Rosh Ha-Shanah, 5772, Day One and Two

Too much contemplation Wednesday night left me with a pounding headache Thursday morning.  Since I am an adult, no one can force me to go to synagogue services.  And this, THIS, is the only advantage of adulthood.  The rest of the time I am desperately trying to reverse time and go back to my days at Camp Wingate.  But, being able to skip out on synagogue is a BIG advantage of adulthood and may even be worth having to earn a living.  I think that says more about my feeling about going to synagogue than anything else.

I stayed back as POB (partner of blogger) and SOS (our son, source of sanity) went off for morning services and prepared the house for our traditional family luncheon.  Attendees: FOPOB (father of POB), SOPOB (sister of POB), NOPOB (our nephew), DOB (Dad of Blogger), SOB (sister of blogger), HOSOB (husband of SOB), Cousin Gentle, CB (Cousin Birder), and Uncle Larry and Aunt Roz.

I knew that the world was different that day because Uncle Larry and Aunt Roz came early and DOB came late.  Assuming that therefore DOB was dying in front of an ER somewhere in the city, I made SOB call DOB on his cell phone to make sure he was alive.  SOB reminded me that if DOB didn’t answer, it could just be that he didn’t hear it.  DOB has perfect hearing, he asserts, because his doctor hasn’t told him otherwise.  I posit that DOB just doesn’t HEAR the doctor telling him he is deaf.  You can see how this conversation continues in one of those endless loops that runs through every family gathering.

DOB arrived as SOB and I were having this crazy conversation, a sort of anxiety induced cocktail with a garnish of dark humor.  So, we established that he was alive but we could not have a verdict on his deafness.  Nevertheless, all were accounted for and we toasted each other and the world in all its wonder and goodness and hoped that these would triumph over the evil and despoliation. DOB liked the wine even though it was way more expensive than he would ever buy.  He won’t admit it, but I know he does like our wine more than the $3.50 Trader Joe’s rot gut that he thinks is suchabargain (Jews say that phrase like it is one word).

We ate, we drank, we opined, we nodded off, we relaxed.  NOPOB stayed over and I fell fast asleep in my clothes.  POB had to deal with two rambunctious boys.  The take-away is that the new year is one day old, I am already soooo in debt to POB.

Today we went to the Museum of Natural History because it was clear that our two young charges could not sit through a second day of services at synagogue.  Ok, I couldn’t either.  POB is strong, strong, and could do it.  Really, she can.  She could also crawl across a desert if necessary. But we have learned to decline certain invitations, including both Survivor: Sahara and Survivor: Synagogue.

I did feel guilty passing all the Yamikazes (pronounced like Kamikazes, the Japanese suicide pilots, except they are Jews who wear skull caps) — with their families on their way to synagogue, but I figured there were enough suffering Jews in the world and I didn’t need to be one of them, at least not today.

Still, the museum was no picnic.  We needed to stay interested when all we wanted to do was nap during a movie at the Planetarium.  But, nooooo, the boys wanted to see the permanent exhibits of the Planetarium, the Hall of Bio-Diversity, the Hall of the Ocean Life (with the ginormous whale), and the Gift Shop.  At any point, I could have lied on the floor and created the “snoozing mammal” exhibit.  They do need some modern soft sculpture there.  Did you ever notice that there is never enough space given to the sloths and their species?  Ok, sloths are boring, but they do nap in the craziest of places.

I nap in the craziest of places.  I do the least I can do.  And I move slowly (for a New Yorker).  Aha!! I am the missing link between human and sloth.  Rosh Ha-Shanah brings such break-throughs in personal growth and self-knowledge.

Wishing everyone a Yom Tov and — why not? — a Good Shabbas. . . .

~ Blogger


Erev Rosh Ha-Shanah 5772

SOS (our son, source of sanity) decided that he preferred his former blog “handle”, TLP (the little prince).  I am worried.

But I was immediately distracted by how adorable he was in his blue blazer, tan slacks, penny loafers, and bow-tie and my heart melted.  Just FYI: I keep suggesting “regular” ties, but SOS (or TLP) demurs.  I think because he knows the bow-tie makes him irresistible to many women (not only his moms).  He doesn’t want to chance missing out on the “boob crush” hugs he gets from all the lesbians in the synagogue (hey, breasts are breasts).  When he gets taller and there is no boob bonus in the hugs, he’ll probably switch to regular ties. Just a guess.

SOS lasted nearly the whole service, which is quite extraordinary for an adult, let alone a child.  “E-Mom, does every word end in “echa” in Hebrew?”  Almost, buddy.

The service was a mixture of celebration, remembrance, solemnity and a little irreverence (we are after all, a gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and intersex congregation).

The Torah portion we read tomorrow the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham.  I have always hated this story.  A crazy father, a submissive son, and a psychopathic deity.  With a heritage like this, we should start therapy in utero.

What do we learn from that Biblical story, other than we shouldn’t read the Bible to our children, especially before bedtime?


I still don’t get why Abraham was so willing to kill Isaac that the angel twice had to tell Abraham to stop before Abraham put down the knife.

I don’t understand why it is part of our liturgy except for us to be horrified by it.  Our rabbi noted that the story seems to defy the requirements elsewhere in Torah for us, as a community, to teach, love and shelter all of our children.  Abraham, the parent generation, is so invested in his belief that he is willing to kill Isaac, the child generation, regardless of whether Isaac has the same commitment.

I never thought of it quite that way — we say we love our children but we send them to battle the wars we decide to wage.  It is as true then and it is today in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in countless other places where wars have been waged so long that no one remembers peace.  We are horrified at the ghastly stories of child abuse here and yet we barely remember that we have sent thousands of other people’s children to war this year alone.


Love your children.

Protect your children.

Teach your children.

Remember peace.


Days of Awe, 5772

Jews have a strange way of celebrating holidays.  Take the New Year, for example.  Most of the world celebrates a new year with parties, presents or hangovers.  Not Jews.  It’s all about death and destruction.

Our new year 5772 begins Wednesday at sunset with Rosh Ha-Shanah, the birthday of the world.  (I always forget to ask if that is based on the first day or sixth day of creation).

Every new year, we begin by fighting for our mortal lives.

On Rosh Ha-Shanah, our ancient rabbis taught that our fates for the coming year are “penciled-in” and, ten days later, on Yom Kippur, they are sealed – for life or death, for health or sickness, happiness or sorrow, wealth or not-so-much wealth. And because Jews can be lugubrious at times, we go through the recitation of how many ways we could die — water, fire, disease, famine, war, etc.  (The list goes on and on.  Who knew that there were so many ways to die prior to modern warfare?)

During the 10 days, one can sway G-d from the harshest of punishments by our good acts, repentance and atonement for our sins committed during the prior year (here, 5771) and return to the principles of our faith.  Nevertheless, it all pretty much puts a damper on any thoughts of parties with confetti, funny hats and noise makers.

We don’t even sing happy birthday to the world.  If I were the maker of the world, there would be hell to pay (no scare tactics, there) if some massive number of earthly beings, sea creatures and plants didn’t start a rousing round of “G-d’s a jolly good fellow — um — non-corporal entity”.

Living year-to-year like this makes a person wonder why a Jew takes out a 30-year mortgage, or eats vegetables instead of ice cream.  I guess I understand the 30-year mortgage — why buy something with cash if your fate the next Yom Kippur is shall-we-say “tentative”?  Better to borrow money and leave more liquid assets to your heirs, should the fate have a negative prognosis.  But vegetables?  Well, I guess on a day-to-day, they are important to digestion, the specific details of which are somewhat of a preoccupation of our people.

It isn’t all sack cloth and ashes.  We do gather for a meal together but we are focused on not talking about the tragic outfits at synagogue or the odd recombination of couples from last year, because it is not settled law whether for atonement purposes, these sins are included in last year’s sins or next year’s sins.  And we act so sure that we will live another year, that we don’t start with dessert.  The sheer hubris should get us deeper in trouble, even if we don’t have to account for it until 5773.

And then there are people like me, who think that G-d (if G-d even listens to the rituals we ascribed to Heavenly declaration) has billions of creatures to judge, so that’s why some of the good get caught up with bad and the some of the bad seem to get rewarded.  Also, what a downer to have to note everyone’s sins 24/7 (ok, G-d rested on the Sabbath, so 24/6), and then have to remember all of them to give an initial prognosis on Rosh Ha-Shanah and then listen to 9 days of whining about why it wasn’t really stealing, gossip, adultery, pork or whatever.  On the 10th day, I would flood the earth and start again.  Wait, G-d did that once.  (And by the looks of global warming, it is happening again.)

Still, I am looking forward to these ten days of awe.  It is a religiously mandated time-out of the usual rhythms of life.   At different times during these ten days, there is time for quiet, for chanting, for meditation, for family and for solitude.

Something in me needs space to think about my family and the world and my place in both.  I have a visceral need to course-correct some aspects of my life and to resolve to do some things differently and do other things better.   I think this need comes from my fears about the future of the world, our country, our economy and our humanity and their effects on my ability to provide for my family.  And I need these Days of Awe to figure out how I can transform my fears into hope and action.

May this be a year of peace and other blessings for all of us, all over the world.


Hammacher Schlemmer

Hammacher Schlemmer.  What a mouthful.

When I was a kid I thought I would hear my mother say, “I went to HAMmacherSchlemmacheh” and I thought it was Yiddish.  I thought she was saying she went off the grid, as in had a knipshun fit.  If you went to “HAMmacherSchlemmmacheh” it was like you went berzerk, but not so berzerk that you couldn’t talk about it later on the phone.

Hammacher Schlemmer.

I kept trying to liken it to other Yiddish phrases and parse its etymology.  I couldn’t figure it out.  I accepted it as a one-off word without common roots that was just something you said in one breath and it meant bizarro-world.

Then one day, when I was about 16 years old, I was walking along 57th Street and saw a store with a Hammacher Schlemmer banner.  It didn’t say “HAMmacherSchlemmmacheh” but it was too close for coincidence.  I didn’t get two steps beyond the second set of doors when I was scared by my childhood images of going insane in town of HAMmacherSchlemmmacheh.

After a few years, I realized it was an emporium of cool, yet useless, gadgetry.  Before our personal austerity plan was enacted in 2007, I spent a fair amount of time and money at this emporium.  I felt bad — these were probably two anti-Semitic Germans whose names will forever sound Yiddish.  That thought made me smile.  Also that I, a second generation American, was a vociferous consumer of their useless over-the-top goods.  Wedding gifts, novelties — the Two-Germans-Who-Sound-Like-Yiddish-Purgatory was my store of choice.

The fact that I haven’t shopped there in 4 years doesn’t stop the emails about the new products.  Today’s made me laugh:  The Mold and Germ Destroying Air Purifier and the Hands-Free Hair Rejuvenator helmet.

The HANDS-FREE HAIR REJUVENATOR?  It looks like it could also double as a bike helmet.  Now, there’s value.

Sometimes, first impressions ARE right.

The Sum of our Lives

Don’t ask why I had reason today to meditate on the meaning of life and death, legacy and detritus.  For the purposes of this entry, please just accept that I did.

Much of the meditation happened today on the Cross Island Expressway, the Long Island Express Way, the Throgs Neck, the Northern Parkway and any number of other main arteries in and out of New York City.  Given the timing and the traffic, there was much time to ponder (and outrage that the tolls got to be so expensive).  Another story for another day when I am musing about driving as a contact sport.

After the mourning, and the tearful yet loving remembrances, comes the task of disposing of a deceased person’s worldly possessions.   Remember that bumper sticker, popular in 1980s or 90s, that adorned really expensive cars, “He who dies with the most toys, wins”?  Did the people in those cars think that they would be buried with the stuff?

Actually if that kind of acreage weren’t so expensive in this part of the country, that would be a great idea and soooo much easier on the rest of us.  No one would have the task of reducing it all to cash for the benefit of the heirs.

I don’t believe that “stuff” is the sum of our lives.  But it does bog down the survivors in details that make us forget those we mourn and celebrate the lives they lived.

What I learned today:

  • If  you believe that “stuff” is the sum of your life, just ask an auction house what you are worth and the answer will freak you out.

  • Things that carried enormous sentimental value or were mementos of wonderful experiences now become “stuff” to be sold off for distribution in accordance with a last will and testament.

  • If you want someone to have something when you die, give it to them in your lifetime, so you can see them enjoy it.   That someone may not be alive when your executor tries to carry out your wishes.
  • If you love your family and friends you will have only two nickels to rub together at the end of your life, because you will have given the rest away during your life time.  POB (partner of blogger) wants to time it just right, so we have EXACTLY two nickels, lest people say “they didn’t have TWO nickels to rub together!” (What would I do without my own personal reality check?)


A Quiet Man

I am traveling to Washington, DC on the Acela, in the Quiet Car.

What does that really mean, to be in the Quiet Car?

The man opposite me very quietly took a call on his cell phone and apologized for it, but made no attempt to cut off the chit-chat.  For the last half-hour, he has been snoring in that wheezy-wheezy-then-full-throttle-eruption-of-noise that could be grounds for divorce.  Is that quiet?

In the Quiet Car, does a person have a right to involuntary, grotesque bodily functions while unconscious?  What about if conscious?  What about if concussed?

The fight for the soul of the Quiet Car is NOT just about cell phones and electronic beeps anymore.

Life with Birds

A month or so ago, I was having lunch out with a friend, at an outdoor cafe.  Pigeons were fearless flying all about where the patrons were eating.  I got nailed by bird shit on my jacket and my pants.  It didn’t dampen my appetite, although I took off my jacket and covered my pants completely with multiple napkins.  Luckily, I had a spare change of clothes in the office.  I am not sure I have worn those clothes again.  I told the story to some, many of whom responded that this was a sign of good luck.  Yeah, good luck for person who didn’t get nailed because I did.

Today, at the same cafe, I had lunch with two colleagues.  Indoors, this time.  As we left the cafe, a pigeon flew under the outside umbrellas and nicked me on the head.  I touched my head instinctively.  Then I realized that all the diseases the pigeon carries were not only in my hair but now on my hand. I thought about running to the nearest hospital to get that hose-down you see on TV when some is exposed to radioactive substances.  I thought about getting a haircut.  I also considered having my hand amputated.  All in the name of good hygiene.

But by the time I resolved to do this list of things, my entire body became a petri dish of pre-apocalyptic germ warfare, as well as the source material for Dustin Hoffman’s comeback in “Outbreak II”.

Nope, I was doomed.  So, what else to do? I went back to work.  But I washed my hands so well that they are raw.  And since no one was touching my hair, I think humanity, and the lawyers in my office, are safe for now.

Pigeons in New York are getting more confrontational with humans.  Think Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”.  If only I resembled Tippi Hedren (what is with that first name?).   That would be some comfort.

Pigeons.  Probably once a great and noble species.  Now, not so much.

Sunday Dinner

FOPOB (father of POB (partner of blogger)) is a hard guy to pin down.  He doesn’t like to “commit” to coming over for Sunday night dinner when he is in the City (and not at his beach house).  This weekend was no exception: he wasn’t able to say yes or no when asked again yesterday. He’d let us know.  Ok.

In fact, he let us know by coming over at 3:15pm, unannounced.  That’s so early even for MY dad who would come at 9am, if we let him.  That’s ok.  I couldn’t even emerge from the bedroom until 3:45pm.  Then I felt guilty and let POB escape to the kitchen.  At 4:15pm, FOPOB was itching to watch the Giants game.  And in a slightly-passive-but-really-overly-aggressive move, I told SOS (our son, source of sanity) to keep FOPOB company, believing full well that SOS would get bored within 5 minutes and start trying to convince FOPOB to change to either Nature or Discovery channels.  And it would drive FOPOB nuts.

You think that wow I can be awfully mean sometimes.  Yes, yes, I can.

Somehow, despite my best-laid plans, SOS started to get into the game.  (My son:  the child who went from worrying about the euro crisis to watching people gratuitously concuss each other in 48 hours.  I am having whiplash and I will remind him of this indignity until the day I die or the guilt kills him — whatever.)  The Giants versus the Redskins.  The Redskins?  Really?  Do we still have teams with humans (in this case, Native Americans) as mascots?  Haven’t we progressed as a civilization?  Oh, wait, that is my way left-of-center whine.  I am a centrist now.  I digress.

FOPOB was impatient at cocktail hour (6pm) because the Redskins (pause, take a deep breath) were beating the Giants.  And, because HOSOB (husband of SOB (sister of blogger)) and CB (cousin birder) were talking about bird nerd things that even a loving and adoring  sister-in-law and cousin could not possibly abide.  SOB was seeking shelter in the kitchen with POB, leaving me to referee the “boys”.

So I threw out random things, like the blue inner feathers of a mallard and the way hummingbirds make their calls with their feathers, to bring the conversation within normal nerd parameters.  Nothing doing.  DOB (Dad of blogger) rather adeptly tried to steer the conversation away from what could have been mortal boredom (did I mention how much I adore HOSOB and CB?) by musing about the difference in conversations he had when he was our age 20 years ago.  OK, DOB, that was 40 years ago when you were our age, but who is counting.  Yes, it was just after the 60s and you were wearing mustard colored bell bottoms and Mom was wearing floral halter tops, “hostess” pants and Elvira the Vampiress make-up, but I am sure your politics had sound bases. Still, he had a good point.

FOPOB, who had a moment to shine, instead said flatly that the conversation was boring, he’d rather watch his team lose and did anyone realize that Casablanca was on TV tonight?  I poured everyone more wine.  DOB mentioned he liked it and I told him it was NOT Trader Joe’s $3.50 special Merlot.  “Really?”  DOB was genuinely surprised.  I excused myself to the kitchen where POB was hiding out.  I asked POB to kill me before SOS ever had to have this conversation with me.

Thank G-d Cousin Gentle arrived.  And time to eat.  FOPOB wanted to take dinner-to-go but we locked the door.  SOB had to take a call from the hospital.  SOS wanted to run back and forth from the dinner table to the TV in our room to watch the football game.  I considered Crazy Glue to keep him in his chair but I settled on the Evil Eye of Doom and Despair that I inherited from my mother that kept us in line.  It is amazing how a few moves of the facial muscles can subdue a child.  It worked. Luckily, I also still have the brute strength in my arsenal, if necessary.  But only for a little time more.

At the beginning of the meal, we toasted the many sides of the family that were present.  We toasted our good fortune in being together.  We remembered the victims of the attack on our Nation 10 years ago.

At some point in the conversation, we started talking about the different sources of the Bible and how women may have been writers.  HOSOB asked what I knew about this.  So, of course, I held forth, but with a caveat.  I started with, “Unencumbered as I am with fact or knowledge about the subject matter . . . .”  Cousin Gentle was impressed that I said this.  I was shocked.  I thought this was an implied caveat in any conversation in our family history because clearly Uncle Loud, Cousin Gentle’s father and DOB, would have otherwise been mute for most of their lives.

After that, someone complained that the chicken was salty.  Someone wondered about having added marjoram (a spice I still don’t understand) to the quinoa dish.  FOPOB wanted to take dessert to go (keep trying, dude) in order to watch Casablanca at home on his ginormous TV.

So, we were deep, we were shallow, we were loving, we were honest. .  .and in so doing, we gave meaning to the statement:


I love you all.

By the power vested in me . . .

In six weeks, I am “officiating” at our goddaughters’ wedding (by the power vested in me by me).

I have been thinking about what I would say since the day I was asked.  I can’t settle on anything.

It can’t be too preachy or instructional — they have been together for years and have had ups and downs.

And, besides, I don’t have all the answers.  POB (partner of blogger) and I love each other deeply and our relationship is always changing and, we hope, growing.  And there are always tests.  I can only tell them what life and love feels like further down the road they already travel.

The Hollywood version of love is Ali MacGraw’s famous line in “Love Story”: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”  That is just wrong. 

Here’s what I think love means:

Love means listening to your partner’s hurt and saying “I’m sorry” if only because you didn’t mean to cause the hurt. Whether or not you are right or were misunderstood.

Love means that your partner’s happiness is a goal more important than making partner in a law firm or managing director at an investment bank.

Love means both of your being happy is more important than either of you being right.

Love means being gentler in your criticism than you actually feel sometimes.

Love means imagining life walking together hand-in-hand.

Love needs to be nurtured, renewed and romantic, even with kids.  Pay for baby sitters even if, after that expense, all you can afford on your date is a happy meal.

In times of pain and loss, try to give your beloved the support she needs in the way she needs even if that is the exact opposite of what you would need in the same circumstance.

And, don’t worry, if you didn’t go to sleep mad sometimes, you wouldn’t get any rest.

And it takes a lifetime to get it right.

So, take notes and relaaaaax.



E-Mom, I have a question

Tonight, we went out to dinner at a local place to celebrate SOS’s (our son, source of sanity’s) first half-week at school.  (Never mind that I pay something like $275 a day for him to go to this school . . . .)

I asked him about his day and what he liked about school so far.  He dutifully answered.  And then as I took a satisfying sip of wine, he asked, “E-Mom, what is the status of the euro crisis?”

Really?  Really?  Not, “can I watch TV when we get home?”?  Nooooooooooooooooo.  The euro crisis.

Yep, you heard me, the euro crisis.

(I remind everyone that he has not one of my genes.  So, I stand in amazement with all of you.)

So I told him about today’s high profile resignation and how that shook the markets.

“Why, E-Mom?”

“Because this guy was against the kind of measures we took in the US to put more money in the economy.  And people don’t know if that is a signal of a different policy.”

“What does that mean?”  I proceeded to discuss the ramifications of those who worry more than others about inflation or deflation.  He stayed with me, which is amazing.  I ended with the reason that people have different views:

“Well, there are different countries that use the euro and they have different degrees of prosperity and recession.  And the rich countries don’t want to carry the debts of the economically troubled countries. “

“Can’t the federal government do something about it?”

“Well, it isn’t like the US.  These are different nations.”

“So they are like separate towers on the map of medieval Europe.”  (We are reading about medieval times and the great explorers.)

“Well, ok, that is true to an extent.” (More true than he realizes.)

“How is Asia doing?” (Really, how is Asia doing?)

“They are trying to slow their growth. While we are in a terrible recession where it is hard to find a job, some countries in Asia (although not all of Asia) have the opposite problem.  They are creating too much wealth.  And prices aren’t connected to value anymore.  So, we might pay $10 for something for which a person in China pays more than $100.”

“Are they all talking to each other?”

“Well, just like we talk to some of our neighbors and not others, countries do the same.  Remember the guy in our building that Mommy [POB (partner of blogger)] accidentally said was an idiot? Well we don’t hold the elevator for him anymore, but we hold the elevator for other neighbors, like Sophie and her parents.”

SOS’s hamburger and french fries came.  Thank G-d.  I was committing the conversation to memory so I could blog about it.  To that end, I didn’t have a second glass of wine.

We got home and the idiot’s wife was at the elevator.  SOS pushed her floor button for her.  She asked how SOS liked the first week of school. He said he had fun.  He paused, and then asked after her (and the idiot’s) children, “How were Isaiah’s and Gertie’s first week?”

My son, the bridge across the divide.

So, tonight, he can watch TV until he drops.  He has come in several times to ask if I will watch TV with POB and him.  Coming, buddy, right after I blog about you, I say to myself.

Real time memories.  I hope he smiles in 25 years when he reads this.  He had the wisdom of the ages and the “can do” simplicity of children.  Oh, how we need the latter right now to save our world.