of yore. When I was little, my mom used to wear four gold bangle bracelets. My dad had given her each one to celebrate each birth of their children. Do you think that it was weird to just wear one? After all, PepGiraffe didn't show up until I was two. Did my mom only wear one? One bangle doesn't make any noise so I'm not sure I would have noticed. Whenever I wear my bracelets, the sound reminds me of my mom. It's a mom sound. Hey, I make a mom sound now...

3. Poppyseed Watching Me Get Ready for Work.
I loved to sit and watch my mom get ready for receptions or any of the other rebbetzin things for which she would get farpitzed. I thought she was so beautiful. "One day," I thought, "I'm going to get dressed just like her." One day is here...and Poppyseed tell me that I look pretty.

4. Beernut Zipping Up My Dress.
If my dad was already finished getting ready and my mom needed help with the zipper, then I got to help. I couldn't reach my zipper as I was getting ready for the Hall of Fame dinner last night. PC is in NYC for business (and poker with my sibs) and I needed some assistance. Beernut, who is growing more every day, still needed to stand on the bed in order to zip me up. He felt like such a big helper...and I felt like such a mom.

Will my children remember? Will they look back on days like this and remember these moments?

Sunday, February 12, 2006

What Do I Know From Sports?

Nothing, actually. I can think of fewer rabbis less qualified to deliver an invocation than I. And yet, radio personality Vic "The Brick" Jacobs called me up to the dais to deliver the opening remarks at the Inagural Orange County Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Dinner of Champions just a few hours ago.

I'd never actually heard of Vic the Brick. When our Board of Directors asked me if I'd ever heard him, I responded "he's not on NPR is he?" I know...and I don't mean to sound like a radio snob. It's just that the only stations I listen to with any regularity are KPCC (89.3) and KCRW (89.9) -- our local NPR affiliates. Neil Conan, Terry Gross, Lakshmi Singh, Robert Siegel -- these names I know. Vic the Brick? Never heard of him. Until tonight.

The Merage Jewish Community Center honoured the following individuals this evening:
Shawn Green, Leigh Steinberg, Jason Lezak, Rami Zur, Steve Bisheff and Merton Isaacman.

Out of this list, I'd only heard of two of these guys. [Can you guess which two?] And honestly, I couldn't have picked any of them out of a line-up if my very life depended on it.

So how, you might ask, of all the rabbis in the world did they pick me to deliver the invocation?

The guy they wanted was unavailable. Yep -- I was the pinch hitter. [See...I might not be athletic but reading the sports pages at least gives me the right vocabulary!]

I figured that at the very least I would have the opportunity to remind a bunch of Jews that a very important Jewish holiday began tonight -- Jewish Arbor Day ;)

There once was a man named Honi. He was walking along one day and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, "How long will it take for that tree to grow?"
The man replied, "Seventy years."
Honi looked shocked as he asked, "How do you know that you will live another seventy years?"
"I don't, but just as my grandparents and parents planted for me, I am planting this tree for the generations to come," replied the man.

Tonight, on this eve of Tu B’shvat, our celebration of trees, we celebrate these outstanding individuals whose accomplishments are known throughout the world. Providing inspiration to young athletes across the globe, we will dedicate this wall tonight and for years to come will honour those who are planting the seeds for the next generation of athletes.

The poet Zelda wrote, “each of us have a name given by God, given by our parents, and given by our stature."

The world knows these athletes by their physical strength and glorious achievements. This is reason enough for these gentlemen to be recognized. But for our community, they are known to us for yet another reason. In addition to their athletic triumphs, they have continued to remain true to our faith, to our people, and to our God. For our children who will pass by this wall each and every day, these amazing individuals will be a constant reminder that one can climb to great heights while still embracing Judaism. And for that, we are thankful.

Baruch Atah Adonai ozeir Yisrael beeg'vurah.
Blessed are You who girds this people Israel with strength.

May you go from strength to strength and may this be God’s Will! Amen.

A pretty solid invocation, I thought.

Not one of these guys said a thing to me afterwards. Harumph! Like they meet a female rabbi every day.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Nothing to Say...

Well, this is not entirely true. I always have something to say. But PC is on a business trip, my darling children were rather nightmarish today, I've got a pie in the oven (not a euphemism but an actual pie), and my house is a disaster. Plus the Olympics are on :)

So I'm calling it a night and will return (b'li neder - my intention but not actually an oath) with more Frume Sarah-isms tomorrow night.

Incidentally, on the way home from Bubbe and Zayde's tonight, Beernut wanted to know if they are done having children. "Is four all you get?" he wondered. I told him that four is all the Bubbe and Zayde got but now, thanks to some nuptials, the count is up to six children and two grandchildren. I then asked him how many he thought we should have. He thought for a minute and said "five. Five is the right number for us." Once I finished laughing, I explained that I didn't think that five children are in our future.

I also felt like pointing out that after their behaviour today, Beernut and Poppyseed can be secure that they won't have to share their rooms with any future sibs.

Cute kids.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


I love surveys.

Isn't that funny?

Whenever I'd run across a survey statistic in a magazine or newspaper article, I would wonder, "who'd they ask? They didn't ask me. Why doesn't anyone ever ask me?"

So now, in my nonexistent spare time, I answer surveys. Not as a second career -- they're not that lucrative -- but as a hobby. Strange, I know.

I've answered questions about furniture, travel practices, shampoo, and granola bars. I've product tested conditioner, body lotion, and facial moisturizer. And in every case, I answered as a member of the 29-34 demographic.

But was different. No longer could I automatically put an X in the 29-34 spot. I've moved up in the world, as they say. [Who are they anyway??]

Let's hear it for 35-40!!!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Mentchlikeit – the code of behaviour that involves acting like a mentch. Living an honest and compassionate life.

Expressions of mentchlikeit can be found in the most surprising of places. Take the Sports section. Though we might expect examples of sportsmanship to be elucidated in the tales of games and competitions that fill the pages of the D section, I have found most articles focus on statistics, accounts of athletic prowess, and the all too frequent fan-incited riot.

This past weekend -- the one when I got to read the paper cover-to-cover -- I came across one of those feel-good stories that one might see as a made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime channel. Even without any overacting and hyperbolic dialogue, this story moved me to tears.

Responding to the cries of the crowd ("Put Kevin in! Put Kevin in!"), and with just five minutes remaining in the last home varsity game of the season, the coach put team manager Kevin Cogan on the court. The ball was passed to Kevin, who dribbled up to the basket and made the layup as he had done so many times in practice. The gym exploded with cheers from both sides of the court. Why the overwhelming response? This team manager has cerebral palsy.

The story in-and-of-itself is heartwarming. The line that really got me, however, was a quote from the team captain, J.J. Hernandez. "We played hard defense to get a lead and get Kevin in." This didn't just happen because a coach instructed his guys to give the poor disabled kid a chance to fulfill a dream. This happened because a compassionate group of young men saw an opportunity to help a teammate and embraced it. They fought hard to ensure the lead necessary to bring Kevin onto the court.

Is mentchlikeit of this order rare? I'd like to think not. I believe that the world is filled with people who are compassionate, kind, and giving. People who respond to the Divine Spark in others by extending themselves in ways both large and small.

But for those times when we lose hold of our optimism, we can remember Kevin, J.J. and the boys from Fullerton Union High.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Did you know...

that 'recap' comes from a musical term? It does and you can thank my $80,000 music degree for that tidbit. A 'recapitulation' is the third movement of a sonata form, and a 'recap' is just a shortened form of the word.

You know me, though, so you are not surprised that there are two other definitions of 'recapitulation.' [1. a concise summary; 2. the hypothetical occurrence in an individual organism's development of successive stages resembling the series of ancestral types from which it was descended so that the ontogeny of the individual is a recapitulation of the phylogeny of its group. Hey, it pays to read a lot!!] The musical definition is actually the third definition. However, I don't exactly remember my theory professor presenting it that way...

Anyway, a recap of my awesome birthday solo-getaway starts NOW:

Hoping to leave as early as possible, I managed to tear myself from the homestead about 12:00 noon on Shabbos. It had been my intention to leave earlier and make a pit-stop [read: Barnes & Noble] on the way to the hotel. However, there were children to be bathed, dishes to be washed, and so forth. I popped the trunk, tossed in by overnight bag, cranked up Bette Midler, and set off for paradise.

To valet or not to valet? That is the question.'s only a $5.00 difference and hey, it's my birthday.

Amanda was a great help at the reception desk. Pleasant, courteous, and upon hearing the wonderful package PC had put together, upgraded my room and gave me access to the concierge Lounge.

A quick trip to the room and then down to the spa.

The hotel has recently gone under a major renovation, including the construction of a spa. I've been to quite a few spas and this one is definitely one of the nicest. It will be even better once the construction is completed!

As I put my things into the locker, I was reminded of how like a mikvah experience this was. Or at least the romanticized mikvah experience of my imagination. Having only been to mikvah twice (a future posting on this topic is necessary), I desire a more regular dunking habit. And in my dream mikvah, it would actually resemble a day spa. And why not, ladies?? Rabbis?? Any reason why it couldn't??

I took a really, really long shower -- alone. Not just alone, but uninterrupted. If you've got kids, you know why this is worth mentioning. The whirlpool wasn't ready yet. Sadness. Neither was the cold foot plunge pool. Also sadness. I've never been a fan of heat so the sauna was out. Since the steam room was a Eucalyptus steam room, I gave it a try. Too hot -- even with the ice cold wash clothes covering my face. Smelled good, though.

By the way, did I mention that I'd left my eyeglasses in the locker?

And then it was time for my treatments to begin.

First - a Lavender and Salt exfoliation. Truly, one of the best exfoliations I've ever had.

Second - a Lavender Dreams massage. Pretty fab as well.

Finally - a facial customized for my particular skin type.

Two-and-a-half hours of pure relaxation and bliss. Would I be a nicer person if someone kneaded the tension away on a regular basis?

Shockingly, I was not ready for a nap upon reaching my room. I showered, visited the Concierge Lounge for some fruit, water, and cheese, and then walked over to a local book store. Though I try not to engage in commerce on Shabbos, I couldn't imagine not curling up with a book for a long, uninterrupted stretch of reading. I selected an enjoyable-looking book (The Ivy Chronicles) and grabbed a quick bite before heading back to my room...having an ice cream cone on the walk back. Why not? It's my birthday and I didn't have any cake.

It was a really fun book. Perfect for relaxing. And then I watched a movie on TV...just because I could. Ah, this is nice.

A huge King-size bed with luxurious pillows and a down comforter. A good night's sleep. Breakfast brought on a tray with a flower and the Sunday paper. I read the whole darn thing...every section...even the Classifieds! Just because I could.

Another solitary shower (what is the third one in a 24 hour period?) and 45 minutes to style my hair. My goodness, it looks so good when I can do it without kids clinging to me.

And the mall for some Sephora-therapy. Jessica worked on me for close to three hours. An improvement? Possibly. More importantly, it was just a delight to spend quality time with myself without worrying that there was somewhere else I should be.

PC gave me the best gift without my having to tell him what I needed most of all...time to myself.

Being with someone over half my life definitely has its advantages.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

One of These Things is Not Like The Others...

One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?


Did you guess which thing was not like the others?
Did you guess which thing just doesn't belong?
If you guessed this one ** 2001 ** is not like the others,
Then you're absolutely...right!

[Words and Music by Joe Raposo and Jon Stone ]

Figure it out yet?? Why is 2001 not like the other years? Clue: This has nothing to do with Pesach!!

In 1978, 1984, 1989, 1995, & 2006, my birthday fell on a Friday. And I remember each and every one of them.

Weird, I know. In fact, even though I have strong memories of my 7th birthday falling on a Friday, I checked it this morning because I thought it unlikely I could actually recall such a strange fact. Unlikely, perhaps -- but not impossible.

In many synagogues, people who are celebrating a birthday in a given month are invited to the bimah for a special blessing at the Family Service. My guess is that receiving a blessing on my actual birthday made such an impression that it's stayed with me all these years. I don't remember what I got as a present or even what we did to celebrate my birthday other than a special Shabbos dinner and going to shul.

Another one of those tip-offs?

1984 was my 13th birthday and I lead the service the following morning as a Bat Mitzvah. When I came to the Shabbos table on my actual birthday, a beautiful pair of silver candlesticks were at my place. Until then, my sister and I had shared a pair of brass candlesticks -- but now, like Jewish women throughout time, I would have my own pair. The same pair that would follow me from my parents' home to a home of my own.

1989 was my 18th birthday and what more is there to say? It was my senior year in high school, I had already been accepted into the college of my choice, had a boyfriend (PC!!!), a significant solo in Handel's Samson, and the lead the school musical. Life was good!

1995 was celebrated in Jerusalem. It was my first year in Rabbinical School and I led services in the HUC chapel in honour of my special day. It was a year of struggles and growth and discovery.

And, of course, this year was on a Friday. It was special as Friday birthdays always are. PC arranged doughnuts in the shape of '35' and captured Beernut serenading me with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" on my brand-new video camera. [Do we call it a digital camera since it is digital?] This was most significant as I am the official family photographer (still and video/digital) and appear in NO pictures or film! Poppyseed was the Shabbat Star (akin to Star of the Week) in school, MrsGiraffe watched Poppyseed while I took a long pre-Shabbos shluffy and then we went to shul for dinner and services. As expected, we were gone before the opening song! These kids just can't make it for the 7:00pm service yet. So I missed my blessing.

Or did I?

Friday, February 03, 2006

"And when the clock strikes midnight, Cinderella..."

" will turn back into a pumpkin."

OK, not really. But at midnight EST -- that's 9:00pm for those of us on the West Coast -- voting will officially end for this year's Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards.

So if my blog moves you, then vote for me. And if not, vote for someone whose words inspire you!

Click here!!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Take Good Care of Your Heart...

He was only 58 years old. And had been given a clean bill of health just that week. So it's no surprise that an early Shabbos morning phone call from my mother was a complete shock. Heart attack.

We observed his 9th yahrtzeit this week. Though I named my firstborn after him, I sometimes still forget that my Uncle B, z"l, is gone. [Between the death of my Uncle B, z"l, and my Uncle A, z"l, the year before, we haven't had an operational VCR in our family for almost a decade.]

It is often referred to as "the silent killer," but is it so silent? There are clues. Vascular disease (including high blood pressure and high cholesterol) typically runs in families so it pays to know your history. If you are carrying extra weight, and you know who you are, you have cause to be concerned. In addition to the scale, a sedentary lifestyle is a strong contributing factor as is one's eating habits. Diabetes increases one's propensity, and need I mention smoking??

So not so silent if you know your risks, and if you know your risks, you can make changes in the areas that are changeable. Just as we can choose our friends and not choose our family, so too can we change behaviours and not change our genetics.

Early warning signs are important to know. And if you are female, it is particularly essential that you understand we tend to present with atypical symptoms. Consistent heart pain? Only 1/3 of women experience this during a cardiac episode verses 2/3 of men with the same ailment. Stomach upset? Common for women and not common for men. We need to know the warning signs especially in light of the fact that heart disease kills more women than all other types of cancer combined.

Tomorrow is National Wear Red Day, and I encourage you to participate. ItÂ’s a simple, powerful way to raise awareness of heart disease and stroke. By joining together with thousands of women, companies and organizations, and cities across America, you'll help the American Heart Association support ongoing research and education about women and heart disease.


Contribute $5 to the American Heart Association's go red for women movement, and wear red and jeans. Your generous act of tzedakah will support vital research and education efforts. You will help save women's lives.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Do You Know The Secret Password?

A young man was dating a non-Jewish girl, who was very interested in learning about Judaism. They took classes and the girlfriend expressed interest in going to synagogue. The young man, who was excited to bring his girlfriend to shul, spent a considerable amount of time describing what the service would be like ("standing, sitting, but no kneeling") and what she might expect ("great food after").

The evening arrived and progressed smoothly...or so the fellow thought. During the all-important car ride home, the girlfriend was seething. "What was the point of trying to make me comfortable when you didn't even tell me the secret password?" she sputtered.

You know. The secret password that the sweet Brotherhood usher or some other welcoming face proclaims when you cross the sanctuary threshold.

"Shabbat Shalom!"

Doesn't seem so threatening. And yet...imagine, if you will, what it would be like if you'd never heard these words before. What is an appropriate response? Is this a question? A statement? What reaction should it elicit?

All too often, those of us in the know unwittingly keep those who are not in the know in the dark. How often do the intellectual elite use phrases, words, or analogies that will be missed by others? How often do we use Jewish colloquialisms or vocabulary from the pulpit and inadvertently crack someone's fragile sense of belonging?

The above story is a true one, and got me thinking about what I can do to help close the gap between the haves and the have nots. After all, more and more of our congregations and centers are filled with people who were not immersed in the language and culture in the ways prior generations have been. And even those of us who were fortunate to be surrounded by such richness in our youth may not know the origins of so many of our phrases and customs. A perfect example? "Shabbat Shalom."

Believe-it-or-not, there are others like me out there who ponder the origins of such things. Others who are far more erudite and knowledgeable than I. In fact, Philologos writes a fabulous weekly column in the Forward on such matters and uncovers their philological origins. A recent installment of Philologos investigates the secret code, enlightening even those of us "in the know."

So the next time you insert "Shabbat Shalom" (Hebrew greeting meaning 'Sabbath of peace'), "farfallen" (Yiddish for 'a lost cause'), or "bimah" (Hebrew for 'raised platform,' and used generally to refer to the pulpit area in a synagogue) into the conversation, just remember that we are instructed not to put a stumbling block before the blind and to take this teachable moment -- and teach!