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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Word From the Weiss



     I don’t know when using technology became a competitive event, but there are days when I ridicule my husband for not knowing how to post photos on Instagramor being completely unable to distinguish between his wall and his timeline on Facebook.

After 33 years, I rag on my husband.JPG

      No, wait, let’s get real. Rare is the day when this doesn’t happen. The expression is nice Jewish mom, not nice Jewish wife. Despite 33 years of marriage, or maybe because of them, I rag on him about being technology-challenged almost every day.

      And yet I must confess that there are some technological issues that I don’t quite grasp myself, particularly when it comes to the intricacies of Internet etiquette. Otherwise known as Netiquette.

      Take what happened when I woke up last Sunday morning and realized that it was my son and daughter-in-law’s very first wedding anniversary.

Kaitlin and Aidan at their wedding.JPG

      OK, I didn’t just suddenly realize it was their anniversary. Far from. Aidan’s wedding to Kaitlin last June 25 was unquestionably the biggest thing that has happened to this nice Jewish mom since Aidan and his sister Allegra were born… and their bar and bat mitzvahs, of course.

     And so I had been thinking about the anniversary for days. Not to mention nights. Why, a few nights earlier, I had stayed up half the night preparing a special gift for the occasion.

Nicole Miller wedding photo album.jpg

      Months ago, I had come across a beautiful wedding album in a store. OK, that store just happened to be HomeGoods, and the wedding album was on deep discount. No matter. It was a white satin one from designer Nicole Miller decorated with pretty pearls that could hold 500 4 x 6 photos.

     My plan had been to fill this album with photos from their wedding and give it to them as a surprise anniversary gift. But between the two photographers we had hired for the wedding, and the many guests who had been kind enough to send us their own candid shots, there were hundreds and hundreds of photos to be printed. To assemble them all would take hours and hours. And I was insanely busy.

    Life, after all, is busy. Mine is, anyway, and always has been. When my husband and I got married, 33 years ago next month, we immediately put our own hundreds and hundreds of photos together. Together in a plastic bag, that is. And three decades, two children, and one of those children’s own weddings later, that is where they still remain. Put them into an album? Who had time for that?

My wedding photos are still in a bag.jpg

     The past year had been no exception. If anything, my life had only grown busier.  

     So somehow a whole year had come and gone, and I had never gathered Aidan’s wedding photos, either, let alone had them printed. Now we were leaving in the morning for a weekend in NYC, where Aidan and Kaitlin live, and I had nothing to give them. Nothing but an empty album. Was there any way I could still pull this surprise gift off?

     All the photo labs in my town long ago went the way of the pet rock. The only place to get these photos printed overnight was Walgreen’s, and its photo department had already closed for the night. No matter. I began to upload the wedding photos from my Dropbox onto the pharmacy’s photo department site. Hundreds and hundreds of them.


     Despite my holier-than-thou attitude toward my husband, I am no Wonder Woman when it comes to technology. I couldn’t figure out how to upload these many photos en massesimply had to do them – my hundreds and hundreds of photos – one at a time.

      After I had finished uploading all of these photos, which took hours, I texted my daughter to get her own Dropbox ID and password. Then proceeded to upload even more photos from Aidan and Kaitlin’s wedding. Hundreds and hundreds more.

Aidan and Kaitlin dancing at their wedding.jpg

     By the time I had uploaded them all, it was around 2:30 a.m. I submitted my order and held my breath. I had managed to order 475 prints, nearly enough to fill the album. Yet according to the confirmation email I received, they would all be ready by 9 a.m.

     We weren’t scheduled to leave until 10Talk about technological miracles!

     My only fear now was that Aidan and Kaitlin might not appreciate my present. At all. Even though I’d be able to pick up the photos before we left for NYC, there would be no time to put them into the album. They would have to do it all themselves. And as young Ph.D. candidates, they’re very busy. Even busier than I am. Would my special gift be a welcome surprise, or just a burden to them? Was it a blessing, or more of a curse?

       I know this was a ridiculous thing to worry about. Most things that I worry about tend to be ridiculous. In fact, most of the things that I worry about will probably never happen. I should know by now that I should try not to worry about these things until they actually do happen. If they do, there will still be plenty of time to worry about them then.

Aidan and me before his wedding.JPG

      But I’m a mom – a nice Jewish one, at that. All that I really want in life is to help my children and try to make them happy. And I worried that this gift wouldn’t make my son happy. It might annoy him instead. After all, he might end up with his own lifelong plastic bag full of wedding photos. A bag that begged to be emptied into a photo album, but would merely grow older and hole-ier over time. That's not a blessing. It’s a curse.

My husband at me at Aidan's wedding.JPG

      Although we would be in NYC for the weekend, we had no plans to help celebrate the anniversary. After all, it was Aidan and Kaitlin’s anniversary. Not ours. We were just the mother and father of the groom. Last year, they had needed us to walk Aidan down the aisle and help make the wedding. They wouldn’t need us now to help celebrate their anniversary.

      So I wasn’t even quite sure that I would get to deliver my anniversary gift. Aidan and Kaitlin don’t live in a doorman building anymore, so we would have to arrange a specific time to drop it off at their apartment. And as I said, they’re busy people. Even busier than I am.

Kaitlin and Aidan in the limo.jpg

     But I was afraid to ask when I could drop it off because I didn’t want to bother them.

     And when I woke up on the morning of their anniversary, I realized that there was one more issue, one that related to the original subject at hand – namely, Internet etiquette.

     I wanted to deliver my gift in person, preferably at their convenience. Yet I also wanted to send them anniversary greetings via a far more public forum – Facebook.

     Everyone I know posts all of the good things that happen to their children on Facebook, whether they be birthdays, graduations, engagements, weddings, or the birth of a new grandchild. This shows the world that they’re proud of their offspring, and it gives everyone they know a chance to share in the joy by “liking” their posts and/or congratulating them by replying, “Mazel tov!”

     And what better news could there be to share than a first wedding anniversary?

    On the other hand, it was their anniversary, not ours. So maybe it was their news to share. Not ours. Would I be insinuating myself where I didn’t belong by posting about it? Would I be hijacking their private cause for celebration by kvelling so publicly myself?

Aidan and Kaitlin full-length wedding pic.JPG

     Should I wait until they posted something about it themselves, and then share that? Then again, as I said, they’re very busy people. Kaitlin was away until later that day attending an academic conference.

Aidan's happy birthday post on Facebook.jpg

 And although Aidan had managed to wish his dad a happy birthday on Facebook earlier this month, he is not generally given to posting much himself.

      There was another issue: What exactly should I postFacebook is a visual medium. You don’t just post words, like “Happy anniversary! There need to be photos too. Then again, when it came to photos, I had plenty. Hundreds and hundreds of them.

      Obviously, I wasn’t going to post hundreds and hundreds in this case. The 475 I’d had printed were for the happy couple themselves. But it was hard to choose only one or two. Maybe I could get away with a small photo collage. I narrowed it down to 11. Was that too many?

      At least I managed to keep the message short and sweet. (Not too sweet, I hoped.)

     “Happy first anniversary to my incredible son Aidan and his beautiful bride Kaitlin!" I wrote. Can’t believe it’s been a whole year!”

     Then I posted my 11 photos, more than half of which appeared merely as “+6.” Anyone who was really interested would have to click on the group to see them all.

     What if Aidan and Kaitlin didn’t like the photos I had chosen? Well, someone liked them, anyway. Within minutes, one of my Facebook friends posted comment. “Mazel tov!”

My anniversary collage on Facebook.jpg

     Soon after, the “likes” began.

     I wrote to Aidan to say that his dad and I were meeting my college roommate, Hallie, for brunch on the Upper West Side, about 40 blocks from where he lives, and asked if he wanted to join us. He thanked me, but said (no surprise) that he was too busy.

     Then we began to negotiate via text about when I might drop off my gift. Hwould be out for most of the afternoon. We couldn’t get to his apartment before brunch. And that evening, after Kaitlin returned, they were going out for an anniversary dinner.

     We finally agreed that we’d come right after brunch. I promised to arrive by 2:30.

     Brunch, of course, ran longer than expected. I had barely seen my roommate since the wedding. We had so much to discuss. By the time we got to Aidan’s, it was already after 3.

     He was very nice about it, but I had clearly inconvenienced him. He had a lot to do. Instead of adding to the joy of the occasion, I had made him wait around all day for a gift that he might not even want. A gift that might not be a blessing, but possibly a curse.

Aidan before his wedding.JPG

      Aidan, meanwhile, felt guilty that we’d been carrying this massive parcel around. The album alone was hefty enough. But the 475 photos? We might as well have been lugging a large rock.

      That, of course, wasn’t all that was in the bag. I had also bought them a nice new set of sheets that matched their bedding, plus a framed 8 x 10 photo and some cookies.

      Then again, Aidan didn’t know what exactly was weighing us down. Kaitlin hadn’t returned from her conference yet, and he wasn’t about to open their gifts without her. So after a quick chat, we took off so he could go on at last with the remainder of his day.

Bridal party jumping shot.jpg

      My heart sank as we left. Once again, I had messed things up. I’d kept him waiting after carefully arranging a plan. I had brought him a gift he might not even appreciate. And I’d posted a whole lot of photos on Facebook. (At least it wasn’t hundreds of them.)

      Why is it that Father knows best, as they say, but nice Jewish moms, however well they may mean, can never quite get anything right? And who really cares about getting tech stuff right when you still end up annoying the people you love most, your kids?

      An hour or so later, while sitting on the subway, we received a text from Aidan. It was short, but very sweet.

      “Thanks for the photos, album and sheet set!” it said. “We love them!”

      Love them? Had he really said “love?” Maybe I hadn’t messed up, after all.

      “Really!?!” I wrote back. “I wasn’t sure if I should make the album or let you do it. But I ran out of time.”

      Or, to be more accurate, I’d never had time in the first place.

      “No, we want to do it!” Aidan quickly wrote back.

      Oh! So maybe by accident, despite myself, I had managed to get it right, after all. I'd done the right thing by not doing too much.

      Then, to top it all off, he added something else.

      “Thanks also for the thoughtful and heartfelt card!”

      Yes, there had been a rather schmaltzy anniversary card tucked inside the bag, too.

Wedding whole family photo.jpg

      I’m not going to tell you everything that it said, because the message was not only heartfelt, but private. Also, I didn’t keep a copy, so I can only approximate what I wrote. But it was something to this effect:

      “I can’t believe that a whole year has passed since the Big Day. But I also have to admit that, in some respects, I like today even better than that one. There was no need for hair and makeup, or seating arrangements. All of the guests are long since gone. Yet the honeymoon istill far from over… and I hope that it never will be.

     It’s true. Next to the births of my children, their bar and bat mitzvahs, and my own wedding, of course, my son’s nuptials had truly been one of the biggest events of my life. But it was also the most overwhelming. Sure, ifelt even more special to have hundreds of people whom I care about there to share my joy and wish me “Mazel tov!” But there were too many people to greet, and too many details to manage, from thMotzi, to the toasts, to the hotel welcome bags, bridesmaids’ bouquets, and groomsmen’s boutonnieres, not to mention the 17 different vendors whose final payments had to be delivered in cash during the wedding itself. So it had been hard to step back, relax, and revel in the joy that I knew I should have felt.

Wedding women's hora by Jamie Santamour.jpg

     The only real exceptions to this, as I recall, were when we danced the hora and when the happy couple exchanged vows. When my new daughter-in-law gave hers, I was so moved that I sobbed aloud(So much for my hair and makeup.) When Aidan said his, I laughed so hard that I nearly wet my Spanx. It went by so fast, though, that it remained a blur. Yet now have the video in hand and can tell you exactly what they said.

     I don’t know if this is another infringement of their privacy, or of Internet etiquette. I should know well enough by now to quit while I’m hopefully ahead. Then again, they recited all of these words publicly, so I hope they won’t object if I reproduce them here.


     Ladies first.

     Kaitlin: “Aidan, when I met you on a summer night, four years ago, I never knew it would lead us to this moment. In the rush of the city, you made New York home to me. You are my home. You stopped all the heartbreak in my life, and you replaced it with love. You brought music into my life, and you became my favorite song, the one I want to listen to again and again when I want to feel what matters.

Kaitlin saying her vows.JPG

     “You took me on adventures across the world, and now we start this adventure together. You take care of me when I’m sick. You make me talk about my feelings, and you listen. You adopted the kitties and say you love them as much as I do.

      “I admire everything about you – your empathy, your ethics, your mind, your work. I never knew there could be such a combination. You are serious and you are funny. You are quiet and you are expressive. You are gentle and you are strong. You are everything I want in my life…

     “I promise to be your friend and your partner, to always be there to support and challenge you. I’ll always listen to you and work to build a life that we love together. I love you now and always.”


      Aidan: "Kaitlin, you are a brilliant, beautiful, witty, vivacious, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, and compassionate woman. And being able to join our lives, in the eyes of the government, all of the beautiful people gathered here today, and anyone else who might be watching on closed-circuit TV is the greatest thrill of my life.

Aidan saying his vows.JPG

     “I’ve been told that before I met you, I never smiled. Some of my closest friends and family cannot remember me smiling. It’s true. Ask almost anyone here. I rarely laughed. I didn’t smirk. The proof is in the photos. But since we met, just look at me. I smile at least once a day. I’m even smiling now!

      “Of course, you have one of the all-time great smiles. Dark rooms are your nemesis. Mona Lisa has nothing on you.

     “Kaitlin, you are the love of my life. And so, in the tradition of top ten lists, going all the way back to Sinai, I offer my Top Ten Wedding Vows that I promise to honor and keep, in all media, in perpetuity throughout the universe.

Aidan and Kaitlin with wedding cake.jpg

     “No. 10: I promise to make certain that you always have easy and open access to a quality chocolate supply, be it in cake, bar, or beverage form. 

     “9: I vow to cook pasta with you with the freshest ingredients available, and to have it at restaurants, or wherever pasta is sold.

     “8: I vow to always, always save room for dessert.

     “No. 7: I vow to communicate with you in a language we both understand, and to solve problems together… but not before coffee.

     “6: I vow to build a life with you that accurately reflects our values, and a house that reflects a tasteful but modest aesthetic.

     “5: I vow to hold up my end of the litterbox duties.

Kaitlin in wedding dress.JPG

     “4: In the tradition of Jewish law, I vow to put your needs before mine.

     “3: According to the philosopher Martin Buber, ‘Marriage will never be given true life other than by that out of which true marriage always arises, the revealing by two people of the Thou to one another.’ I vow to always reveal ‘the Thou’ to you.

      “2: Perhaps most importantly, I vow to adopt a dog with you… one day.

      “And finally, I vow to love and care for you, and to do whatever it takes to keep you smiling, through thick and thin, till the end of my days, no matter what life throws at us.”


     No matter what life throws at them? Even an annoying nice Jewish mom who worries, shows up late, and doesn’t grasp Internet etiquette?

Aidan and Kaitlin under chuppah.jpg

     That's what the man said.

     Well, there you have it. A very happy anniversary indeed. And having witnessed their first year of marital bliss, I would say that the honeymoon is definitely far from over. The proof is in the photos.

     Hundreds and hundreds of them.

     By the way, Aidan “liked” my post on Facebook later that day, and Kaitlin followed suit the next morning. It has since received nearly 60 “likes” in all, perhaps more than anything else I’ve ever posted. So maybe I didn't do so bad. Netiquette be damned.

4:18 pm 

Friday, June 9, 2017

A Word to the Weiss


Allegra and me at Harlan's 70th.jpg

     In case I have left even the shadow of a doubt, I am a very proud mother. Never mind that the term “proud mother” is practically redundant. I mean, aside from the poor soul who spawned, say, Kim Jong-Un, what mother isn’t proud of her offspring? So when I tell you about what happened last week, please try to keep in mind that I am simply a proud mom. Not a delusional one. Not cray-cray.

       The cray-cray part would come later.

       Almost anyone who has ever read this space knows that my daughter, Allegra, is a jazz singer. I don’t exactly keep it under wraps. Rarely, if ever, do I mention this blog on Facebook. The same goes for my recent book. But I am almost shameless when it comes to promoting her shows whenever she performs.

Allegra promo shot 3.jpg

       Last weekend, she had such a show. Not just any show, though. A CD release.

       Her second CD, Cities Between Uscame out in April on SteepleChase Records. She released it at a posh place in NYC called Club Bonafide, and the concert completely sold out. She wanted to have a similar show in our town in Connecticut, however, so that hometown friends, her former teachers, and others we know could attend as well. So with my help, she booked a small concert hall at a local university.

       Shortly before the local show took place, we received a contract, and being not just a nice Jewish mom but also Allegra’s mom-ager, I read all of the fine print. That was how I discovered that the show was scheduled for the school’s Spring Fling Weekend, during which no one would be allowed to enter the campus without a special parking pass.

Cities Between Us by Allegra Levy.jpg

       When had they planned to mention that? The music critic at a large local newspaper was writing a story about the show. What would happen when dozens of people showed up and were turned away at the front gates? At least the school readily let us out of the contract. But it was too late to book another place on such short notice.

       Over the coming weeks, I searched for a new locationI called or visited at least 15 venuesMost proved to be way beyond our budget. But there were also other issues.

       A local alternative arts center called Real ArtWays offered the right hip vibe, but had sculpture installation through the summer that was too fragile to subject to a crowd.

       A local nonprofit had a classy auditorium and plenty of free parking, but no piano.

      Then there was the community theater that said they would be happy to have her, with one caveat.

      Make that cat-veat.

      Her concert would coincide with the opening of their newest children’s production. Would Allegra mind performing on the set of a musical version of The Cat in the Hat?

The Scat in the Hat.jpg

      As one of my friends pointed out, she could have pulled this off by wearing a tall striped hat and calling it “The Scat in the Hat.” But she decisively declined.

       We thought we’d finally hit paydirt when a cultural center housed in a former historic synagogue agreed to let us rent its sanctuary. Then Allegra asked a savvy question: Did the place have air-conditioning?

Charter Oak Cultural Center sanctuary.jpgCharter Oak Cultural Center windows.jpg

        As Connecticut’s oldest synagogue, the structure dated from 1876. Stained glass windows, yes. A/C? No. By now, she had chosen a new date -- June 3. There was no telling in advance what the weather might be. Did we want fans fainting in the pews?

        After all my efforts, it was Allegra, who now lives in New York, who finally came up with the solution. She heard that a famous jazz drummer would be playing at a local place called The Polish National Home. If it was good enough for Jeff “Tain” Watts, it was certainly good enough for her.


       I went right over to check it out. The décor was, well, a little dated. But it turned out to have a large, funky concert space called the Chopin Ballroom, plenty of free parking, and a baby grand piano that the woman in charge assured me was regularly tuned.

Chopin Ballroom.jpg

      They would even give us our own bartender, who’d serve cheap cocktails and Polish beer.

      We signed the contract that very afternoon.

Polish National Home decor.jpg

      As not just a proud mom, but Allegra’s mom-ager, proceeded to do what I could to help promote the event. I wrote the press release that went out to local newspapers. I contacted the band directors at local schools. I put up posters all over town and sent an email inviting countless friends.

      And yes, I posted it on Facebook.

      Many people assured us they would come. A few days before the event, however, when I sent out a reminder, suddenly almost everyone I knew was otherwise engaged.

Cities Between Us CD release poster.JPG

      Some were going to weddings, others to bar or bat mitzvahs, graduations, reunions, or birthday parties. Many were simply going away to their summer homes. The first weekend in June, it turned out, was apparently among the biggest social dates of the year

      So many people were unable to make it that instead of composing a guest list, I found myself tallying the names of the people who weren’t coming instead – 36 of them, to be exact. Which happens to be a Jewish number, but in this case not a nice one.

      A few of the people who had promised to come now needed to attend funerals. There was certainly no way we could fault them.

      But there were others who simply never responded. And that made me feel kind of bad.

Instead of yeses I counted no's.jpg

      As I said, I’m a proud mom. I’m proud of both my children. But I am not delusional.

      I could sit and watch my daughter – or her older brother Aidan, who blows a mean bari saxophone – night after night, and never begin to tire of it. After all, I love them beyond words, and I am their mother.

Aidan plays a mean bari sax.JPG

      I do not expect that kind of interest or devotion from anyone else. Maybe not even their dad.

      I will admit that I feel embarrassed that there are so many occasions on which Allegra performs, or her brother publishes a book or whatever, that I always seem to be inviting people to come see them, or posting about them, or simply kvelling about them.

      On the other hand, Allegra hadn’t sung publicly in our area since she released her first CD in 2014, so it isn’t as if I go around hounding people about her every day. Many friends had gladly turned out for the show three years ago. In the interim, she had become infinitely better as a singer. I figured many would come again.

      Many? How about any?

      I know, I know. The average person is not that into jazz. And all of those excuses were totally legit. We had simply made a miscalculation in choosing the new date.

      Then again, the barrage of emails listing other commitments was becoming beyond daunting. And some of those commitments sounded a little less compelling than others.

      By Wednesday, three days before the show, Allegra had only managed to sell 25 tickets. In order to break evenafter paying the venue, the band, and the sound man, she needed to sell 85. At least there would still be that story in the newspaper. We assumed it would be in the entertainment section, which comes out every Thursday.

      To say I’m not an early riser is an understatement. I rarely get out of bed before 10. But I got up at 6 last Thursday morning and bounded downstairs to seize the paper on our front stoop.

Newspaper on our front stoop.jpg

     I searched from cover to cover. Twice. There was no story in it about my daughter anywhere. Just two short blurbs about the show.

      Neither mentioned the website on which tickets were available. They gave only one means of contact – the Polish National Home.

       I went on the home's website. There was no mention of Allegra’s concert anywhere. People might actually assume the paper had been wrong. Yikes!

       I wasn’t able to reach the woman at the Polish Home until that evening. I asked if she could possibly post something on their site about the concert. She advised me to contact the newspaper that had made the error instead and “give them a piece of your mind.

      I tried to explain to “Maja” that it is never in your best interests to attack the press (something that one very significant figure in our country apparently has yet to grasp).

      Plus, even though we had already gotten the paper to put the correct information online, the print version would continue to point readers to her place.

       So she reluctantly told me to send her some info and she'd see what she could do.

      Two hours later, I received an email from the Polish National Home inviting me to a ceremony in which 60 new American citizens would be naturalized the following day. This was followed by an invitation to a musical tribute to a Polish poet.

      If you scrolled down to the very bottom of the email, there was a copy of Allegra’s poster and a link to buy tickets to her show. But when I clicked on the link, it led nowhere. “Whoops, the page or event you are looking for was not found, is all it said.

whoops page not found.jpg

      The link was broken.

      In a panic, I called “Maja” back, apologized profusely, and related the problem. Was there any way she could fix the link when she managed to put it on their website?

     At this, she unleashed a tirade unlike any I had ever heard before. I mean, even if you feel no compunction about attacking the press, was it OK to verbally assault paying clients? 

     Perhaps it was in this case, considering that I’d submitted our final payment when we’d spoken earlier that evening. What did she have to lose now? She had me over a barrel.

Make that a ballroom.

Angry blonde It's not my problem.jpg

      “All we did was rent space to you!” she was shrieking now in a heavy Polish accent. “I am a very busy person. And I have no obligation whatsoever to help you market your musical event!”

      I kept trying to interrupt her to agree and apologize. After all, she was absolutely right. But I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. She just kept ranting and raving. Until, that is, she abruptly hung up.

      Now what were we going to do?

      At least we'd learned that the newspaper story Allegra had been interviewed for was actually still running, but not until Saturday, the day of the show. Wouldn’t most people have made plans by then?

    To enhance the show’s local appeal, she had booked three other musicians who grew up in our town, and well-known ones at that. They would presumably stay with their families, but we would be putting up the rest of the band.

     Yes, part of being a singer’s mom-ager is occasionally running a bed-and-breakfast.

Allegra at Wuji June 2017.jpg

     Allegra has a regular Friday-night gig in Greenwich, CT, about two hours away. I picked her up there, along with her boyfriend JP and piano player Carmen, and we got home after midnight. So I must admit that I started the weekend off feeling fried. But even worse was my mounting sense of dread.

     It wasn’t that I was worried that Allegra might end up losing hundreds of dollars on the event. Being a young jazz musician is not a lucrative venture; we’ve been down that road before. It was more about not wanting to see my kid be disappointed and hurt, not to mention embarrassed to have to play to a room that wasn’even close to half-full.

Allegra in Courant.JPG


     The newspaper story came out the next morning. A nice story with a huge photo. You really couldn’t miss it. But as big as it was, and as nice as it was, wasn’t it now too late? 

     After serving everyone a lavish brunch, I helped Allegra print copies of her music for the show and choose an outfit to wear. Then I attended to one final minor detail.

     I decided to design some actual paper ticketsprint them out on card stock, then cut them out, one by one, on a cutting board. Allegra insisted that we didn’t really need them – we could just check people in at the door. But I thought it looked more professional.

     The question was, how many to print? By now, despite the newspaper story, Allegra had only managed to sell 36 tickets, including the two her father and I had purchased ourselves.

      I’d designed the tickets to be 12 to a page. Seven pages would yield 84 of them. But if she sold only that number, she would barely break even. Then again, to make too many more seemed like it would be tempting fate. No, worse. It would be delusional.

Tickets to Allegra's CD release.JPG

     And if there’s one thing I’m not, I’d like to believe, it’s delusional.

     So I printed out one more page. Eight sheets of 12. A total of 96.

     When we reached the Polish Home, I dropped Allegra and her bandmates, then slipped in via a back staircase to avoid running into Maja. My best friend, she was not.

     While the band set up and did a sound check, my husband and I arranged a sales table in the lobby outside of the Chopin Ballroom, along with Allegra’s boyfriend, JP. The show was slated for 8 pm. At 7:30, a lone couple trudged slowly up the stairs.

     “Is there where you get tickets for the jazz concert?”asked the husband, who appeared to be in his early 70s. He seemed pleased that we were able to take credit cards, but grew a bit annoyed when I fumbled with the little white plastic Square device I had plugged into my phone. I should’ve practiced my processing skills at home. A sales clerk I am not.

     Over the next 15 minutes, only a small trickle of patrons followed, most of whom were on the list of patrons who had already paid. But then, gradually, the pace picked up. It wasn’t exactly an avalanche. But the lobby was filling up fast.

Liz said to get a grip.JPG

     The lobby was filling up because Allegra had ordered us not to let anyone into the ballroom yet. This was the only chance the band had to rehearse, and they just weren’t ready. I started to flip out, wondering how we could expect everyone to just stand around when the show was supposed to start in five minutes and the doors were still closed. But my friend Liz, who’s in the music biz, told me to get a grip and chill out.  

      “This is a jazz concert!” she noted, with a laugh. “Jazz never starts on time!”

      Finally, right at 8, the doors opened and everyone rushed in to grab seats. I couldn’t follow because people were still arriving in droves. Good thing we were starting late.

      There was another good thing. I had numbered the tickets from 1 to 96, and we had now sold 85 of them. Allegra had hit the break-even point. It seemed like a miracle.

     No, here was the miracle: By the middle of the first act, when Liz insisted on relieving me at the sales table so I could go sit inside, we had sold exactly 96 tickets. 

     I had somehow hit the nail right on the head.



Allegra at Polish National Home.jpg

    The band sounded amazing. Allegra? Also amazing. Everyone seemed enthralled.

    Even Maja, who had stormed past me earlier without saying a word, popped in to listen and seemed entranced.

    When Allegra came out during intermission, I whispered, “You sold out. Every ticket! You’re actually in the black!” Her face lit up brighter than her vivid fuchsia silk jumpsuit.

    OK, so maybe she was in the pink.

    Which was a good thing, because the late dinner that I served to everyone back at home consisted largely of pretty messy pasta. We stayed up partying past 2.

    When I mentioned the bizarre coincidence with the number of tickets, her trumpet player said I should have dared to print even more. Either I was psychic or there was some supernatural force at work. Maybe we would have sold those as well.

    Who knows? Or cares? It was over at last. It had been a success. Although none of her former teachers had shown up, and little more than a handful of my friends, Allegra had even made a small but decent profit.

    So by all accounts, I should have been not just a proud mother, but a very happy one.

     I would like to leave you with that happy ending, but here’s an honest one instead.

     I was so stressed out by the entire ordeal that I’d already lost my sense of equilibrium. Ditto my appetite. I was also so disappointed that I couldn’t seem to summon more than a handful of friends in my own town – albeit on one of the busiest nights of the year – that, despite the positive outcome, I felt a lingering sense of sadness. It was as if I’d discovered that this terrible thing I have always feared is true.

I am not a performer.JPG

     I may not be a jazz singer, or performer of any kind. But life often feels to me like a perilous high-wire act. I'm the Mom on the Flying Trapeze. And I now know that I may be performing without a safety net.

The Mom on the Flying Trapeze.jpg

     I'm a nice Jewish mom. If my children fall, I’ll always be there to catch them.

     But if I fall – and sometimes I am bound to – I am afraid there will be no one there to catch me.

    Will my husband do it? He probably thinks he would. But he’s always working. Or working out.

    I know this is crazy. No, beyond. Cray-cray. But over the ensuing week, I’ve remained so exhausted that I feel like can barely go on.

    One night, lying on the couch, I stared for over an hour at a cup of tea I’d made. I was desperately thirsty, but too weak to sit up and reach for it. So it just sat there and grew cold. Finally, dizzy and faint, I realized that I had barely eaten in four days. Maybe that’s what was wrong with me. So I Googled hypoglycemia – low blood sugar, that is.

Allegra at her CT CD release show 2.jpg

      Bingo! I had about 10 out of the 12 symptoms, the last two being coma and death.

    It said I needed to drink a small glass of juice right away. So my husband brought me some apple cider. (What a man!) gulped it downed, crawled upstairs, and went straight to bed.

     Since then, I’ve felt a little better every day. And I’ve tried to eat a little more every day.

     I’m also trying to chill out and get a grip every day. Maybe everything is more or less just jazz. And jazz, as Liz said, never starts on schedule, just as life almost never goes according to plan.

     Beyond that, for the moment, I have no plan. 

     I’m still, I repeat, a very proud mom.

     But maybe I’m not cut out to be a mom-ager.

8:09 pm 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

A Word From the Weiss


Pattie headshot.jpg

        The morning of the day I was to address the Jewish Book Council, I did not spend even one minute practicing my presentation. I had far more pressing issues on my mind. Mainly, what to wear? I tried to get my daughter, who had put me up for the night, to help me choose between the four or five possible outfits I had crammed into my suitcase. These ranged from a crisp, white-and-black gingham shirt and crinkly white linen skirt (too funky?) to a tailored black pant suit (too funereal?).

       Late for work herself, Allegra had no time to watch me put on a fashion show at 9 a.m. "Just wear what you feel most empowered in," she advised.

Allegra is 27.JPG

       Empowered? Was she serious? My daughter is 27. I am decidedly not. The world is no longer my oyster (pardon the reference to trayf). The best I could do, given the circumstances and that feminist guideline, was choose the outfit in which I felt the least fat.

       And even then, any semblance of looking svelte would require poor eyesight on the part of the beholder, and the aid of control-top pantyhose on the part of the wearer.


       So far, this foray into NYC had not gone well. Given my indecision in the wardrobe department, I had arrived the night before schlepping multiple suitcases. Reaching down to lift them all as I exited the elevator, I had felt my glasses dislodge from my head and watched in horror as they clattered directly into the elevator shaft, never to be seen again, no doubt. Never mind that they were just inexpensive readers. They were silver with teeny black polka dots. My favorite pair.

       Not exactly an auspicious start to what promised to be a stressful excursion.

My silver polka dot eyeglasses.jpg

       But then, just that morning, shortly after I had poured out my tale of woe to the super in Allegra's building, he had knocked on her door and delivered them back to me, not only intact after falling six stories to the basement, but without even a scratch. A good omen, perhaps?

      Dressed in a compromise solution, a combination of two of my proposed outfits – the black blazer with the white crinkly skirt (funereal, yet funky) -- I felt not empowered exactly, but hopeful. At least now I would be able to see what I was reading. Things were looking up.

The Adulterer's Daughter by Patricia Weiss Levy.jpg

        I had registered for this annual conference, seeing it as a prime opportunity to promote my new memoir, The Adulterer's Daughter, to my prime target audience -- Jews.
       Once a year, the Jewish Book Council invites reps from Jewish community centers, synagogues, and other such groups throughout the USA to come to NYC for three days. Authors are also summoned there to promote their latest books. Books with Jewish content, that is. Each author gets two minutes to speak. And by "two minutes," they really mean two minutes flatThat's it. My two minutes flat of would-be fame were slated for that afternoon.

       I arrived at Hebrew Union College in the West Village to discover that there were around 50 authors pitching that afternoon, one of five such sessions to be held over the three days. I would be competing with 244 other authors in all, some of them fairly famous.

      The odds seemed daunting. No, hopeless. Why had I even bothered to come? 

      I was a little intimidated to have arrived 15 minutes early and be greeted by a fellow author waiting out front. When I asked this attractive young woman if she had ever done this tour of duty before, she sighed, rolled her eyes, and murmured, “Many times!”


      Indeed, her name, Pam Jenoff, sounded awfully familiar. Stepping aside to Google it surreptitiously, I had discovered that had 10 books to that name, including the New York Times bestseller The Kommandant’s Girl.

     Was this the caliber of person I would be competing with for speaking engagements? Why had I bothered to come?

The Kommandant's Girl.jpg

       Once inside, I went to the ladies’ room to freshen up and noticed that I’d already managed to run my pantyhose. Yes, the control-top ones that made me look svelte. Why had I worn a skirt?

       At least everyone there was being extremely friendly. soon discovered that I was far from the only newbie. Almost everyone I met was a Jewish Book Council virgin too. 

      One of my newfound friends, an author there to promote both a children’s book and an adult novel, assured me that you couldn’t see the run in my stockings.


      Was she just being polite? I raced across the street to a nearby Duane Reade to buy another pair. How empowered would I possibly feel wondering if everyone was staring at my legs?

     I got back just in time for orientation, during which three very encouraging members of the JBC staff divulged the details of the proceedings. “Make sure that microphone is right in front of your mouth,” counseled a woman named Joyce, the same enthusiastic woman who had called weeks earlier to coach me in preparing my pitch. We would each be given a chance to go up and practice speaking on the podium – bimah, actually, since the event was held in a sanctuary at the college. That sanctuary was enormous and would soon be packed to the gills. We had to make sure we were heard, Joyce asserted.


      As for that two-minute limit, as she had adamantly admonished me, that was truly no joke. Each of us would have no more than 120 seconds to speak. To keep everyone within those bounds, another woman named Andrea would be seated in the front row and hold up signs. The first of these was a small placard that said “One minute left.” Followed by “30 seconds left.”

      Then “10 seconds left, pls wrap up!”

      And finally, “TIME’S UP!"

      The “TIME’S UP!” sign was in Day-Glo lime green. You really couldn’t miss that one.

Andrea with 10 seconds sign.JPG

       “We know it is wholly unfair of us to make you take this book you may have worked on for years and sum it up in just two minutes," Andrea said, "but that’s the best way we’ve found to do this." They had learned this lesson through trial and error. The error had consisted of handing hundreds of Jewish authors a microphone and letting them speak for as long as they wished.

        “Suddenly, it was 3:00 in the morning,” Andrea said with a sigh.

Pattie at Jewish Book Council.JPG

      I wasn’t worried. I had spent weeks whittling down my spiel. Yes, I would need to spit it out at the speed of sound. But I’d practiced until I could do that. In two minutes flat.

       When we were given our time to practice speaking into the mic, I prevailed upon an affable author named Lois to take a photo of me on the bimah. Then I gladly returned the favor 

     After that, we were given a quick break to freshen up again and have a last sip of water. My husband had convinced me to take a bottle along, but no food or drink was allowed inside the sanctuary. So I gulped down a plastic cupful, then surveyed the long line of representatives waiting to get in to hear us pitch. There were hundreds of them.

The reps lined up.jpg


      Andrea had mentioned that a special guest was among them. Before we authors began our talks, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin was there to also speak for a couple of minutes.

      Rabbi Telushkin is not only a famous rabbi, but a popular lecturer and the author of more than 15 books, including the 2014 New York Times bestseller Rebbe. I wondered whether by “a couple of minutes," Andrea actually meant only two minutes. Would he be cut off after 120 seconds, just like the rest of us schlubsWould he suffer the indignity of the “ten seconds left” sign, or G-d forbid, “TIME’S UP!”?

     “It’s never comfortable to give Rabbi Telushkin the one-minute card,” she confessed. “But he asked me to!”

Rabbi Telushkin.JPG

      In fact, the remarks he delivered were short and sweet, yet took nearly four minutes (although who, other than Andrea perhaps, was counting?).

      “At first, I thought it was unfair to ask authors to summarize their books in only two minutes,” he began. “Then I thought back to that famous story in the Bible, the one in which Rabbi Hillel is asked to summarize all of Judaism while standing on one foot. And I thought, ‘Maybe two minutes is more than enough!’ ” 

      Hmmm. Maybe he was right.       

     As the long parade of speakers began, I quickly concluded that he actually was. You could easily tell within a minute or two what each book was about, whether you might want to read it, and whether you would want to listen to its author lecture about it at much greater length.

The Orphan's Tale.jpg

     Although we were seated in alphabetical order, Ms. Jenoff, the famed author I had initially encountered, needed to get home to a sick child. So she led off with an account of her latest historical novel, The Orphan’s Tale, a powerful story of friendship set in a traveling circus during World War II. Destined to be another Times bestseller, no doubt.

      She was soon succeeded by a man who had been inspired by the smash Broadway musical Hamilton to write a book he described as “the tragedy of Moses in verse.”

      Then there was the Reform rabbi whose spiel started off sounding like a musical itself. “Don’t worry, be happy!” he began crooning the second that he reached the bima. “That doesn’t sound like a very Jewish song, does it?”

      “Judaism focuses more on ‘oy’ than joy,” he continued. “Our theme song is more likely to be reminiscent of that old Jewish joke about the telegram." He proceeded to sing its contents to the exact same tune. "Start worrying! Details to follow!’ ”

Lois Barth at Jewish Book Council.JPG

     My new comrade in pitching and photo companion turned out to be a motivational speaker named Lois Barth who had written a book called Courage to Sparkle. This was a commodity she clearly possessed in spades, given her sequined violet jacket and her equally vibrant speaking style. Her book, subtitled “The Audacious Girls’ Guide to Creating a Life That Lights You Up,” was an upbeat self-help manual filled with what she had dubbed “LOIS-isms,” an acronym that stood for "Lessons, Opportunities, Insights and Solutions."

     “My version of tikkun olam [the Jewish mission to repair the world] leaves the world with a whole lot more sparkle,” she exclaimed, before concluding, “Courage to Sparkle. It’s a book. It’s a movement!

The reps filled the sanctuary.JPG

      By the time my turn finally approached, at long last, I could have used a movement myself. Make that a chance to get up and run. Listening to so many spiels was daunting. And demoralizing. Why would anyone want to listen to me prattle on for two minutes, let alone hire me to speak?

      Although, with luck, I had been seated among the L’s (for Levy), rather than the W’s (for Weiss), it seemed like an eternity had passed since I had gotten to wet my whistle. My mouth was bone dry. Was it fear of public speaking? Or just fear that I would totally bomb? 

      We would find out soon enough. Andrea announced my name.

      As I noted, I had practiced relentlessly spewing my spiel rapid-fire so that it took under 120 seconds, rather than risk being cut off. But now my mouth just wouldn't cooperate. The words I had pared down so painstakingly came out in a halting, tremulous voice.

       Have you ever dreamed that you’re trying to run away from something, but your legs just won’t move? That’exactly what it felt like. Except that the things that wouldn’t seem to move were my lips.

Pattie at Jewish Book Council.JPG

       Here was the other issue: I had practiced my speech in my living room, my dog Latke my only audience. My focus had been exclusively on getting the words out fast enoughBut I had never given much thought to what those words actually meant.

      Considering that my book is about how my father kept a mistress for 15 years while he was still married to my mother, those words were far from dryly informative, like a grocery list. Much of what I had chosen to say sounded more like an intimate, heartfelt confession. Still, I hadn't expected to get emotional about itThose words were not news to me.

     But now, reading them before a roomful of strangers, my eyes welled up with tears.

     Having those tears hardly helped. Glasses or not, I could barely see. When I looked up as I concluded the last sentence, I saw Andrea flashing me that pesky “TIME’S UP” sign. Yikes! How far overtime had I gone?

Time's Up sign.jpg

     Mortified, I slunk back to my seat and barely heard what the next few authors said. Or perhaps sang. 

     A few minutes later, Andrea announced that we were taking a short break – the book council's equivalent of the seventh-inning stretch. At thisthe author seated in front of me, a professor of Middle Eastern History at Berklee College of Music, spun around.

Author seated in front of me.jpg

     "I think for your book, people were absolutely silent because they were riveted," she told me“Of all the books here, yours was the most compelling!"

      Huh? Was she kidding? I couldn't resist reaching out to hug her. So I hadn't totally bombed?

      Maybe not.

      At the reception afterwards, I was inundated with reps from around the country.

     "You're on my short list!" exclaimed a lively woman from a temple in New Jersey. "Are you available to come speak to our sisterhood?"

      Another woman, from Austin, Texas, asked if I was free for her group's book festival in November.

      A publicist slipped me his card. The "joy versus oy" rabbi said he couldn't wait to read my book.

      Then there was the writer from San Francisco who planned to recommend my memoir to his wife's book group. I was happy to hear that its members were in their 50s.

      "There's too much sex in it for a much older crowd," I warned him.

      "Now I'm intrigued and REALLY going to recommend it!" he replied.

      It remains to be seen how many, if any, of them will actually book me to speak. But now, at least, I know why I went.

      I went because you can’t succeed if you don’t try.

      OK, here, in case you're curious, is my two-minute pitch. See if you can read it in two minutes flat.

                             Book pitch for The Adulterer’s Daughter


My father circa 1995.jpg

       My father always said that women should be “slender and laughing.” My mother, with all her advanced degrees, was neither of those things. She was zaftig. And brilliant! So he preferred his mistress – “Elaine” – who looked like a Jewish Sophia Loren (yeah, she wished!).

My father preferred his mistress, Elaine.jpg

      The situation was horrific. But having to keep it hidden? That was The Worst.  

       The thing was, he didn’t leave my mother for his mistress. He kept them both. Girlfriend in the city. Nice Jewish family in the suburbs. He moved in and out of our house relentlessly.

My mother was zafitg and brilliant.jpg

       When he was home, he was abusive to my mother – and I don't just mean verbally. But I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone. My mother was convinced it was too shameful.

      So I kept my Jewish family’s dirty little secret for decades. I grew up to be a successful journalist, writing for newspapers like The New York Times. Covering murders and other scandals, I was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize. But still I kept my own story to myself.

      Until one day, I just couldn’t keep it any longer.

Pattie at 27.JPG

     This book is not about my father’s affair, but how it affected me, and MY quest to meet the nice Jewish boy of my dreams. Eventually, I did fall madly in love. With a married man! But after all I’d endured, there was no way I could do that.

     So (spoiler alert!) I had the good sense to simply walk away.

     Years later, as my father lay dying, I consulted my rabbi about the need I felt to forgive him. "Has he ASKED for forgiveness?" he asked. Good question. He hadn't. "Have you told him you love him?" That, I had. "Good enough!" he said.

My father and me in 1978.jpg

     Because in order to have parents and other people in our lives, however flawed they may be, that is often all we can do.

     Never fear, I also found plenty of humor in the situation. That's what we Jews do.

Selfie  at Jewish Book Council.JPG        I didn’t write this memoir to get even with my father. I’m just ready to be done with the shame. We ALL have things in our lives we’re embarrassed about. They may not be murder, or infidelity. But every family, even nice Jewish ones like mine, has SOMETHING. And when we talk about those things, it helps people know they are not alone.

       Writing this book made me feel better. Reading it may help others too.


12:56 pm 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

 Word From The Weiss


Mother's Day have a super Nice Jewish one.jpg

      Nearly a week afterwards, Mother’s Day seems almost like ancient history already. But no mother-oriented blog – nice, Jewish, or otherwise – would be complete without at least some accounting of how that famous Jewish holiday was spent. (I mean, seriously, isn’t almost everything related to motherhood fundamentally Jewish in some way?) So let’s make a pact. If you tell me about yours, I’ll gladly show and tell you all about mine.

      Facebook friend who lost her own mom last year posted on FB about how painful she was finding it to face the occasion, no longer having a mother to fête. “The world barrages you with “Send flowers! Give gifts!” and you’re crumpled inside, she wrote.

Mother's Day

      Despite fears of sounding callous, I felt compelled to respond.  “My mother has been gone for some 8 years now,” I wrote, “and I still miss her every day. But the first Mother’s Day that I spent without her, despite the onslaught of media messages, I must confess that, amid the pain, I also managed to find a bright side. For the first time in my life, I got to be the one in the family being celebrated. I got to be The Mom!” Thank g-d for her beautiful daughters, I added. You (and they) have much to celebrate this Sunday. You are The Mom now too!”

      What I did not tell her (which truly would have risked sounding callous) was how stressful I had always found Mother’s Day, up until the year that my mother died. I invariably bent myself into a pretzel during the weeks before, trying to make plans that would please my mother,and to select suitable gifts. This customarily involved spending hours at the mall, making brunch reservations, and buying tickets to a Broadway matinee, then driving hours to pick my mother up in Westchester en route to NYC, making sure that everyone in the younger generation showed up on time to see Grandma Bunnie.

Grandma Bunnie.jpg

     And even though Grandma Bunnie seemed to appreciate my efforts, some facet of the plans was all but guaranteed to go awry. Mother’s Day traffic was bound to be brutal in both directions. My mother was almost guaranteed to later return all the gifts I had so carefully chosen for her. So by the time I got home from the festivities, I would be ready to collapse – never mind that I was the only one in the family still actively engaged in daily mothering, the one who had really needed a little appreciation, and maybe even a break.

     So despite all the trouble I’d gone to, I would end up feeling inadequate and inept.

     But old habits die hard, as they say, and even though I lost my mother some eight years ago, I have continued to go to exhaustive lengths each year to make all of the plans for my family’s  Mother’s Day. Never mind that I am now, yes, The Mom.

      But this year turned out to be different.


      Oh, I tried to make the plans, as usual. I was fully prepared to make them all. But somehow, for the first time ever, all of the plans tried to make managed to get pre-empted.

      Would the day still turn out all right – which is to say, as good as it ever does, considering that by the end I always tend to feel like I’ve turned myself into a pretzel?

     That remained to be seen.

     Continuing our long-standing tradition of taking in a matinee performance in NYC, I first set out to select a show that everyone in the family might enjoy.

Zosha Mamet in The Whirligig.jpg

     My first choice was a play being staged by a theater company to which I belong, The New Group. This play, called The Whirligig, was still in previews, but sounded awfully appealling. After all, its cast included Zosia Mamet and Norbert Leo Butz.

      Zosia had portrayed what was arguably my favorite character in the recently wrapped-up Lena Dunham series on HBO, Girls, on which she played the hyper, fast-talkingand unmistakably Jewish member of the quartet of friends, Shoshanna Shapiro.

     And Norbert Leo Butz is, well, excellent in everything he doesNo ifs, ands, or buts.

Norbert Leo Butz.jpg

     But there was a but in this case. An inconvenient one. There were six members of our family, including my husband, our two children, and each of their significant others. And there weren’t six tickets left to The Whirligigs Sunday matinee.

   So I decided to book two seats for the night before instead, just for my hubby and me. Then I set out to get tickets for the entire group for A Doll’s House Part 2 instead. 

     A Doll’s House Part 2 had garnered great reviews and was being touted as the most nominated play of the year, having received eight Tonys nominations, including best play, best actress, best actor, best director, and two best actresses in featured roles.

A Doll's House Part 2.jpg

     “So endlessly stimulating that it could give audiences fodder for heated conversation until the fall season is in full swing,” raved Charles Isherwood in Broadway News.  

     What could be bad?

     How about this? For one thing, the young reporter whreviews plays for the Connecticut newspaper at which my husband works had given it a rather tepid rating. For another, my husband argued that he had never seen A Doll’s House, the original classic play by Henrik Ibsen, to which this one was meant to serve as a sort of sequel. How could he possibly enjoy A Doll’s House Part 2 until he took in A Doll’s House 1?

      I was just about ready to throw in the towel when he proposed an alternative. A revival of a 1932 drawing room comedy, The Roundabouthad just opened at 59E59, a theater company to which my husband belongs, and it was getting raves as well.

     A sparkling, impeccably staged play,” The New York Times declared, going on to call it “catnip to Downton Abbey devotees!”

     I was an unquestionable, dyed-in-the-good-British-wool, Downton Abbey devotee. What could possibly be better than that?

     I will tell you what could be betterThe fact that my husband was volunteering to buy the tickets himself, at a member discount, no less.

     I only hesitated for a moment when I learned that our son would be unable to join us. Aidan, who is getting his Ph.D. at Columbia, needed to study that afternoon because part one of his all-important oral exams began the very next day. (For those of you who may be unfamiliar with oral exams, these evidently have two parts, just like Ibsen’s play. And part one of “the orals” was actually a written exam held over two days. Who knew?)

Aidan had his orals.jpg

     But Aidan assured me that he didn’t mind our going without him, and his wife Kaitlin said she would be happy to join us to give him time alone in their apartment to study.

     Plus, at the very least, Aidan said he would definitely be able to join us for brunch.

     Assuming that he needed all the time he could get to study, I offered to find a restaurant in their neighborhood on the Upper West Side. That was fine, Aidan said. With one proviso: They wanted to find the place and make reservations themselves.

     I had always made the brunch reservations, never mind that it was Mother’s Day. OK, maybe I’m a control freak. The last time I suspected my husband was throwing me a surprise party, for my 40th birthday a couple of decades or so ago, I not only chose the caterer, but also made the guest list myself. Wait. Am I a bit of a control freak?

      No, no, that’s not me. I don’t think  it’s me. I don’t think I even like to be in control. It’s just that I don’t like chaos. I like things to go smoothly, without a hitch, if possible. And the best way to make sure that things go without a hitch, I have learned, is to make all the plans myself. Though, yes, maybe that does mean I’m a bit of a control freak.

Aidan and Kaitlin engagement photo.jpg

      So I have a little confession to make: did continue to look at eateries in their neighborhood, noting that, as the day approached, all of them were filling up for brunch. But I appreciated my son and daughter-in-law offering to take control of the day instead. So I bit my tongue and kept quiet, knowing that they were moving into a new apartment that week, and that Mother’s Day brunch might be about the last thing on their minds.

      And when they emailed me late that week to say that everywhere seemed to be filled up for Mother’s Day, I shrugged and just took it in stride, control freak though I may be. And soon enough they managed to book a place at which we’d eaten once before. It was nearby and perfectly fine. Besides, where we went didn’t matter. It was all about who I would be with – my kids.

      So the only things I got to make reservations for myself were dinner on Saturday, followed by the play with Zosia Mamet and Norbert Leo Butz. Neither of which went as planned.

Aidan's bar mitzvah sign.jpg

     Late that afternoon, I received a message from the restaurant, an Israeli eatery called The Green Fig I had booked online, saying there had been a terrible mistake. They had a private event that night and were unable to honor my reservation. However, if we were willing to sit in their lounge instead of the dining room, they would give us a free bottle of wine.

     The private event turned out to be Aidan’s Bar Mitzvah, according to a sign in the lobby. LOL! We had attended our own son Aidan’s bar mitzvah some 18 years ago, followed by his wedding last summer. No matter. The lounge area was fine, the Israeli food and the service were more than fine, and the wine was not just fine, but free!

The Green Fig food.jpg

      The play, however, was something else. Zosia Mamet was more than fine. So was Norbert Leo Butz, no ifs, ands, or buts. The acting, in fact, was almost uniformly superb. The problem was the subject matter.

      The Whirligig started off with two distraught parents sitting beside their grown daughter’s bed in a hospital and being told by the doctor to take their 20-something child home. There was nothing more that could be done for her. She was going to die.

The Whirligig at The New Group.jpg

      Having spent the entirety of this past fall sitting beside my own bed-ridden 20-something daughter, fearing that she might never recover from the terrible concussion she had sustained, I found the entire production difficult to sit through. Never mind the frequent moments of insight and laugh-out-loud humor. Mother’s Day entertainment it was not.

     Thank G-d we had been unable to get in the next day.

Mother's Day brunch 2017.JPG

     Brunch the next day, on the contrary, was perfect, though. Beyond perfect because everyone was there. On time, no less. The food was fabulous, the company even better.

     My only reservation had nothing to do with my not getting to make the reservations. It was just that my son was visibly edgy in anticipation of his exam. And my daughter was also edgy because she works at a school and was facing a very busy few weeks of year-end activities.

     Who came up with the idea of holding Mother’s Day in the middle of May? How can any mother relax when her children are feeling anxious? I become instantly anxious by association. Doesn’t every mother – nice, Jewish, and otherwise – when her kids are in distress?

      But counteracting any sense of malaise was the bounty of lovely gifts and cards.

All I wanted for Mother's Day.jpg

    I had told my kids there was no need to buy me any gifts, that a nice card would do. In fact, if they didn’t have time to buy a nice card, just a nice note scrawled on a napkin would do.

    OK, in the interests of full disclosure, I wanted a card, or just a note scrawled on a napkin, and one other little thing that related to the tenure of the current presidential administration, if possible.

Mother's Day gifts from Aidan and Kaitlin.jpg

    But no.

    Aidan and Kaitlin gave me a gorgeous bag full of goodies, including a Starbucks to-go cup in my favorite color, aquamarine, along with an assortment of iced teas and delectable-looking goodies. But even better were the sentiments on the exquisite card.

     “Thanks for always being there for me, when I’m up  and when I’m down,” Aidan wrote. “And for planning one heck of a wedding. Happy Mother’s Day!

     Kaitlin, meanwhile, made me feel like I must be doing something right, control freak though I may be.

Mother's Day card from Aidan and Kaitlin.jpg

      “I’m so grateful to have you as my mother-in-law!” she had inscribed. “You are such a wonderful mom, writer, wife, friend and person. Thank you for making me feel so welcome as part of your family!”

    Boy! I would have settled for any one of the above attributes… just scribbled on a napkin.

    Allegra and her boyfriend JP, meanwhile, presented me with a true novelty, an adorable umbrella shaped like my favorite thing in the world, a flamingo, along with a little box of Mother’s Day chocolates that were far too beautiful to possibly eat.

Flamingo umbrella from Allegra.JPG

      “OK. So maybe I call a little too much,” Allegra acknowledged on their card. “But that is just a testament to how much I love you. Not everyone can say their mom is their best friend, and manager, and editor, and stylist, and… I could go on forever. But I can’t ever begin to thank you enough.

Mother's Day card and chocolates from Allegra.JPG

      Wow! I mean, really. She had me at “maybe I call a little too much,” although if you ask me, when it comes to calling your mother, too much is never enough.

      What was more than enough was that delightful play we saw afterwards. The Downton Abbey-style one, written by J.B. Priestley. Go see it, if you possibly can. It’s playing for a few more weeks.

      My only real reservation about the day occurred when we were saying goodbye. Allegra seemed so edgy that I couldn’t help asking if she was OK. Even if she faced end-of-the-year pressures at school, wouldn’t they be over soon?

      It wasn’t just that, she hastened to explain. It was the enormous pressure she felt. Pressure about Mother’s Day.

      “How can you ever do enough for the person you will never be able to thank enough?” she asked, sounding genuinely distraught.

     Oh. My. G-d.

The Levys on Mother's Day 2017.JPG

     So I told her about how I had always felt about my own mother and Mother’s Day. Was it a universal dilemma? Would this insane form of performance anxiety never, ever end?

    “Please don’t say that!” I begged her. “Everything you do is good enough for me!” The truth was that I didn’t need presents, or a nice card. Not even a note on a napkin.

     The only thing that was important to me was that we all got to be together.

     One week later, I’m happy to report that Aidan did fine on the written part of his “orals.” And Allegra is now one week closer to being in the final stretch of school.

     So my nerves have settled down, too. But maybe I should go back to making all the Mother’s Day plans. Then everyone else can relax, and this holiday – as Jewish as it may be – can be celebrated guilt-free. Mother's Day, after all, is for mothers. And hey -- nice, Jewish, or otherwise -- I'm The Mom. 

4:52 pm 

Saturday, May 13, 2017


A Word From The Weiss


Happy Mother's Day.jpg

      Happy Mother's Day to all of you mothers -- nice, Jewish, and all the others. I am looking forward to spending a wet yet wonderful weekend in NYC visiting my children and their so-called significant others. Hope you have someone to spend it with too.


     If you see something, say something. Or so they say these days. Well, yesterday I saw something. Not a potential sign of terrorism or crime, but something very disturbing. The question was, should I dare to say something? And if so, then what should I say?

       This was not, I repeat, related to terrorism or national security in any wayYet as we are beginning to learn, suspicious or unsavory things can crop up almost anywhere. In this case, it was the most unthreatening of settings. A flea market in Massachusetts.

Brimfield tchotchkes.JPG

       Well, not just any flea market. I am talking about Brimfield, the largest and easily best-known outdoor antiques and collectibles show in the entire country. Maybe world.

       This annual event, which happens three times a year – for six days straight in mid-May, July, and early September – began in the 1950s and now attracts over 5,000 dealers and tens of thousands of visitors from all over the country and planet.

       Between the crowds, the crazy and often vibrantly colorful hodgepodge of stuff being sold, the rows of white tents, and the lively food court, this event takes on a kooky, carnival atmosphere. This place is not just a three-ring circus. It’s more like 3,000 rings.

      I first discovered it through my cousin Susan, arguably its most devoted devotee. We have made an annual excursion there since ever I can remember, sometimes two or even three times a year. My house overflows with the tchotchkes I’ve brought back, treasures I know that I didn’t need, but couldn’t live without as soon as I had spied them. Some are so quirky that they give my house something of a carnival atmosphere, too.

Susan and me at Brimfield May 2016.jpg

      My cousin and I always looked forward to going there and would count down the days until we could each spring, the way non-Jews tabulate the days until ChristmasWhen Susan chose to move from my town in Connecticut down to Florida last summer, I assumed that our Brimfield days were finally over. Last May, I had to fight back tears as we put our heads together there and snapped a selfie. I figured it would be our last.

      But then, to my surprise and infinite delight, she flew up last week for a visit. She came up mostly to celebrate the 90th birthday of her mom, my ever-youthful Aunt Kay. But as luck would have it, this just happened to coincide with the opening of Brimfield.

Susan and Aunt Kay.jpg

      I picked her up on Wednesday morning, and before noon we were parked in a makeshift lot on the grounds of a farm (albeit nearly a mile away from the action) and already on the prowl. Susan, who is the virtual queen of Brimfield, led me to a section of the market called Hertan’s, where a tent filled with used clothing had just opened up. Eager buyers were being issued free lemon-yellow tote bags at the tent’s entrance. A hand-lettered sign stated that as much as you could stuff into each bag would cost $20.

       The last thing I needed was more clothing, let alone other people’s cast-off items that I would have no opportunity to try on. But everyone began frantically sifting through boxes and racks of garments, and caught up in the frenzy, I soon followed suit. Susan handed me a pair of wide-legged knit pants with diamond-shaped designs at the hem.

     Whatever. Why not?

Brimfield pants and scarves I bought.JPG

     To these, I added two black-and-white silky scarves (one polka dot, one striped), an iridescent mauve dress my daughter might like, a pale pink tennis hat embroidered with a “P” (not for Pattie, but evidently the Portsmouth Regional Hospital) and an Italian black blazer with a single big white button at the belly. Never mind that it smelled a bit musty.

     When all of this failed to fill my bag even halfway, I threw in a large white tablecloth heavily embroidered with lace. Never mind that it might have a few faint yellow stains. During a single Passover seder, it might sustain so many battle scars from beet-red horseradish drippings and Manischewitz that I might need to throw it out, anyway.

      At an adjoining tent, I assembled a small collection of old earrings and bracelets. “How much?” I asked the man stationed at the entrance.

      He surveyed my bits of unburied treasure and shrugged. “Five bucks for the lot.”

      We had been there for 20 minutes and I was already lugging around a heavy load. The walk back to the car would be endless, and we still had many hours left to shop. Savvier patrons had arrived equipped with folding carts in which to transport their finds. I would have to be more selective.

Flower frogs from Brimfield.JPG

      As I acknowledged earlier, I didn’t  truly need anything. But “need” is a subjective term. Once, I shelled out 60 bucks for an Art Nouveau flower frog in the shape of a nude posed gracefully on a crescent moon. Never mind that until that moment I hadn’t known what a flower frog was. It was exquisite, and it had been marked $125. What a bargain!

     The following year, I had bought a companion flower frog featuring a similar nude. Never mind that it set me back another 40 bucks (down from 45). Now I was a collector!

     To ward off other such impulse buys, I had found that it helped to arrive at Brimfield with some sort of mission in mind. That meant thinking of something funky I could use. Not something I needed, necessarily (see paragraph above), but that might serve some purpose.

    Or, better yet, something that one of my children could use. Over the years, I had bought them each a vintage coat rack or two. Neither child felt they needed a coatrack. But the racks remain in their apartments, so covered with coats that they can't be seen. People keep telling me that young people today don’t want a bunch of old stuff. Mine may not want it, but I say they need it, because my gifts are being put to good use.

       My son and daughter-in-law, meanwhile, had just moved into a brand new apartment last week. Their new apartment was much larger than their old apartment. (That’s the main reason they moved there.) But I didn’t dare ask them if they needed anything from Brimfield. They were having enough trouble transporting all of their own old stuff to their new place. They didn’t need to deal with anyone else’s old stuff now.

Pattie at Brimfield May 2017.jpg

      My daughter also moved into a new apartment this winter. Knowing that I was going to Brimfield, and being too busy to join me, she had told me she did need something. The kitchen in her New York City apartment is merely an alcove with a stove and sink – so small that it doesn’t have a single drawer in which to store flatware or plastic wrap. She wanted a piece of furniture to station outside this nook, one with plenty of drawers.

      I promised to be on the lookout, although I doubted I could fit any furniture in my car. This would give some purpose to my travels. But I also had an agenda of my own.

      Years ago, I’d bought a beautiful vintage hatpin at the Brimfield market. Hatpins may be a thing of the past, but they represent an ever-present need to me. As a fair-skinned person who shuns the sun, I wear broad-brimmed hats throughout the summer. Each of these is embellished with a hatpin.


Hatpin in my hat.jpg

   It isn’t just a matter of adding decoration, although there’s nothing wrong with that. These stick pins actually serve a purpose. They prevent my hats from blowing away on the beach or being wafted off by sudden breeze. I imagine that in Victorian times, women plunged these hatpins through the massive buns or twisted braids on their heads. In medieval Europe, they were also employed to hold wimples on women’s heads.

     What, you may wonder, is a wimple? It’s a large piece of cloth that covers the head, neck, and chin. In medieval times, it was improper for married women to show their hair in public, just as many Orthodox Jewish wives choose to keep their hair covered now. These days, wimples are worn only by nuns.

hatpin in wimple.jpg

    I don’t go in much for Victorian hairstyles. And I’m a nice Jewish mom, not a nun. But I have enough hair to plunge a hatpin through and don’t want my hats to blow away. 

     As I recounted in this space last summer, I made a terrible mistake with my favorite hatpin. I was about to fly back from Paris when it caught the attention of a security guard at the airport. This fellow summoned a small army of reinforcements, including the security manager. She removed my hatpin from my hat, touched the sharp tip, and shook her head in palpable disapproval, a level of disdain that was decidedly French.

     C’est un antique!” I pleaded plaintively, using my best rusty high school French. C’est un bijou!” (“It’s an antique! It’s a jewel!”)

      At this, the stern, uniformed woman shook her head and replied in her best English. “Madame, eez forbidden!” Then she coldly tossed my precious hatpin into the trash.

      Ever since, I had been counting the days until I could return to Brimfield for another. Now, at last, was my chance.

Brimfield poodle pin and hatpin.jpg

      I spent a long time at one booth foraging in boxes of old jewelry, then deliberating over whether to purchase a poodle brooch encrusted in rhinestones or a tarnished stick pin with a purple jewel that was probably no amethyst. Then, suddenly, my cousin waved me over. In a neighboring booth, she had stumbled upon a mother lode of much nicer options.

     Indeed, after paying $5 for each of the aforementioned items, I hurried over to see that she was right. Perched atop a glass jewelry cabinet were two small vases (or possibly salt shakers, given the pattern of tiny holes pierced in their tops). Both held a bouquet of a dozen or so hatpins, each one more beautiful than the last.

Brimfield hatpins.JPG

     I began to pore over this collection, trying to decide which of the pins I liked best. One featured an ivory-colored cameo. Another had glittery black caviar beads wound around the tip like a turban. Then I noticed two others and stepped back, recoiling in horror.

     The heads of these two bronze-toned hatpins were shaped exactly like swastikas.

     Oh. My. G-d.

     Almost sick to my stomach, I backed out of the tent. Then I thought better of it and motioned to my cousin to come at once. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming. That’s how hard I found this to believe.

     In truth, this was hardly the first time I had encountered one of these Nazi symbols. It wasn’t even the first time I had encountered one at Brimfield.

     Some people collect strange things, and some collectors tend to be strange people. There is no accounting for what many individuals consider to be fit to collect. There are people who collect airline barf bags, toenail clippings, and belly button fluff. There are those who collect empty Coke cans, umbrella sleeves, or talking clocks.

     And whatever it is that people collect, vendors are happy sell it to them at Brimfield.

    Well, maybe not toenail clippings or belly button fluff. But just about everything else.

    The first time I’d spied some Nazi memorabilia there nestled amid relics of WWII, I hadn’t hesitated to express my disgust to the merchant selling it. He had reacted defensively, saying that there was a market for these items, so he didn’t see why he shouldn’t stock them. I had argued that this hardly an excuse. There is a market for heroin. Does that make it OK to sell it? It was sickening to capitalize on genocide, in this case the savagely planned and executed extermination of millions of Jews and many others.

     I was Jewish myself, I’d added, and although I’d seen something among his wares that I likedI wouldn’t consider patronizing his booth because of his deplorable choice.

     At this, he had simply shrugged. He simply didn’t care. The encounter had upset me so much that I’d opted ever since to just give purveyors of such evil items the evil eye, then stalk out.

     It was one thing to see Nazi insignias hidden amid guns and other war memorabilia, though, and quite another to view it displayed daintily alongside women’s jewelry.


Brimfield swastika hatpins closeup.JPG

     I had journeyed there to have a nice day with my cousin and pick up a few antiques, however. I was not there to pick arguments or stand up for my beliefs.

     But I am a nice Jewish mom, emphasis on “Jew” in this case. I couldn’t just walk away.

     So I went to find the merchant overseeing this tent, in order to voice my distress.

     I was a little startled to discover that she was a small, attractively dressed woman of about my age. Not to cast any aspersions, but to the best of my recollection the fellow I had reprimanded for selling the Nazi souvenirs had been an old, Southern-sounding codger with a long, straggly beard that looked like it might house several small critters.

      Now, when I motioned toward the woman, she approached me with a warm smile.

     “I came in looking for a hatpin and was very interested in buying one of yours,” I began, “until I noticed that you have a couple here shaped like swastikas.”

     Her smile didn’t fade one iota as she looked at me cheerily and calmly replied, “Those aren’t swastikas. They’re peace symbols.”

     Say, what?

     “Peace symbols?” I repeated in disbelief. “Well, they sure look like swastikas to me. Anmust tell you that I find that very offensive.”

      She shook her head, not budging an inch. “They make look like swastikas,” she allowed, “but that’s not what they are. They’re Native American peace symbols.”

     “Native American peace symbols,” I echoed. “Hmmm. Really. Are you sure?”

     Looking a little more closely, I detected that the larger of the two swastikas – or should I say peace symbols –was engraved with what appeared to be feathers. And feathers, as far as I knew, had never been commonly associated with the Nazi party.

     They were more likely to be associated with Native Americans.

     But still.

     At that moment, I remembered an incident my daughter had told me about a few months earlier. A student at the school at which she works had drawn a swastika on a desk. Nobody knew who had done it, but the faculty was up in arms – all except for one teacher, who had argued that this graffiti might just be a Latvian peace symbol.

       Yeah, right.

       My daughter hadn’t made much headway arguing with that knucklehead, and I realized that I probably wasn’t going to get very far with this one, either. The best I could do was to walk out without making a purchase and hope that this would speak volumes.

       Of course, customers constantly walk out of tents at Brimfield and stores everywhere without buying anything, so she might merely have assumed that I just wasn’t interested in her wares.

       So, as glad as I was to have said something in this case, I continued to wonder for the rest of the day. What could I have said instead? Had I said enough?

        Sure, I might have proceeded to lecture her about the evils and atrocities of the Holocaust. But the hubbub of this bustling flea market had seemed like neither the time nor place.

       I also might have made it clearer that I was leaving only because I couldn’t in good conscience do business with someone so lacking in compassion or common decency. Not to mention integrity. For even if it’s possible that those hatpins were peace symbols -- whether Native American, Latvian, Buddhist, or whatever the heck else – the fact that they were shaped exactly like

Brimfield hatpins I bought instead.jpg

 swastikas should have been enough to dissuade her from displaying them, or presumably buying them from someone else in the first place.

Cousin Susan at Brimfield May 2017.jpg

      Yet I had come there to spend time with my cousinand to enjoy the scene, not to make one. And we still had a whole lot of booths to visit. So we merely exited quietly and walked on, and on, until I finally found a couple of hatpins for sale in another tent. These weren’t nearly as nice as the non-swastika ones being offered by the first lady. 

      But one had some pretty green jewels, and the other was black and sparkly.

      They were nice enough. They would do for now.

      And they were each only 5 bucks.      

12:02 am 

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That's me. The redhead on the right. But that is NOT my baby.

     No, sir, that's not my baby. How could any mother smile beatifically while her own child wailed? Never mind that neither of my offspring ever cried so plaintively, as far as I recall (not while I was there to nurture them through their every perceptible need... although my son still complains that I often dressed him in garish and girlish color schemes, scarring him FOR LIFE).
     Besides, I'm distinctly beyond prime delivery age ("Kitchen's closed!" as my mother might say), and my kids had departed the diaper stage by the dawn of the Clinton Administration. Now in their 20s, both are currently living on their own, in not-too-distant cities, although each manages to phone me daily. In fact, to be exact, several times a day, then sometimes text me, too. (That may sound excessive, and emotionally regressive, but I subscribe to the Jewish mother's creed when it comes to conversing with kinder: Too much is never enough.)
     Two demanding decades spent raising two kids who are kind, highly productive and multi-talented, who generally wear clean underwear (as far as I can tell), and who by all visible signs don't detest me are my main credentials for daring to dole out advice in the motherhood department.
     Presenting myself as an authority on all matters Jewish may be trickier to justify.
     Yes, I was raised Jewish and am biologically an unadulterated, undisputable, purebred Yiddisheh mama. I'm known for making a melt-in-your-mouth brisket, not to mention the world's airiest matzah balls this side of Brooklyn. My longtime avocation is writing lyrics for Purim shpiels based on popular Broadway productions, from "South Pers-cific" to "The Zion Queen." Then again, I'm no rabbi or Talmudic scholar. I can't even sing "Hatikvah" or recite the Birkat Hamazon. Raised resoundingly Reform, I don't keep kosher, can barely curse in Yiddish, and haven't set foot in Israel since I was a zaftig teen.
     Even so, as a longtime writer and ever-active mother, I think I have something to say about being Jewish and a mom in these manic and maternally challenging times. I hope something I say means something to you. Welcome to my nice Jewish world!   
In coming weeks, I will continue posting more personal observations, rants, and even recipes (Jewish and otherwise). So keep reading, come back often, and please tell all of your friends, Facebook buddies, and everyone else you know that NiceJewishMom.com is THE BOMB!
The family that eats together (and maybe even Tweets together): That's my son Aidan, me, my daughter Allegra, and Harlan, my husband for more than 26 years, all out for Sunday brunch on a nice summer weekend in New York.

Comments? Questions? Just want to kvetch? Please go to GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS.