Seder Part 2

Seder, Part 2:  Subtitled “Kol B’Seder?” (all ok?  literally in good order?)

Meanwhile, Uncle L looked slovenly despite his well-heeled paramour and family.  Just take a look at his coat:  No wonder his paramour thought we were wolves.  A generation from the ghettos of Europe, born in the country, and still.  But he is a Yankees fan, so some things are forgiven.

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Ok, so we started the Seder.  As commanded, we go through our “emblems of festive rejoicing” which are the symbols of Passover:  rebirth, renewal, bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of freedom, and the remembrance of the night of death in Egypt that led to the Exodus.  But wait, there’s more.

In our family, we have our own symbols of festive rejoicing, requiring a second Seder plate.  First, G-d didn’t deliver us from Egypt, then the pogroms of Europe, then the Holocaust, then to two generations of prosperity in the United States for us to drink that gross Manischevitz wine.  So, we have a “Manischevitz Free Zone” in our house, where there is (reasonably) good Kosher wine and some good other wine.  Second, courtesy of HOSOB (we love him so), we have a Moses action figure (which was a bonus with any Nintendo purchase) that has detachable staff and Ten Commandments for the requisite slamming at the sight of the Golden Calf.  Third, have a watch to symbolize the ONE hour that SOB allows for the ceremony before she takes away the Haggadot and announces the first course will be served. In a nod to the modern age, SOB flashes her iPhone timer, so I know exactly, to the nanosecond, how much time I have left.

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Finally (not pictured here), we have a brisket and not a turkey, because G-d didn’t work miracles and deliver us from five millennia of trials and tribulations so that we would have to eat dry turkey.  No, G-d delivered us so that we could enjoy a nice, juicy, marbled brisket with just the right amount of fat to make it tasty and moist.  (Unless you are vegan or vegetarian, in which case we had a delicious Mediterranean bean dish.)  That is my interpretation of the wisdom of the ages.  You can have yours, just not in my house.

We tried a different approach to Seder this year — we would go quickly through the retelling of the story (see the cheat sheet on the chalk board)

photo(12) And then we proceeded to discuss who was the most righteous in the story.  I emailed everyone with the assignment to determine the most righteous person, and people really read up on it.

Sidebar:  GDJOB, who had never cracked the spine of the Bible, was at a loss until her spouse GDKOB showed up.  GDKOB was in charge of preparing for Seder.  Unfortunately, she was a little late for the debate but her righteous person was discussed.  They brought dessert, so all was forgiven.

There was a catch:  what is the definition of righteous?  Depending on our definitions, we had different answers.  There was a second catch:  there is no right answer, except that we can agree that among the wrong answers are: (i) Pharaoh and (ii) the Edward G. Robinson’s character in Cecil B. DeMille’s, “The Ten Commandments” (did he chew on a cigar or is that just my imagination?).

We came up with four righteous people (with our varying definitions of righteousness):

  • Moses (trite);
  • Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law who advises Moses;
  • Tzipporah, Moses’ wife who saves him when G-d tried to kill him; and
  • Pharaoh’s daughter, who, knowing Moses was an Israelite, nevertheless saves the baby from the Nile.

My choice? Pharaoh’s daughter.  Who has no name, except in Chronicles, the Koran and the writings of Josephus.  In the Hebrew Bible, she is known only by her relationship to a man, Seti I, who decreed that male babies of the Israelites must die.  She defied her father’s decree and saved a life and raised Moses as her son.  She stepped outside her rarefied, privileged world and extended her hand to a slave child.  Because a child is a child.  Because a life is a life.  And she risked everything, maybe for the knowledge that she was doing the right thing and her heart and soul would not be sullied by the death of a child.

And she was exiled when later it was found out that Moses, her son, was an Israelite.

Her name was Bithia.

Bithia.  A person to be remembered as a human who saved a life of a baby who would grow up to liberate a people.

Bithia was her name.  And at Passover, I remember Bithia.  Because she is the person I most admire in this story.

Chag sameach.  (Happy holidays.)

Seder

One month ago, when I invited the “family” to Seder, there was some trepidation.

Why trepidation at just another annual ritual?  Well, here is a partial list of the invitees:

  • Dad (who is not the man he was prior to his brain injury), accompanied by his Guyanese home attendant who had never been to a Seder;
  • Shelly who is not romantically involved with Dad, regardless of what Uncle L thinks (we will get to THAT later);
  • Our g-ddaughters, who are not Jewish and one of whom has never cracked open the Bible (but she makes amazing Kosher for Passover desserts, so go figure);
  • My Uncle L, who having recently lost Aunt R just a few months ago, wanted bring his paramour of 25 years (will someone PLEASE shoot me);
  • My Aunt R’s blood nephew and his wife, who may not be so psyched to know that Uncle L had a side gig (a shonda — embarrassment — for the neighbors);
  • FOPOB who is not always emotionally or mentally “present” and SOPOB who is not always physically present;
  • Cousin Gentle, CB, SOB and HOSOB — thank G-d; and
  • my personal trainer who gave me good arms for my wedding dress.

So, bottom line:  lesbians, their baker g-ddaughter, an uncle, his lover, a Greek Chorus and a brisket.  La follie. Madness.

Ok, by the grace of G-d, my aunt’s nephew and his wife couldn’t come so we didn’t have to create even more lies about the state of affairs (pardon the pun) of the family.

Because Uncle L keeps white wine in his refrigerator for his paramour, I bought very good bottles of various white grapes. Only to find out that she likes red wine, but Uncle L won’t buy red because he thinks it doesn’t keep for long.

Sidebar:  Really, Uncle?  Dirt has thrived in your home since 1954.  New life forms and strains of antibiotics could be discovered in your slums-of-Calcutta-apartment and you are worried about whether red wine will go bad?  I know people draw lines in the sand but, but, whoa, that is really strange.

A second sidebar:  I asked S, Uncle Larry’s paramour (and our new relative), whether she had been to a Seder before, and she said she had been to four, to which SOS exclaimed, “wow, she has more Jewish connections than we thought!!”  Oy. Oy. Oy. Out of the mouths of babes, indeed, but, sometimes, a muzzle would work just fine.

Even another sidebar:  When will I stop calling her, “the paramour”?  Check back with me in 25 years.  A generation is a biblical time period and quite possibly after 25 years we will not remember that there was an “overlap” when Uncle L was with Aunt R.

I told S she was welcome in our home as long as she could handle loving references to Aunt R.  Wow, now that was a tense moment.

And I haven’t even talked about the preparation for the Seder or the Seder itself.  More anon.  Stay tuned (with pictures from SOB).

 

 

Lost and Found

I left off about my aunt’s sister in my blog entry: http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5014.  I have learned much since but it was hard for me to reconcile the information.  My aunt’s blood nephew found his other aunt, thought dead for so many years, in an institution in New York City.

My aunt’s nephew, whom I want to claim as my family, is a good man.  His mother’s papers left no clue, either, that a sister was alive.  He is trying to do the right thing in a fractured family.  He is also trying to find out about his family.  Only a scrap of paper in my aunt’s files gave him a clue an aunt might be alive and he followed the trail until he found her.

She is 88 years-old.  She was never “quite right” in her youth and her mental state has deteriorated beyond any ability to communicate.  (Would she have deteriorated so, if she had family to support her?)  She can provide no information about the family nor, we think, can she experience any solace that, after so many decades, a man she never knew existed came to claim her as his family and do the right thing.  At long last.

But my newly-minted cousin can’t undo the decades of neglect by siblings — both his mother and my aunt — who lived within miles of her.

I asked my uncle yesterday, “how could this be that Aunt [blank] had a sister who needed help?”  My uncle shrugged.  He had no idea that everyone wasn’t dead.  No one asked questions “in the old days”.

At long last, someone stood up for this woman.  But it was too long in coming.  Far too long to make a difference.

Now the weight of the tragedy is on our generation.

We must teach our children: Never again.  Never ever again.

New Age Mom

So, a few weeks ago, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition came out.  This, you might think, would be a holiday in a lesbian home.  But, sigh, we are here, we are queer and we are middle-age.

SOS is, however, a pre-adolescent boy.

SOS wanted to know whether we needed help going to the drug store.  Excuse me?  Our boy wanted to help with errands?

Maybe, like a caterpillar into a butterfly, our son blossomed into the son of G-d, as is every Jewish mother’s dream?

Well, no, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition is on display and available at Rite-Aid.

“Dude, I will buy it for you, but you can’t show it to your friends, because we don’t have their parents’ permission, ok?”

“No, I am not ready to own it, E Mom.”

SIDEBAR:  When SOS was 8 years-old, he asked everyone he met to buy him that years’ swimsuit edition.  Just keeping the record straight.

“Ok, but you know I get it, bud.  Mommy and I think women are beautiful.”

“E Mom, no offense, but I cannot talk to you about this, OK?”

All right, too much information for my son.  I get it.  I am not going to bond with him by scoping out cute girls.  Although I could . . . .

We have to do this the cloak and dagger way.  SOS gives me an exaggerated wink and says:

“E Mom, do you need anything at the drug store?”

“Why, yes, buddy, I do.  Wanna come?”

We go to Rite Aid.  I browse in the lotions and potions area, totally worried that I don’t have a visual on my son who is perusing magazines with pedophiles.

It is amazing how drug stores have Valu-Paks of anti-aging lotions.  It is really amazing that a chain store succeeded where Vasco Di Gama did not.  Fountain of youth, aisle 4, and now in easy to use and re-fill containers.  Isn’t the modern world a wonder?

Alas, though, no Sports Illustrated.  Only Maxim’s, which would do the trick any OTHER weekend but NOT on the last weekend for the swimsuit edition.

We soldiered on to Duane Reade, where I dawdled again in the lotions and potions aisle and took a brief survey of all the processed foods one can buy these days in drug stores. Are processed foods considered a drug or a food under the FDA?

I went to find SOS after an eternity of inventory research at Duane Reade.  Maybe 20 minutes.  Apparently I didn’t dawdle enough.  Uh oh.

“Buddy, let’s go to a real book store and then I promise I will need a chocolate bar or a bottle of water on the way home, ok?”

At the book store, he was content with the animals of the Serengeti and the dynasties of pre-Communist China.

As promised, we returned to the drug store where I purchased things I didn’t need so that my son could marvel at the bodies of beautiful women.

We got home and I said, “you can go to your room if you want.  Just wash your hands when you come out.”

I am nothing if not practical.

Don’t worry, Pearl and Will, no magazines are coming to camp, except the G-rated ones.

When the Past, Present and Future Collide

Some people say time is not linear.  I guess then, in terms I can understand, Star Trek’s space/time continuum conundrum is more than a plot enabler.  Or life with and without George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” are just two realities that co-exist in different time dimensions.

And so the space-time continuum has been crashing around me recently.  Recently, I have been getting information overload about my aunt that make me wonder, “did I ever know you?”

When I was young, my aunt was gorgeous, avant grade and in the art scene. She was our idol. She knew how to talk to us kids and we felt in our bones that she loved and adored us.

Even as I got older, I knew very little about her family of origin.  She cut off any discussions about it.  I knew she had a sister who was married, with two boys, and the boys and their father were jazz musicians.

I didn’t realize how thick that wall was until, when Mom was sick, my aunt mentioned that she missed her sister and that she had died of cancer a few years before.  I was dumbfounded.  I was in my late 30s.  How come she didn’t tell us?  Why didn’t we ask?  Were we not as close as I always thought?

Now, as I clean out her pack rat apartment little by little on Saturdays, I guess I should not be surprised at the person who is my aunt and what I find out about her.

Let’s review the non-traumatic facts I have learned since she died:

  • she was decidedly older than she admitted (no biggie).
  • she had an “emotionally and mentally disabled” sister as well (no one really knows what that would mean today) who lived in their parents’ apartment until the building was torn down and died some years later (sad, but, again, not a biggie).
  • but her birth date wasn’t even the date she told us (ok, getting, odd), let alone the year.
  • she had an artist’s eye for the human body complete with Polaroids of people we know (a little ooky, but it would be really cool if it were someone ELSE’s aunt and uncle in the pictures).
  • her other sister, whom she told me she missed, died ten years before she told us and they had not really spoken in 30 years (getting odder).
  • her mother died young, but did NOT die in childbirth as we were told (ok, but suggests a trauma anyway).
  • They all led a hard life of immigrants in New York from the turn of the 20th century onward.

So, I guess the theme here is that the “facts” of my aunt’s life are more accurately, rebuttable presumptions.  Maybe, if we live to 91, the “facts” of our lives will be similarly suspect.

But here is the fact that I can’t let go of:

It turns out, in a twist a la Mark Twain, my aunt’s disabled younger sister’s demise was exaggerated.  She is decidedly undead, though aged and in decline.  And all her life, this sister lived close by but still far from sight.  There is no evidence that my aunt helped her.

What happened?  There is a story behind this.  Maybe there is something in their upbringing.  Maybe it was the hardscrabble immigrant experience.  There is no one left to say (the surviving sister has dementia).

It makes me think about the trajectory of people’s lives and how, maybe, whatever happened in that tenement on Third Avenue in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s, may have set a course for three sisters, all estranged and one essentially left behind.

 

 

A Night at the Gym

So, I went to the gym last night.

The gym was crowded.

I was relegated to one corner where the only thing on TV in front of me was Khloe and Kim taking Miami. (Why are these girls famous, again? They are so gross.)

So, there is a scene where the one who just gave birth is talking to her sister and her sister, in a deep and soulful moment, points to an imperfection on her leg. Unclear whether she nicked herself shaving or what. So the sister who gave birth expresses milk on the blemish to help it heal.

OMG I wanted to vomit.

I turned to my right to see if the person next to me was similarly grossed-out. He was a man in his early 70s wearing 1970s short shorts and head band with a short muscle shirt that would have shown off his abs, if he had any. Ok, I don’t want to start a conversation with him.

Only 12 minutes had passed but I needed to get off the bike for safer ground.

I bumped into my trainer, who was talking to another trainer (someone I don’t really like). He had on headphones that somehow disconnected from his smart phone. The connector piece went inside his shirt and he announced, “wow, I just got a nipple shock! Wanna try?”

At that point I went downstairs and got dressed and took a cab home.

All the retching sensations must have worked about my abs from the inside out.

Blame it on Sequester

Friday was the first day of sequester.

I imagined the government in a beach chair, sporting sunglasses next to a sign that says, “out to lunch”.

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Whether you think the actual across the board cuts are good or bad for us, you have to agree that our government decision not to make affirmative decisions — i.e., not to govern — is treasonous.

What the Congress and the Administration did was the moral equivalent of my “deciding” to let the roof of my house cave in because I neglected to get it repaired.

Since the fourth branch of government is not G-d, we really need to fix this, just us humans.

In my business, a settlement means that neither side gets all that it wants, but each side gets enough. In fact, the sign of a good settlement is that each side feels a little singed. All the leaders talking about the free market and capitalism don’t understand the prime directive: “you don’t make money unless you make the deal.”

The electorate doesn’t understand it either if they vote out people who give up a little to get what they need. Then the electorate doesn’t understand our system.

The Tea Party’s idea that compromise means the other side comes to its way of thinking is, dare I say, a little Stalin-like. And really scary, unless you think springtime in the gulag sounds like a vacation destination.

So, Mr. President and members of Congress, stop pointing fingers and make meaningful and, necessarily, painful decisions. For you, as politicians, and for us, as citizens.

If you don’t lead, we are not going to follow. 

(And Bob Woodward, you need to stop attention-getting. You are supposed to report the news and not be the news.)