Category Archives: the jews

So Prepared. So Very Prepared.

Let’s Panic About Babies!

So far, my main preparation for birth has been playing lots of word games in the hopes of keeping “baby brain” at bay & reading Bad Mommy memoirs like Are You My Mother? and the chilling Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? to get some ideas about what not to do.

But time is creeping up on me. I’m 8-and-a-half months along now; I look like a beach ball with limbs and feel like I’m lugging a five-and-a-half pound octopus around with me everywhere I go. Squee is a very active presence who seems to have way more feet than is possible. Especially when I’m lying down, it can feel like a toy store has exploded in my midsection — something’s vibrating, something’s whooshing side to side, something’s jutting out in a repetitive fashion, all at once. If this child, when it emerges, is as inexhaustible as it seems, there’s going to be trouble.

The problem with following Jewish superstitions about not having showers or setting up a nursery before there is a real live infant on the scene is that it can leave you feeling a bit out of control. (Or, as someone astutely put it, “So … Jews believe in being unprepared?” For babies, yes. For medical school, no.) To help remedy the situation, a friend suggested that I start putting together a baby registry even if I’m not buying anything off of it yet. I could still do the research now rather than later, and, when ready, only need to press “Add to Cart.” It seemed like a great plan — and then it spun out quicker than a Geo in the rain. There are so many damn different kinds of everything, and it’s overwhelming to add one thing to the list and have Amazon immediately suggest three more.

After I closed the site and collected myself, it seemed like this might be a good time to ask the Internets for advice. Just, you know, general, helpful tips. If you have any experience with newborns, or with life on the other side of the threshold I am soon to cross, I’d appreciate your sharing some pearls of wisdom — ideally less of the “OMG Youll never sleep again!!1!” variety, and more like “I really wish I’d known [X].” Even if [X] is, for whatever reason, quantum physics.

Thanks, friends!

Who Said What to Whom?

Starting pretty early on in my 13 years of Jewish Day School education, I had to take Bible quizzes where I confronted the question, “Mi amar l’mi?” which translates roughly to, “Who said what to whom?”  So, like, if the quote was, “Lech l’cha m’artzecha …” (Or, more recognizably, in English, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you) the answer would be, “God to Abraham.”

Most characters in the Bible sound alike, the way main characters in Woody Allen movies do*, so the test was more about remembering context than about identifying, say, our matriarch Rebecca by her sophisticated use of metaphor.

I think about this old memory test sometimes when I come across great quotes out in the wide world of the Internets. And so I present to you a pop cultural and political version of the old JDS standby: Who Said What to Whom? Except in this case, I think it’s more fun to answer, Who Said What ABOUT Whom? Bonus points for being able to identify the medium from which the quote comes.

No penalty for guessing; you can’t be more wrong than most of the people either being quoted or being spoken about. But no cheating. God, and my aged 2nd grade Hebrew teacher, is watching.

#1) “He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice.”

#2) “Ryan Gosling didn’t get an Academy nomination? There’s some bullshit right there.”

#3) “His actions have made it look like people in Texas are absolute fools. I always thought he was foolish and then the more he talked, the more doubt he removed.”

#4) “By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American.”

#5) “Crying is one of the great pleasures of moviegoing, but tears can be cheap. … And, yes, you may cry, but when tears are milked as they are here, the truer response should be rage.”


*Which could give you a hint, if you were inclined to take it, about the collator or creator of these stories, but that’s beside the point.

Occupy Kol Nidre

This Friday at 7:00 PM, for the first time, I will join the Occupy Wall Street protesters. In prayer.

Yup! Those over-educated anarchist 99%ers are going to observe the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. They have an objective, which is simple, straightforward, and clear: Put on a Kol Nidre service. Will it be audible? Will it even make sense? I have no idea. Will it be memorable? How could it not be? And that’s what I care about.

A co-worker is considering coming too. I stressed the memorable argument — after all, how many Kol Nidre services will you think back on in your life as distinct, individual events, as opposed to a blurred succession of evenings in shul? But she countered with a question: “Will it be spiritual?”

This is a fair point and it wasn’t anywhere on my list of concerns. I’m not even sure what spiritual means. 13 years of religious school, summers of religious summer camp, thousands of Shabbes dinners, holidays, & bar and bat mitzvahs, a semester of living in Israel, being called “Super Jew” my first year in college until I better learned how to present myself, officially joining a synagogue at 29 with my Jewish husband who I married under a chuppah and everything, and now 2+ years working at a Jewish non-profit — and I still know bupkis about spirituality.

Frankly, I’m okay with that.

My boss bemoaned the fact that her teenage son wasn’t into religion. “Think of it this way,” I told her. “There are only two possibilities for a 16 year old boy: He could either be totally secular, or he could be blowing himself up. So, secular is better.” It made her laugh, and that was part of my intention, but I also kind of meant it. A personal relationship with an entity you conceive of as almighty and infallible and in charge of the universe can be super, in theory. In practice, it tends to make people act in unfortunate ways, like, you know, bringing down the World Trade Center or launching the Crusades.

One of the things I really like about the high holiday liturgy is the emphasis on the community. You didn’t sin this year; we did. So we gather together to ask for forgiveness as a body. After all, maybe you yourself gave blood every month and honored your father and your mother and skipped bacon at brunch. It doesn’t matter much if the guy next to you works as a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. We’re all in it together, communists and capitalists — frankly, Jews have always excelled at being both — and we’re all culpable.

It hasn’t been said much, except probably by people like David Duke: A lot of those people on Wall Street are members of the tribe. There are many more of us, of course, who are merely suffering through the repercussions. Regardless of whether you work for a bank or are still paying off your college loans to one, this is the time to atone, and we should do it publicly. This isn’t about self-hate, or shame; this is merely the time of the year to say “I’m sorry for what we’ve done” and Z Square is the best place to do it.

Good on Occupy Wall Street for setting this up. This is an agenda I can support.

A Jewish Studies Wedding

Gorka! Gorka!” the crowd shouted.

And, in a manner that called to mind my ten-year-old self when first I played Spin the Bottle, the bride and groom leaned into each other and kissed.

Gorka! Gorka!” the crowd continued to chant, as insatiable as only drunk crowds can be, egging on each other and the newly-married couple. Russian relatives began to count, making it to ten (dyecyat’!) and then fifteen (pyat’nadyecyat’!) before the couple broke apart to breathe and the crowd erupted in applause.

This tradition is the Slavic equivalent, apparently, of the groom removing the bride’s garter. I have never seen that done — the weddings I’m invited to are generally high-brow affairs, full of literary pomp and godly circumstance. But I have heard garter removal is a thing, like bouquet tossing (does that too happen in real life, or only in movies?).

My old friend L., with whom I recently reconnected, married her long-term boyfriend S. this past weekend in Somerville, Massachusetts, and even by the unconventional standards of my friends’ nuptials, their celebration was unique. Instead of a rabbi, they tapped a friend of theirs, an earnest, bearded, young PhD candidate, to officiate; instead of a cantor, they asked another friend of theirs, also earnest and scholastic but much taller, to chant. No conventional authority figure at all, in fact, was there to solemnize the union. Instead, the bride and groom — both serious students themselves — canonized Academia itself. With help from Rachel Adler’s Engendering Judaism and several other texts, the couple redesigned the ceremony to fit their principles, explaining as they went the significance of each amended ritual.

I’ve been to Jewish weddings before, of course, but this was my first Jewish Studies wedding. The professors in the audience looked very proud.

It was also the most Russian of any wedding I’ve ever been to, since the groom is himself an immigrant. There were vodka shots (served with pickles) and, in lieu of an American-style wedding cake, a proud Russian aunt’s home-made “Napoleon,” the product of two weeks of work. It was, appropriately, large enough to serve an army.

“Could you eat the entire thing?” my table-mate whispered to me. “If you had to? If the lives of your family members were at stake?”

This table-mate, R., had been seated next to me by chance. I introduced myself; she stared at me with such intense focus I half-expected her to kiss me on the mouth. Instead she asked, “Did you live off Oregon Avenue?”

“Uh,” I replied. “Yes?”

“I know you!” she said. “We used to ride the bus together! Oh my god. Oh my god. I know you. This is too strange. We were really good friends.”

I looked at her, trying to remember her (remembering is one of the things I’m usually good at). She beamed while I flailed.

“This is so embarrassing,” she said, “but I …  well, I was four years older than you, and you were my little friend. We sat together on the bus! Until, well, one day … I hit you.”

Hit me? Why?

“I don’t know! I think it was some sort of power thing! It was totally unprovoked.” Her mouth twisted with the pain of the memory. “You were so small! And your hair was red?”

“It’s still auburn,” I said defensively. “Especially in the sunlight.”

She looked unconvinced but went on. “Anyway, it was terrible! I hit you! Then you told your mom, who called my mom, and I got in trouble. We weren’t friends after that. And then I switched schools. But oh my god, I can’t believe I get a chance to apologize. I’m so sorry!”

Nothing about this sounded familiar. Yes, I rode the bus, I lived off Oregon Avenue, and yes, I was small with redder hair. But if I had been hit — for no reason, by a girl four years older than myself — surely that would have left an emotional mark?

Her eyes pleaded with me and I did the only reasonable thing. “It’s totally okay,” I said. “I forgive you.”

“Really?” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “You’re absolved.”

“I can’t wait to tell my mother!” she said. “I’m going to text her right now.”

Gorka! Gorka!” cried the crowd. It seemed like the increasingly raucous guests were not going to be happy until the bride and groom actually did it on the floor in front of everyone and managed to conceive a child.

“Russians,” I said to Mr. Ben, shaking my head. He grinned at me. Then the Klezmer band started up, leading the guests in a parade across the street, back to the bride-and-groom’s apartment courtyard, where we danced until we could dance no more, and Rachel Adler had nothing whatever to say about it.

A Humble Suggestion

Get a harmonica!

While reading Tina Fey’s second hilarious New Yorker piece, I had a realization: This woman needs to reproduce. Since she has valid concerns about what that would mean for the 200 people whose livelihoods depend on her, I’m willing to take one for the team. So, I wrote a memo, in my head.


FROM: ME. (Hi!)

RE: Reproduction


I’ll have your babies! Let’s mash our eggs together (science, you know, whatever) and I’ll take care of the resulting children. You can see them whenever you want!

This may sound forward of me. After all, you don’t know who I am; in fact, I could be the kind of 5’7″ blond, sweet, well-adjusted lady who would scar a kid for life, if that kid were like you. But I’m not! I’m short and wry, and I read too much Dorothy Parker when I was 12 to ever have a normal outlook on life.

I’m Jewish, which is like being Greek, I imagine, since most of what I know about being Greek comes from reading David and Amy Sedaris, and they are Brothers Of Another Mother to us Jews.

Look at that punim!

I live in Brooklyn Heights, one of only a few select city neighborhoods ruled entirely by baby carriages. It is a perfect environment to raise children: there’s a kids’ gym and a kids’ spa and a toy store and a fancy cupcake place and a farmer’s market and right across the river there’s Manhattan, where the beautiful people live.

As you can tell, I’m wordy, like you, and over-educated, but I am made almost entirely of cleavage, so I was also designed to be maternal. My husband’s nice too! He’s a big fan. If he could have sex with you once, even with lights off and most clothes on, that would make him really happy.

The bottom line is, the world needs more of you, Tina. I know you’re doing all you can — the show, the movies, the upcoming book — but you’re only one person, after all. You have limitations. Maybe if I expose our babies to radiation they’ll have no limitations, like superheros!

Take your time. I’ll be fertile for a while yet (I think).


PS — I love you.

You Should Be Ashamed

Several notable people in the media spotlight these days should be ashamed: Muammar “Mad Dog” Qaddafi, for mowing down civilians in the city center; Rush Limbaugh for calling Michelle Obama (THIS Michelle Obama!) fat; Baz Luhrmann for deciding to remake the Great Gatsby.

In 3-D. In Australia.

I mean, I *like* Baz. I own his Red Curtain trilogy — Romeo & Juliet, Strictly Ballroom, Moulin Rouge — box set. And even I know that is a terrible idea on par with an all-cat ballet production of “Hamlet.”

My award for the person who should most be ashamed of themselves is none of the above. Of Qaddafi, as my old co-worker Adam astutely pointed out, no more could be expected. Limbaugh has been burbling offensive nonsense for too many years for us to suddenly take umbrage now. And Baz? Well, at least he’s taking artistic chances, and at least he’s offering us the fascinating Michelle Williams as Daisy.

NYT graphic

My award goes to Modern Love contributor Andrea Askowitz who succeeded, this weekend, is publishing the most smug, sexist, cringe-inducing piece of narcissism I have seen in a long while. In it, she describes her efforts to snare “a young wife,” one with, she specifies, “big breasts. A pretty face is nice too.”

But she’s not shallow! Far from it. She’s overeducated. Quoth she:

Scientists have discovered that the lower the body’s waist-hip ratio (medically known as the WHR), the more attractive the woman. Marilyn Monroe, for example, had a 0.7 WHR, meaning her waist was 30 percent smaller than her hips. Salma Hayek and the Venus de Milo also have small waists relative to the size of their hips.

I didn’t know any of this at the time, but I would find myself walking along Lincoln Road on South Beach, where I’d notice a woman between the ages of 18 and 35 spilling out of the top of her dress. She’d pass by and I’d turn to leer at her behind. If it was big, I’d have an uncontrollable urge to club her over the head and drag her to my fertility cave.

I wasn’t objectifying women. I was a woman of science.

Anyone out there want to vomit with me? We could make a party of it. I’ll go, then you’ll go, and then we’ll admire the newly splatter-painted carpet. Because this offensive, unselfconscious blathering goes on.

Once she tracks down the nubile-seeming future mommy, *she* wants to do the inseminating.

“Can I do the insemination?” I asked.

Before the nurse answered, Victoria said, “I don’t think you can do that.”

I felt clubbed in the head.

MY moment was now and the woman I loved — my woman with childbearing hips — was thwarting my destiny.

“My woman with childbearing hips.” Her woman! Who is there to serve her needs! Who dares to have opinions of her own about how her own body should be treated!

This is all about power and control, where the woman who has the sperm — who, btw, seems to have the most serious case of penis envy I’ve ever seen in real life — gets to make the decisions. If she actually thought it would be hot to do the turkey-basting, all Andrea had to do was ask her poor girlfriend IN ADVANCE, and not wait until GF was stretched out naked and uncomfortable and cold and with a nurse looking on. I can’t think of anything more awkward than fighting with my partner in that position; of course she gave in rather than continuing to argue.

Andrea gets everything she wants–first, her “top pick” sperm, baseball-playing, college-educated, mother-loving man juice (10 vials at $250 each), which produces one child; then, a wife & mommy with a perfect waist-to-hip ratio willing to be impregnated by that sperm; and finally, getting to do the impregnating herself. And she writes about her triumph in the New York Times!

Comfort comes from one source, anyway: Hubris of this magnitude is exactly the kind of thing that makes the gods snort with laughter.

Jewish Christmas

As far as I’m concerned, the holiday season has already begun. My email inbox at work looks like Target on a Sunday afternoon, while the only phone call I’ve gotten has been from a guy in Ghana. In a couple hours, the office closes completely.

In terms of seasonal semiotics, I’m set. Boston got coated in snow while I was there for a multi-day conference, and last night, my friend Logan and I toured the famously — and egregiously — ornate neighborhood decorations of Dyker Heights.

All presents for Russian Christmas, to be observed this year on Sunday the 26th, are bought. They require only ribbons.

But before we get to the beets-and-vodka version of this holiday’s celebration with the family in Westchester, we have to make it through Actual Christmas Eve and Actual Christmas Day in Brooklyn. Which means deciding between:

OPTION I: X-MAN: A True Grit and Fighter double-header.
PROS: Great acting. Or, at least, great-looking guys acting tough.
CONS: Too much testosterone can make hair sprout in odd places.

OPTION II: XX-MAS: Tiny Furniture and Black Swan
PROS: Spending time with the ladies. Body image issues engendered by one will be canceled out by the other.
CONS: That would be a lot of obsession for one holiday.


OPTION III: XXX-MAS: Love and Other Drugs and I Love You, Phillip Morris.
PROS: Beautiful naked people doing what beautiful naked people do best.
CONS: The movies are supposed to be flawed, even if the bodies on screen aren’t.

Choice Quotes for a Choice Season

Let’s get some happiness going! Right? It is, after all, the season of joy and giving and stuffing and family and light and gifts and puns — the holly-jolly-days! And if I am not full on in the spirit of things, I may as well pretend!

To get us started, here are some amazing quotes from today’s internets:

“At one point, Mr. Hatch unbuttons his white dress shirt to expose the golden mezuzah necklace he wears every day. Mezuzahs also adorn the doorways of his homes in Washington and Utah. Mr. Hatch keeps a Torah in his Senate office.

“Not a real Torah, but sort of a mock Torah,” he said. {NYT}

Is a mock Torah anything like a mock turtle, or a mock turtleneck? As we ponder, let us read on:

“It makes me sad sometimes, but I don’t care because I try not to think about it. Sometimes your dreams get crushed but you just keep going.” {NYT}

This one is beyond mocking. (Although, ha ha! See what I did there?)

If you can see with those tears in your eyes, check out this Jewish version of Lady Gaga, singing “Bad Shiksa“:

Key takeaway, in case you can’t watch videos at work:
I’m your Bad Shiksa

I want your horah
I kvell for your kiss
I want that scrap of skin you lost at your bris
I want your love
(Love-love-love I want your love)

I’ll dress up jappy, I’ll dress up all frum
I’ll call you Shabbos and pretend I’m your mom
I want your love
I want your love
(Love-love-love I want your love)

You know that I want Jews
(’Cause I’m a trayf bitch baby! )
I’m just a bad, I’m a Bad Shiksa

Beat that, Orrin Hatch.

The Most Serious Comedy I’ve Ever Seen

When I saw the Pianist lo these many years ago, I had a peculiar emotional reaction that faded gradually over several days. I felt like if someone had given me a button capable of destroying modern Poland, I would have pressed that button.

That’s a crazy impulse, especially for someone who doesn’t even support the death penalty. But I wanted to press that button, I really did. I had never felt so bloodthirsty in my life.

The trouble with bloodthirst is you can never be sure what will slake it. One collaborator lynched? One village destroyed? One genocide? In the long run, of course not; I’m a progressive peacenik, for god’s sake. I have white-guilt and Jew-guilt and privilege-guilt disturbing my sleep just from living my life day to day. The nice thing about a button is that I could press it from a distance and avoid the immediate implications of what I’d done. Still, eventually I would have to face the repercussions, like America with Hiroshima.

What I could have used was some celluloid catharsis in the form of a darkly-comic historical fantasy as imagined by Quentin Tarantino. (WARNING: SOME SPOILERS AHEAD) God, I wish this movie had come out in 2002 when I also had to digest Shoah and Night of the Shooting Stars in film classes. Not only does Tarantino deliver the active response I was craving back then, he does it in a way that is funny (to relieve the tension), clearly fake (to relieve any revulsion you may feel), and over-the-top (so that you realize you don’t actually want what you think you do).

No one does vengeance better than Tarantino. In his hands, vengeance is not a mindless act of good against evil: in Kill Bill, viewers are encouraged to sympathize with the human targets, even Bill himself. Elle Driver is, I think, the exception, the only cartoonishly villainous character, and even she is so great that you don’t want to see her die.

This is why Tarantino gently raises the question of whether even Nazis deserved to be gunned down, roasted alive, scalped, mutilated, and otherwise inconvenienced. Of course the Third Reich needed to be brought down (and what a job he does of it, too). But no one, no matter how despicable, should have their head bashed in by Eli Roth. Watching Inglourious Basterds, you simultaneously get to enjoy the fantasy and let the fantasy go.

In gay news

When you’re a teenager, my god, is there any issue more intense than sexuality? Love, acceptance, rebellion, identity, are you going to be an insider or an outsider, are you going to disappoint your parents …

For me, it wasn’t as simple as, Was I attracted to boys? Of course I was attracted to boys (the attractive ones, anyway, like Jonathan Brandis, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jared Leto).

I was also afraid of most of them, which complicated the matter, and starting about midway through eighth grade they weren’t particularly interested in me, which didn’t help either. At the same time as the boys were ignoring me, I became catnip to lesbians.

Fending off anyone’s advances is difficult for me, and it was even harder when I was so desperate for physical affirmation and affection. But sleepover after sleepover, I laughed off the awkwardness or said things like, “Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in your bed?” In some ways, it would have been so much easier to just be like, Yes, you’re right: I wear glasses and I don’t wear make up, ergo, I am a dyke.

When I fell in love with a boy who loved me back my freshman year of college, I was almost as relieved as my mother. (Oh, she had her suspicions.) The longer we stayed together, the more the issue faded and I found perfect middle ground for myself. Instead of being queer, I surrounded myself with queer people. They tended to have the right politics and not care that I didn’t wear make up, and the gay boys didn’t scare me at all. Plus, gays and Jewish ladies are a natural constituency: we have Sondheim and Streisand in common! Not to mention intellectual snobbery.

Today I had lunch with two old friends: my oldest-and-bestest, who’s now an illustrator living in a “Boston marriage” in Park Slope (or is that redundant?); and the boy who was my first kiss and seven years later my senior prom date, who’s now a gay Williamsburg hipster of the first order. Both of these individuals got way more action with the opposite sex in high school than I did, in case we need a reminder of how little what we do or don’t do in high school means.

I told them excitedly about today’s Midwestern bombshell (“Is this Heaven?” “No, it’s Iowa”). Neither cared nearly as much as I did.

There should be a phrase that applies to this situation — like “the zeal of the convert” but specifically meaning “the zeal of the near-miss.” It’s akin to survivor’s guilt. Straight guilt? I can’t be the only one who feels it.

Anyway, well done, corn-producing, Obama-nominating state! You get two thousand gold stars in my book.