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That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

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Sunday, April 15, 2018

 A Word From the Weiss

 

Note: I wrote this blog the week before Pesach, but for some mysterious reason it didn't post. Until now.

 

      I can't believe we were just in Miami.jpgHappy almost Passover from NiceJewishMom.com!

       It seems almost unimaginable to me now that we took a vacation to Miami Beach and returned a little over three weeks ago. Is that even possible? Seems like a distant memory. Ever since, I have been demoralized and overwhelmed by all sorts of things.

Gefilte fish on plate.JPG

       The New England weather has been horrific, with winter continuing to rear its ugly head. Doesn’t it know that the calendar says it is officially, at long last, spring? 

        I’d felt euphoric when I’d managed to finish the book proposal I had been working on just before we left, cranking out an astonishing 140 pages. But after we returned, my literary agent said that it was twice as long as he could use – that I had bitten off more than any editor can chew, so to speak – so I’ve been going through the agony of trying to cut it in half. 

       Then there was the gross, unimaginable, unbearable thing that finally DID ME IN.

       It all started a few days before we left for Miami, when something awful happened.

        I was taking quick lunch break one afternoon when I felt something hard inside the sandwich I was eating and discovered that one of my teeth had apparently cracked.

       Cracked almost right in half.tooth with silver filling.jpg

       This turned out to be a lower tooth with a large silver filling in it, dating from when I was a child. It had been feeling a little sore for weeks. It probably didn’t help that I often snack on nuts, which are hard but supposedly healthy. Ihad suddenly given out.

       I rushed over to my dentist’s office, where they drilled out the remaining filling, filed down what was left of the tooth, and put in a temporary crown. Then, after we returned from Miami, I had several more painful procedures, all involving more drilling, more filing, and countless shots of Novocain.

       Finally, a permanent crown was put in the Monday before Passover. To make matters worse – much worse  after my husband semi-retired in September, I no longer had dental insurance. He qualifies for Medicare, and I have never required anything beyond twice-yearly cleanings, which presumably would cost me less than shelling out for dental insurance. So I had foolishly decided not to buy any on my own.

        And so that crown had cost me a whopping $1,600.

        Ouch!

       At least I was finally done with the ordeal that Monday afternoon. Or so I thought. Late that night, I was eating some leftovers when once again I felt something hard in my mouth. Then, to my horror, I spit out two more large fragments of broken tooth.

       Had another tooth cracked already? Yikes! Would this cost me another $1,600, and would it require more shots of Novocain and countless more agonizing procedures?

       This led to another thought: Were ALL of my teeth starting to fall out, one by one?

       Followed by an even worse idea: Was I getting THAT OLD?

       I must admit that this got me so upset that I started to cry. It felt like this was the beginning of the end. The end of me, that is. Or at least the end of eating. I was afraid to bite into anything harder than some applesauce and vanilla pudding for dinner the next night.

       I also decided that it was time to break down and actually get some dental insurance.

       A little investigation online yielded the disturbing news that private insurance policies for seniors (i.e. people who are over 55, like me) are pretty pricey. What’s worse – far worse in my case – they often require you to wait 12 months before having almost any major dental procedure, such as getting a crown. (Or perish the thought, root canal.)

       I finally ended up buying something called a dental discount plan instead. It only reduces dental procedure costs a little bit. But it was affordable and better than nothing.

       Meanwhile, I kept peering into the mirror, trying to figure out which tooth in my mouth had cracked now. For the life of me, I couldn't see or feel one that was broken. The first time it had happened, the cracked tooth had been so jagged that I’d had no doubt. This was differentBut I was afraid to simply let it go. I had to go to the dentist.I had to go to a new dentist.jpg

       I actually had to go to a new dentist because my old one did not accept my new dental discount plan. This was just as well. I love my longtime dentist, but he is turning 80 soon and has decided to retire and sell his practice (yet another sign that I am getting old).

       But guess what? My new dentist’s nurse looked in my mouththen the dentist herself looked in my mouth, and finally her hygienist looked in my mouth. And they all came to the same conclusion: There was no broken tooth in my mouth. The tooth that Id spit out apparently wasnt mine!

       Yikes!

       This brought two immediate thoughts to mind.

       No. 1, EEEEEWWWWW! Someone else’s broken tooth had been in my MOUTH!!!

       No. 2if it hadn’t been my tooth, then whose tooth WAS it?

       The food that I had been eating the second time around wasn’t something hard. Nor was it something that I had prepared myself. It was a bit of leftover pasta from my favorite local restaurant. I had gotten a dish to go for my husband, and he hadn't quite finished it. I had found his leftovers in the fridge late Monday night and finished them myself.

        So my best guess was that thosbits of tooth must have been my husband’s.

       The fact was that he planned to go to the dentist himself the next week -- the same new dental office that I was in now, because his own longtime dentist had also just retired. (If Im getting old, then what would you call my husband, who is 10 years older?)

      Yet my new dentist said that if he had indeed a broken tooth, then he needed to be seen right away. Never mind that, though. I needed to know right away if those broken bits of tooth that I’d spit out had been my husband's.

       So I called him, and he came to the dentist's office right away.

       And guess what! She (and her nurse, as well as her hygienist) all said the same thing: That broken tooth that I’d spit out hadn't been his, either!

       That left only one other possibility, it seemed.Pasta from my favorite local restaurant.jpg

       As I said, the food that I had been eating when I’d discovered the broken tooth had come from my favorite restaurant in our town. The broken bits of tooth must have come from the mouth of their chef.

       Eeeeeeeewwwww!

       As horrifying as this was, and as disgusting as it was, I now felt relieved that I did not have a broken tooth myself, after all. I would not need to undergo any more painful procedures. Plus, would not need to pay for any more dental work (other than the unnecessary visit I had just made to this new dentist, which had set me back the reduced rate of $81).

       Still, I felt that I needed to say something about the incident to the restaurant in question, even if it was my favorite place, and was a very reputable restaurant at that.

       I called at once and spoke to an assistant manager. I assured him that I was not just some lunatic. I was a longtime devoted patron, but felt that I needed to say something. He was mortified to hear my saga and said that he would speak to their CEO, or CFO, or whoever was at the top of their food chain, and I would hear back that night.

       I did not hear back that night, though. Which was just as well. Because later that night, while racking my brain for any possible alternative explanation, I suddenly came up with a brand-new theory of how this latest dental nightmare may have come about.

       

       (Warning: Before you read any further, I feel obliged to warn you that things are about to get graphic – as if they aren’t graphic and gross enough already -- the way TV networks often warn you to remove small children from the room during the evening news.)

     

       My husband has long had a habit of reusing items such as aluminum foil, plastic bottles, and plastic zip-lock bags. He can be a bit of a cheapskate, if you ask me -- although if you ask him, hes just being frugal, as well as environmentally correct.

       With this in mind, I asked him where he had gotten the little plastic bag in which he had stored the leftover pasta that Id eaten when I had found the broken bits of tooth. He pointed to a little pile of used plastic bags perched on top of our microwave.

       I recalled that when my original tooth had broken in my mouth, about six weeks earlier, I had put it into a little plastic bag in order to show it to the dentist. Afterwards, I had brought it back home. I don't know where it went after that, but I couldn't find it now.

       My new theory: My husband had put that bag into his pile of used plastic bags, not realizing  that it wasn’t quite empty, and then he had put his leftovers in it on Monday night.

      When I asked my husband if this was possible, he replied that it was ridiculous. He would have noticed that there were bits of broken tooth inside the bag, he said.

       HmmmMaybe so. But isn't my explanation far more plausible than the possibility that the chef at a nice, upscale restaurant had spit half a tooth into my takeout food?Champagne not Manischewitz.jpg

       I didn't know WHAT I was going to say to that CEO or CFO or whoever if and when he called me the next day. But I decided to head the whole thing off at the pass and contact the assistant manager the next day. When I was told that he would not be in for several hours, I left the only message that I could think of. In the inimitable words of Golda Radner as her SNL character Emily Litella, "Never mind!"

       Meanwhile, I kept laughing about the whole ordeal so much that I was no longer what you might legitimately call depressed. Plus, I started eating again, although fewer nuts. (The dentist says that almonds, in particular, can break your teeth. So, I fear, can an eight-day diet consisting primarily of unleavened bread, a.k.a. matzo.)

       I still have to get back to that blasted book proposal now, and try to cut it in half. HALF! I think that I would rather have more Novocain instead, as well as a root canal.

       But I need to finish it in time to start cooking for Passover early this week. And if can, then well be drinking Champagne at our seder this year instead of Manischewitz.

3:37 pm 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Word From the Weiss 

 

       Where have I been? I’ve been away from this space, as you must have noticed. Working on a proposal for a new book, which turned out to be gargantuan effort. “Gargantuan,” in fact, is the word that my literary agent used. He thinks that it’s too long.

Getting away from it all in Miami Beach.JPG

      But I have also been away from home. After a long, long winter, and writing a long, long proposal, I needed change of scene, a dose of sun, and a chance to stay sane.

     So we spent two weeks in Florida, in insanely sunny South Beach.

     Two-plus weeks, to be exact, nearly twice as long as we normally go for. But since my husband semi-retired in September, we had nothing to rush back to – nothing but snow and cold.

Pina coladas by the pool.jpg

     Since we were going away for such a long stretch, though, changes needed to be made. Changes to our usual routine, that is. We were far from the only ones with fun and sun on our minds, so hotels in South Beach were a bit pricey. In the interests of economizing, we chose one that wasn’t too posh.

     We realized that it would also be prohibitively expensive to rent a car for so long. The rental alone would cost upwards of $600 for two weeks. Parking, even at our not-too-posh hotel, would have added another $600 for 15 nights. Besides, our hotel had rooftop pool, and the beach was right across the street. Where would we have to drive to?

      If we needed to travel anywhere beyond walking distance, we would make like our kids do these days. We would call an Uber. You know how to call an Uber, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.

How to call an Uber.jpguber car.jpg

      Just kidding! You download the Uber app on your smart phone and add a credit card or other source of payment. Then anytime you need to go somewhere, you type in your destination, and Uber tells you how much it will cost, how soon a car will pick you up, and the make, model, and license plate number of the car that will come to get you.

      For each trip, in fact, it offers you three different prices – one for a private Uber, called UberX; one for a larger Uber, called Uber XLand a third for their ride share program, called Uber Pool. In the interests of economizing even more, I discovered that opting for the pool usually made sense.

Ride sharing with Uber Pool.jpg

       During the two weeks we were Ubering around Miami Beach, we were never once taken out of our way in order to drop someone else off first. We simply saved a few bucks on every trip. Plus, our fellow passengers often proved to add something positive to our ride. In one case, we had trouble conversing with our driver, who only spokSpanish, which we do not. But our fellow passenger didand she was able to translate.

The Delano Hotel.jpg

       Another time, the other passenger turned out to be the concierge at the Delano Hotel, the poshest place on the beach, and he offered some useful advice. (Our not-so-posh hotel smelled like weed 24/7; I don't think it had a concierge.)

      Then there was the Uber we took from the airport to our hotel. Our driver stopped at a synagogue en route to pick up a young man whod been attending a wedding. He turned out to be the bartender at a hotel near ours and invited us to come over for a free drink.

      There were, however, three places that I needed to go during our trip that were beyond Uber range, so I decided to rent a car for three days, after all.

JP and Allegra in Miami Beach.jpg

       Our daughter Allegra and her fiancé JP were joining us for a long weekend, along with their little dog LunaI wanted to be able to drive them to the airport on the day they left.

       While they were there, I also wanted to take them to the Coconut Grove Arts Festival, about 15 miles south of Miami Beach, which is always festive and fun.

       Plus, I wanted to pay my usual annual visit to my late mother’s best friend Nada, who lives in Boynton Beach.

Nada and me 2018.jpg

      That would leave one day between all of these activities when we would have a car, but no particular agenda.

      I told the kids that I would take them anywhere they wanted to go within reason. Meaning anywhere within 100 miles. It didn’t take them long to come up with a plan.

Luna in Florida.JPG

      They wanted to be able to take Lunatheir Schnoodle (a miniature poodle/schnauzer mix), to the beach. That meant that we needed to drive somewhere, because the beach across the street did not allow dogs. And the closest public beach that did was in Haulover Park, up Collins Avenue, about a half-hour's drive from our hotel.

       And as long as we were going up there, they had another destination in mind.

Allegra and her fiance JP in Miami Beach.JPG

       Earlier this winter, they had seen something on their favorite show on the Food NetworkThe Best Thing I Ever AteThe episode in question had focused on the best thing available between two slices of bread. And one of those things was something called the Jewban.

       I’m not sure if this delicacy was a combination of Jewish and Cuban, or it was simply something likely to be banned by Jews. All I know is that it was a sandwich available only at Josh’s Deli in Surfside, Floridajust south of Bal Harbour.

Josh's Deli in Surfside, FL.jpg

       Was this concoction kosher? Probably not. Josh’s Deli proudly identifies itself as “A Jewish Deli Done Wrong.”

      But as I have always admitted, I have never really maintained a kosher household. At least, if I am attempting to keep the laws of kashrut, then I am definitely doing it wrong.

      So I was perfectly willing to drive the kids there and let them find out for themselves. Find out what was so great about Josh’s Deli. Or at least about their famous (or infamous) Jewban.

Luna in the car on the way to Josh's Deli.JPG

      The traffic was heavy driving up Collins Ave., and after we had managed to park, we got a little lost wandering around the neighborhoodWe walked around several corners, then down a deserted alley. Then, finally, we saw it: a rather non-prepossessing storefront amid banks, boutiques, and other shops.

      Josh’s, it turned out, is only open until 3 p.m. each day, but serves breakfast all day. It also serves all-day lunch.

      Both its breakfast and lunch menus feature many items loved by Jews, including lox, bagels, corned beef, and pastrami. All of the meats are cured, smoked, and/or roasted in-house. All of the bagels are baked on the premises, too.

      But nearly all of these items are served in a way that is unorthodox, to say the least, or, as stated, is somehow "wrong."

At least it has lox and bagels.jpg

      They have tongue, for example. I can’t remember the last time that tasted tongue, something that relished when I was young. But this tongue is served on a Deli Melt Tongue Frita Burger, which the menu said included “papas frita,” beefy aioli, and cheddar. I have no idea what papas frita is. All I know is that eating tongue with cheese is wrong, about as wrong as eating it with mayo. Or, at the very least, it isn’t kosher, because it mixes milk and meat.

Our search for the Unholy Grail at Josh's Deli.JPG

But even if you can find something on Josh’s menu that sounds right, and/or kosher, it still probably isn’t. Take their Three Eggs Any Style, for example. Whether you opt for scrambled, fried, or sunny side up, these eggs are all served non-kosher style, with a side of pastrami smoked bacon.

      Then theres the dish called Lobster Jewchachos. I don’t know what iis. I don’t even know how you pronounce it. But for the sake of those readers who do keep kosher, I’m not even going to go there… and you probably aren’t either.

      We had already gone all the way to Josh’s Deli, though. Gone in search of a decidedly unholy Grail, the famous (or infamous) Jewban. Since there were four of us, we decided to order two of thesealong with the Krunchy Spicy Tuna Latkes and a bowl of matzo ball soup.

The matzo ball soup at Josh's Deli.JPG

      Matzo ball soup is something I make it a point to never order anywhere. No matter where I go, Im always disappointed. Disappointed by the matzo balls, and even more disappointed by the soup, which never tastes homemade. Or as good as mine.

      That was my policy, at least, until the moment I tasted Josh’s. Tasted it and swooned. The broth was rich and flavorful, loaded with succulent bits of chicken and tenderly simmered vegetables – not the usual mélange of mushy carrots and celery, but healthy veggies like kale. The bowl's single giant matzo ball was heavier than mine are, but in a good way, I'd say. It had heft and hearty substance. It tasted almost healthy, too.

Allegra and JP enjoying the Jewban.JPG

     I got to devour most of this delicacy myself because my companions had only one thing in mind. OK, make that two. Those two Jewban sandwiches, which soon enough arrived at our outdoor table. I watched as everyone eagerly lifted his or her half and eagerly bit in.

     The menu had listed the ingredients as pastrami, pork, pickles, Swiss cheese, mustard, and something called crack sauce. The Jewban turned out to be double-decker sandwich with an extra slice of toast in the center separating the “Jew” part (thick-cutjuicslices of hot pastrami and dill pickles) from the “ban” part (pork). Accented with gooey melted Swiss, mustard, and some sort of other tangy condiment, these half sandwiches were massive, even without the accompanying side of salad, fries, or slaw.

My husband devouring his half of the Jewban.jpg

     In a word, gargantuan.

     Almost too big to eat, yet too delicious to leave even one morsel or crumb behind.

     So, was this truly the best thing available between two slices of bread? Could be.

The Krunchy Spicy Tuna Latkes at Josh's.jpg

     But the most delicious things on a plate, if you ask me, were those Krunchy Spicy Tuna Latkes – deep-fried, crispy golden nests of shredded potatoes topped with dark-pink slices of tuna sashimi and a dollop of cream cheese spiked with hot srichacha sauce. Yum!

     We were all so impressed that we went inside in search of their creator, Josh. We not only wanted to meet him, but to implore him to open a branch in NYC, where there are many Jews – Jews who would no doubt appreciate his deli, even (or especially) done wrong.

       I also wanted to bestow on him my website's highest honor, the NiceJewishMom.com Spiel of Approval ("I tried it! I liked it!). 

     We found him behind the counter wearing a hat and an apron and wielding a very large knife.

Josh of Josh's Deli.JPG

     Josh appreciated our praise, but was not prepared to grant our plea. He long ago abandoned the Northeast for the Florida sun. Thanks, but no thanks, he said; he had no interest whatsoever in bringing his artistry or culinary blasphemy north.

Relaxing in the rooftop pool.jpg

 

With my husband chilling by the rooftop pool.jpg

     Oh, well. Guess you’ll just have to take my word for it. Take my word, or go to Florida yourself, and I strongly suggest that you do.

Josh’s Deli is not just worth hiring an Uber for. It’s worth renting a car for. Heck, it might even be worth flying down to Florida for.

       You’ll get a change of scene.

       You’ll get your fill of sun.

       And if you need a break, and you aren’t strictly kosher, what’s wrong with a little deli done wrong?

7:24 pm 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Word From the Weiss

 

Menorah on last night of Hanukkah.JPG

      Happy last night of Hanukkah! It may be a relatively minor holiday, as Jewish ones go, but considering that there are eight whole nights of it, I hope that yours was happy.

My husband bought me a mermaid blanket.jpg

       I got some very interesting gifts this year, from a novel back scrubber, flamingo pajamas, and a jar of posh truffle salt to a bright fuchsia mermaid blanket from my well-meaning husband. But if there was one thing that I wanted more than anythinthis year – anything at all – it was to not be able to spend my daughter’s birthday or the rest of Hanukkah with her.

      And no, that “not” was not a typo. I really didn’t want her to be anywhere near me on her special day.

      But before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me tell you why.

      Between Hanukkah, New Year’s, and my daughter Allegra having been born on the 18th of the monthDecember tends to offer our family almost too much to celebrate (although one of my best friends from college was known to say, "Too much is never enough!"). Now that Allegra is engaged to JP, who shares not just her upbeat personality but her date of birth, we have even more reasons to raise a glass or two.

Allegra and JP at Lucky Cat.JPG

      Last year, we got to celebrate Christmas with the two of them as well. And not just our usual Jewish approach to Christmas – dinner at a Chinese restaurant, followed by a movie. JP cooked an authentic Chinese meal for us in our home, with Allegra pitching in as sous chef in a Santa hat.

Allegra and JP cooked for us on Christmas 2016.jpg

       But this year, it was his parents’ turn to have them for the joint birthday and holidays. And his parents happen to live far, far away. Halfway around the world, in fact. They spend this half of the year in Hong Kong.

      Normally, JP’s family convenes for the winter holidays in Sydney, Australia, where his brother and sister live. But this year they chose to gather in Hong Kong instead, in large part because it would be relatively easy for Allegra and JP to get there (if you can call the 16½-hour flight from New York to Hong Kong easy in any respect).

      Allegra couldnt wait to see her future in-laws again, especially her little niece- and nephew-to-be, who are 2 and 4 respectively. She and JP spent weeks buying gifts for everyone and counting down the days till they left.

      There was just one little catch.

      JP, who is not a U.S. citizen, applied for a work visa in the early fall, soon after he moved to NYC when he and Allegra got engaged. In late October, he was assured that the visa would be mailed to him in about two weeks. But as of last week, it had yet to arrive.

No one felt like celebrating.jpg

       On Friday, he explained to his family and ours that if he left the country without it, he might not be able to return for several years. Yikes! His entire family was deeply disappointed, not to mention livid that he had failed to mention this before everyone else had booked their own flights. Allegra was heartbroken that they weren't going anymore. She was also mortified that they had offended her future machutunin.

      JP’s parents had arranged to host a lavish luncheon on Monday to celebrate the joint birthday. JP and Allegra were the guests of honor, but they would no longer be there.  

       What were they going to do?

       Our own family was getting together in NYC to celebrate both Hanukkah and the birthdays on Friday night. But suddenly no one was in any sort of celebratory mood.

     It was the fourth night of Hanukkah, and all the way to the city, I fought back tears. My heart ached with pity.

Allegra's lively puppy Luna.JPG

     We had agreed to care for Allegra and JP’s lively little puppy Luna during the 11 days they'd planned be away. We had been kvetching for weeks about this daunting responsibility, and had even recruited our son Aidan and daughter-in-law Kaitlin to split dog-sitting duties with us. But now we would have giveanything to have what had previously appeared to be a bit of an impositionYet we felt powerless to help.

Latkes I made.jpg

      Before leaving home, I'd grated potatoes and onions to make latkes when we arrived. Allegra's tiny kitchen is too small to cook in, so we were going out for dinner. In fact, we were going out for hibachi. No latkes were likely to be there. But what's Hanukkah without the latkes?

     I also had gathered up the many holiday gifts I had purchased for one and all. Even though the kids are now grown, I still give everyone in the family, including our dog Latke, at least one present for each of the eight nights. In fact, with all the sales on Cyber Monday, I got a little carried away this year. Too much in this case might really be too much. They may be unwrapping till Tu Bishvat. No matter. With the travel-ban pall cast over the festivities, I hardly felt like Mrs. Claus, let alone Hanukkah Harriet.

I bought too many Chanukah presents.JPG

      With soggy snow falling all the way from our home in Connecticut to NYC, the drive took over five hours in relentless traffic. But that’s not the reason it felt as gloomy as a walk to the gallows. We arrived to find Allegra looking dejected, her eyelids red and puffy. She admitted that she had been crying for hours. Some celebration.

      Aidan and Kaitlin arrived soon after us, and everyone ate a latke smothered in applesauce. I brightened momentarily when Aidan said that they were my best ever. Whether or not he meant it, he certainly knows the way to a Jewish mother’s heart.

     But there was no time to rest on my laurels as a ballabusta (that's Yiddish for good cook). We were already late for our dinner reservation.

     Dejected or not, we still had to eat.

JP getting sake'd at hibachi.JPG       Between the manic antics of the high-spirited hibachi chef, who hurled morsels of food at us as if we were trained seals and squirted streams of cold, tangy sake into our mouths, things brightened up a bit during dinner.

     Everyone also managed to put on a happy face when we returned to Allegra and JP's apartment to exchange holiday gifts. Even when you’re feeling blue, it’s a lighter shade of blue when the family is all together.

Hanukkah is happier with the whole fam.JPG

    But Allegra and JP soon realized that they had no choice and called the airline and cancel their Saturday afternoon flight. And that turned every's mood from blue to black again.

    Early the next morning, their apartment buzzer sounded off early. There was a special delivery downstairs for them.

     Wait! Could it be?

     Perhaps it could have. But it was not. It turned out to just be a document from JP’s bank. After having their hopes raised, even momentarily, only to be dashed, they now felt even worse.

    Then they got some news from Hong Kong. One of JP’s aunts was in the hospital and gravely ill. JP’s sister, who is a doctor, composed a letter to Immigration outlining Aunt Betty’s condition and saying it was urgent that JP be allowed to come home ASAP.

    A friend of our family who is an immigration lawyer advised us that JP and Allegra needed to get to the Immigration office before it opened at 7 a.m. on Monday morning. There was no guarantee that anyone would even agree to meet with them, but that was their only hope. The lawyer did not sound at all optimistic. An ailing aunt, he said, would not appear as compelling as a sick parent, sibling, spouse or child. But it was worth a try.

       It turned out that poor Aunt Betty was gravely ill indeed. We woke up Sunday to the sad news that she had died. JP was desperate to get home to help console his mother. They would now ask for permission to attend the funeral instead.

Allegra and JP celebrating their birthday.jpg

      Eager to console Allegra and JP, my husband and I took them out for another birthday dinner on Sunday night. Then my husband drove home to Connecticut. But I insisted on staying overnight on the kids' couch in order to watch little Luna while they went to Immigration the next morning. It would help them get out at the crack of dawn if they didn't have to walk her firstI also wanted to be there in the event that they got bad news. It was the least that I could do.

      Meanwhile, Allegra stayed up late packing her bags, just in case there was good news instead. It was the least that she could do.

      They left the apartment at 6:22 a.m. armed with every document that they might need. Even though they arrived well before 7, they were already sixth in line.

The Immigration office in NYC.jpg

      Finally, the office opened. They watched in mounting horror as the five people before them, including a sweet, pregnant young woman who wanted to go see her sick grandmother, were brow-beaten mercilessly by the surly official manning the only reception window that was open. Then, just as it was about to be their turn, an affable young man arrived and took over a second window, and he summoned them to approach.

      Examining JP’s documents, he noticed right away that this happened to be his birthday. JP pointed out that it was his fiancée’s as well. Hearing this and the details of their plight, the man seemed extremely sympathetic. He readily granted JP an audience with the next person up on the totem pole. At least they would be heard.

       “OK, we have an appointment,” Allegra texted me, sounding cautiously optimistic. “But we might need proof of JP’s relationship to Aunt Betty.” The couple in front of them had been told that they needed such documentation themselves. They began freaking out. What would possibly demonstrate this relationship? Would they need to obtain both his mother’s birth certificate and Aunt Betty’s? How would they get those right away?

       The woman who met with them next didn’t request any such documents, though. She just seemed eager to help. She checked JP’s application status in her computer

      That’s when she discovered that his visa had already been approved – last Friday. It was presumably already on its way, in transit in the postal system somewhere. But they wouldn’t have to wait for it to arrive. She issued them another one right on the spot.

Allegra was ecstatic.jpg

       Allegra texted me a little after 10. “It’s a Hanukkah miracle. We’re going!!! 

      They phoned the airline, United, and managed to nab the last two economy seats on the 3:05 p.m. flight to Hong Kong. Never mind that United would call them back soon after to say that there had been some mistake – that the only two seats left were business class and cost thousands of dollars more. They had to go no matter what.

      They.

      Had.

      To.

       Go!   

       And so they flew into action, as though someone had fired a starting pistol and actually shouted, "Go!" They raced home ansomehow finished packing within the hour. They crammed all the gifts into a carry-on bag. While I went out to buy them breakfast to go, they even packed for Luna, who would be spending the next few days with Uncle Aidan, Aunt Kaitlin, and their cats. 

       Then we jumped into the car, and I drove them straight to Newark International AirportWe arrived two hours before the plane leftwith just enough time left to check in.

Luna in her bed.jpgIt was a Hanukkah miracle.JPG

       Then I drove back to the city with Luna sleeping beside me on the passenger seat. Never mind that there was heavy traffic all the way there and even more on my way home. I was still only as happy as my least happy child. But with just a little help from the universe, and her nice Jewish Mom, that child was now happily on her way. Although she had spent the morning biting her nails at Immigration and would spend the next 16½ hours sitting on a plane, she was having what might prove to be the best birthday ever. 

       So I would say we definitely have too much to celebrate this year. Guess we're just going to have to party on till New Year's, or even Tu Bishvat. Who cares if Hanukkah's over? Let the celebration begin!

11:04 pm 

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Word From the Weiss

 

     Is it just me, or does everyone feel like their life entails enough drama, tsuris and nachas – that is, enough to kvetch and kvell about – to warrant its own reality TV show? Well, The Real Nice Jewish Moms of Connecticut may not be airing in primetime any time soon, but it recently occurred to me that it might be high time for me to go on a certain existing reality show instead. Or, more precisely, for my daughter to go on itAnd given the nature of this particular show, I would be obliged to go with her.

Say Yes to the Dress on TLC.jpg

      If you are a woman of a certain age (that is, my daughter’s, which is 27), give or take, then there is no need to explain when I say that Im talking about Say Yes to the Dress. This phenomenon, now in its 15th season on TLC, entails brides-to-be shopping for their wedding gowns at Kleinfeld’s, the most exclusive bridal salon in all of NYC.

     OKlet me be perfectly honest. I wanted us to go on this show not because I crave attention or publicity, but because I craved attention and publicity for my daughter. That is, I thought that this would be an ideal way to help promote her career as a jazz singer. Even if it would most likely lead to her buying an extremely expensive wedding dress. (No, they do not GIVE you the dress. They do their utmost to SELL one to you.)

     After all, they don’t need to give away dresses to entice people to go on this show. Almost every young woman of a certain age (my daughter’s), as well as her motherwould give her right arm (or at least ring finger) to get on. That’s how popular it is.

Allegra at the Jazz Standard poster.JPG

     So don’t imagine for one second that simply anyone can go on it. I didn’t. I knew that Allegra needed an angle – some special drama, personal hardship (i.e. tsurisor other distinction that would make her more compelling than your run-of-the-mill or even runaway bride.

     In other words, she needed a hook. And we were pretty sure that we had one. Maybe even more than one.

     One night, when I couldn’t sleep, I sent Allegra a link to the online application for the show. She never mentioned this, but soon after she filled it out and submitted it. And the show apparently agreed that she indeed had an angle (or maybe even more than one). Because they contacted her almost instantlyrequesting more information and photos.

allegra in tangerine gown.jpg

     One of the angles that she’d used to promote herself did, in fact, relate to her singingWe had once seen an episode in which a beauty pageant queen explained that she had been wearing beaded and glittering gowns for years, so she needed something even more spectacular for her wedding day. Allegra could legitimately say the same.

    And so she had.

    As I would later tell them myself, she already haclosets full of shimmering gowns. They are her work clothes – her everyday (or, more accurately, every night) attire. So, for her wedding dress, she really needed to find something that would kick it up a notch.

Allegra and JP engaged.JPG

     Then there was the multicultural nature of her match made in heaven (or, actually, in Hong Kong). Allegra is a nice Jewish girl. Her fiancé, JP, is half Hong Kong Chinese and half German. She has dubbed their impending nuptials MBig Fat Jewish Chinese German Wedding.”

    Yet there was still one more selling point that my daughter had up her sleeve. (Although given our taste in bridal gowns, there would probably be no sleeves involved.)

Fashion issue I produced at Northeast magazine.jpg

     As I have indicated, Say Yes to the Dress thrives on drama. Especially family drama. They like it when the mother of the bride, or some other member of her entourage, has a vision of what the dress should be that clashes with the bride’s own preferencesYears ago, I was a fashion writer. I wrote about fashion for USA Today, and later served as the fashion editor for a Sunday magazine in Connecticut. I produced fall and spring fashion issues showing slinky models striking poses in the latest styles. I also covered the semiannual fashion shows held by NYC’s top designers.

     To say that I am still what you might call a “fashionista”  now was a bit of a stretch. However, I did have strong opinions about what sort of gown my daughter should wear. And whether or not these would conflict with her own, that probably sounded promising.

     It was promising enough, at any rate, for the show to interview her over the phone. This was followed by a live screen testalso performed over the phone via FaceTime. That presumably lived up to their expectations, for they proceeded to screentest me.

     I guess they had to be sure that I had at least a modicum of personality and would not just sit there like a lump… or a potato latke.

Hollywood take sign.jpg

      Have you ever had a screen test (albeit one performed over the phone via FaceTime)? I hadn’t. So I must admit that I was a little anxious. At least, as luck would have it, it was slated for an afternoon right after I already had a hair appointment scheduled. I still agonized over what to wear and, more significantly, what to say. I even prepared a script for myself, although I knew that I wouldnt be able to actually read from it while looking into the phone exhibiting at least a modicum of personality.

      During the five to ten minutes I spent on camera, I forgot half of what I’d planned to relate. But I managed to rattle off my spiel about Allegra needing to kick it up a notch for her weddingI also talked about how close a relationship we had – how we were beyond best friends. Even though my daughter has a full-time “day job,” we managed to speak to each other several times a day, almost every day. When shed spent a year in Hong Kong singing at the Four Seasons Hotel there, westill managed to talk almost daily, despite the 12-hour time difference, even if this meant that one of us was typically in a glittering gown and the other in a nightgown. (Which one of us was in the PJs? You get one guess.)

     I was not prepared for the last question they would ask me, however. If Allegra came out on the show in a dress that I didn’t like, was I prepared to be honest?

     Hmmm.

     I hemmed. I hawed. Then I gave the most candid answer I could muster. Which went something like this:

Allegra and me at Glamour event.jpg

     “I love my daughter so much that I would never say anything that might crush her. On the other hand, she had such a fantastic figure that I was certain she would be able to find a dress at Kleinfeld’s that looked absolutely stunning on herSo I couldnt imagine allowing her to buy anything that truly didn’t. For this reason, I thought that I could afford to be honest with her – not brutally honest, necessarily, but gently honest.

    guess that they were satisfied with this reply, or whatever else we both said. For Allegra was told by the nice young woman who had screened us both that if the show was interested, they would give us a choice of several dates sometime in the distant future. But a few days later, we heard back from them. Never mind the choice of future dates.

    TLC wanted us ASAP. Were we available to go on the show the following ThursdayThat is, were we ready to say yes to Say Yes to the Dress? What could we say but YES!?!”

My husband could not go on the show.JPG

    Allegra was told that she could bring only three people on the show, including me. But so many of her friends wanted to get in on the act that she persuaded them to let her have four. This would not include my husband, to his enormous disappointment, although not necessarily mine.

       I knew that he would have only one thing to say about each dress that she modeled: “What does it cost?” That would instantaneously suck the joy out of what promised to be the experience of a lifetime. I did my best to explain this to him. “Honey, we’re not going to Kleinfeld’s to save money.”

     Allegra was told that we should expect to be there for six hours, and that we needed to arrive camera-ready.

Gloria Swanson I'm Ready for my closeup.jpg

     Camera-ready? Even if we’d had more than a few days to prepare, I’m not sure that anything, including industrial-strength Spanx, would have made it humanly possible for me to be “ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.” Allegra made hair appointments for herself and the rest of the group. But decided to go as myself. Go as is, that is. Just kidding! I would spend at least an hour and a half transforming myself into a female contortionist as I tried to blow-dry my own hair.

I bought a new top at Kimberly Boutique.jpg

       I would also shell out for a new top just for the occasion at my favorite local shop, Kimberly Boutique, after explaining my mission to the instantly envious staff (my main mission being to not look like a whale in high heels on TV). OK, maybe the item I chose wasn’t the most slimming garment possible – no small consideration, considering that, as everyone knows, the camera adds 10 pounds. Then again, the cold-shoulder effect was “on trend,” as Kimberly noted, and I thought that it looked reasonably glam and tasteful. I was going to play The Mom on this episode, after all. I didn’t want to look skanky.

Allegra in Vera Wang at David's Bridal.jpg

     Allegra had already made one shopping foray to David’s Bridal with my daughter-in-law Kaitlin and her dear friend Leslie to try on gowns. She wanted to do some advance research to see which styles suited her best. What suited her best at David's Bridal was a strapless Vera Wang. The Sunday before we were scheduled to shoot, I got to go on a second such outing, to The Bridal Gardenthe special bridal shop on West 21st Street where Kaitlin had found her wedding gown when she and my son Aidan were married last summer.

Kaitlin and Aidan wedding shot.JPG

     The special thing about The Bridal Garden is that its inventory consists mostly of samples and overruns donated by top wedding dress designersincluding Vera Wang, Marchese, Ann Barge, Lela Rose, and Monique Lhuillier. It then sells these at a deep discount. Equally compelling to us was that, as the only completely nonprofit bridal salon in NYC, it donates 100 percent of its proceeds to the Brooklyn Charter School, a tuition-free K through school for disadvantaged children in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Kaitlin bought her Vera Wang at the Bridal Garden.JPG

     As ecstatic as Allegra was to have been chosen for the TV show, she was eager to contribute to this worthy cause, just as Kaitlin had when she bought her own gorgeous Vera Wang gown there. So it was a little unnerving when our entire group fell head over spike heels for a breathtaking Badgley Mischka mermaid-style gown there. It customarily sold for $3,000, but was marked down to a mere $999.

      We had little doubt that she would end up spending more at Kleinfeld’s. Quite a bit moreperhapsIf she didn’t find anything that she loved there, at least she now had a back-up plan. Yet if she didn’t end up saying yes to a Kleinfeld dressthe chances of her episode ever airing might be flimsier than a tulle wedding veil.

       So she ruefully said no to The Bridal Garden gown. Oh, well. On with the show!

       The following Wednesday night, I drove to NYC with her good friend Emily. We had to be at Kleinfeld’s by 1:30 p.m. sharp Thursday and couldnt risk arriving late.

We ate brunch at Cafeteria.jpg

       JP joined us all for an early lunch at Cafeteria, a trendy eatery near Kleinfeld’s. Presumably, we would not be fed a thing during the six hours that we would be filming. But we were all so nervous and excited (not to mention worried about looking svelte). Who could think of eating now?

        Then it was on to Drybar, part of a chain of salons where they will blow-dry your hair for $45. As planned, I had turned myself into a human pretzel while curling my own locks that morning. But I readily succumbed to their offer of a beverage while waiting, and downed a Mimosa – OJ spiked with champagne. Yes, I’m a real nice Jewish mom, but to play one on TV? A little dose of liquid courage couldn’t hurt.

Say Yes getting mics.JPG

        We arrived breathlessly at Kleinfeld’s right on time, and were soon all hooked up with hidden microphones. Then Allegra was whisked to the back of the salon, where we were told she would be briefly interviewed. This interview, alas, was not so brief. She was gone for at least an hour.

Say Yes We LOVE the dress.JPG

     Meanwhile, the rest of us – Kaitlin, Emily, Leslie, and I – practiced reacting to possible dresses. “Look like you love it!” I ordered, snapping them on my iPhone.

     They beamed.

     Now look like you’re not so sure.” (Meh!)

We're not so sure.JPG

     While we waited on the couches that lined the lobby, we peered longingly into the well-lit salon, which looked like a winter wonderland filled with headless mannequins draped in snow-white dresses, as well as future brides in every possible shape and size giddily trying them on.

      We also watched in fascination as the front doors suddenly burst open and a large gaggle of giggling teenage girls flooded in, trailing none other than Randy Fenoli.

Randy Fenoli.jpg

      For anyone who may not know, Randy is a popular wedding dress designer and one of the show’s main bridal consultants, all of whom have become celebrities in their own right. He had arrived just in time to be spied by these star-struck passersby from the Midwest. They could hardly contain their joy bordering on ecstasy as they posed with him for a group picture in the lobby, their chaperones looking on with a mixture of puzzlement and pride.

     Finally, Allegra rejoined us, and a producer came out to give us directions. We were about to meet Randy on camera ourselves. After a brief intro, he would ask Allegra what she did for a living, whereupon she would answer by spontaneously bursting into song.

Allegra at Kleinfeld's.jpg

     What would she sing? No problem. Theres something major I forgot to mention.

     Shortly after Allegra had done her screen test, she had been asked to write a jazzy jingle for the show. Shed promptly obliged with a ditty that ended with scat solo sung as only a jazz singer can. The producers had loved it and wanted to include it on our episode.

       At least five minutes into shooting this segment, however, someone suddenly realized that there was something wrong with Randy's mic, so we had to reenact the entire scene again, trying to look natural and not stare directly into the cameras this time. Argh!

Pattie at Kleinfeld's.jpg

    Although most of the questions Randy asked were addressed to Allegra, I knew that I needed play my own role to the hilt. The role of mother-of-the-bride-slash-fashionista, that is. So soon after I was introduced, I blurted out a little speech I had prepared.

     I explained that I had once been a fashion reporter, but now contented myself with buying clothes for members of my family – my husband, my son, my daughter, my daughter-in-law, my niece, my nephewand now JP. “Soon after he met Allegra, he discovered that dating my daughter meant that he had to say yes to how I thought he should dress. But I guess he doesn’t mind too muchbecause they’re engaged, right?”

    This prompted an immediate question from Randy. “What was wrong with the way he dressed before?”

     Gulp.

     “Oh, nothing,” I replied. In truth, there wasn’t. But don’t think I sounded convincing.

     Randy followed up by asking me what kind of wedding dress I thought Allegra should wear. I was prepared for this one and had rehearsed that answer, too.

View from Kleinfeld's lobby.jpg

     “Oh, anything at all,” I said blithely, “as long as it has a mermaid or trumpet silhouette with a strapless or sweetheart neckline, and it hugs her body down to herethen flares out into a cloud of ‘wow!’… preferably in silk, organza, or maybe silk tulle.”

      Fearing that this might sound a bit too specific, I followed it up with a second opinion.

      “Honestly, thoughShe can wear whatever she wants.”

      Randy smiled, nodded, and sized me up with a knowing glance.

      “I don’t believe you,” he said.

      Was I already being painted as the evil mom? I had no time to ponder this alarming prospect. We were immediately ushered at last into the cavernous salon, which was filled with pale-colored upholstered couches, towering floor-to-ceiling columns, gleaming chandeliers, and hundreds of dazzling sequined, beaded, and billowing white dresses embellished with ballgown skirtslace, ruffles, peek-a-boo patterns, and trains long enough to rival Princess Diana’s.

      Then the trying-on began.

      Spoiler alert: There will be no spoilers here. I don’t want to detract in any way from the show when it eventually airs.

      Plus, even if I wanted to, I can’t show you any of the dresses Allegra tried on, because we were asked to put our cellphones away.

      I won’t even tell you whether she actually ended up saying yes to a dress or not.

Kleinfeld's showroom.jpg

      All I am willing to report is that, as exciting as it all was, the rest of the experience ended up being exhausting and, well, a bit unnerving. For, as honest as I was prepared to be, it was horrifying to see my daughter step out in a series of wedding gowns and to have to weigh in on camera about whether I liked them before I could ask her if she did.

      But I will divulge that when she sashayed out in one overly ornate dress, I dared to utter the one word that instantly sprang to mind, never mind that it was in Yiddish.

     Ungapatchka.

     Randy instantly demanded a translation, which I did my best to supply, never mind that there is no word in the English language that comes close to being equivalent.

      “It means everything and the kitchen sink,” I said, knowing that this was hopelessly inadequate. “That dress just has too much going on.”

       In that way, think I totally did my part to play up the Jewish mother angle.

       The former fashionista element, though? That, I was a little less comfortable about.

       After Allegra had finished trying on dresses, I was escorted to the back of the salon myself and interviewed on camera, under hot lights, for what felt like at least an hour.

       In relation to what Id said earlier about buying clothes for family members, I was asked if these people knew that I was out shopping for them. I explained that I never actually went shopping for anyone. It was just that if I was out and about and happened to spy something that would look perfect on someone I knew, I would often buy it for them.

Randy Fenoli.jpg

       “I guess you could say I’m a self-designated personal shopper,” I explained.

       The producer, a pleasant Scottish woman with a dry wit, seemed to like this phrase so much that she repeated it slowly as she jotted it down. I envisioned that I would end up on the show with that title printed beneath my image: “Self-designated personal shopper.”

       But now I’m not so sure that this is quite where that line of questioning was going.

       She began to ask me leading questions, like, “Do you sometimes see people and think that theyre wearing the wrong thingor they ought to change their hairstyle or whatever?”

       I looked at her, surprised, and shrugged. “Sure,” I said, “I guess.”

       Who can help doing that when they're on the subway or they go to, say, the DMV? So, I thought to myself, “Doesn’t everybody?

       She then proceeded to ask what I thought she was doing wrong, and how she should change her own style. In other words, what might I do if I gave her a makeover? 

       Hmmm. Did she genuinely want a few fashion tips, or was she just trying to brand me as the fashion police? She was dressed in all black, as was almost everyone connected with Kleinfeld’s or the showHers looked like comfortable clothes, a plain black top and tailored slacks intended for a long day of hard work behind the scenes. Who knew what she wore under normal circumstances, or when she was all dressed up?

      Whatever the case, this felt like a trap. So I looked away and squirmed.  

       “Come on. Just tell me. I can take it,” she prodded.

Kleinfeld's group shot with JP.jpg

       You know how they say of some people, “She can dish it out, but she can’t take it?” Well, that’s not me. I’m closer to the opposite. I can’t take it. Or dish it out.

       Instead, I gulped again and continued to avert my eyes. “I really don’t feel comfortable answering that,” I said. She shrugged and finally moved on.

       Days later, though, as I reviewed the conversation, thats what would stick with me most. Was she trying to brand me as the fashion police? Or, just as bad, a snob?

       Talk about drama! Not to mention tsuris!

       I am certainly not any of the above. I’m not one of those people who walk around judging other people – not for the way they behave, and surelnot for the way they dress. I used to write about fashion way back in the ‘80s. What the heck do I know now?

      All I know is that I love my daughter, and I hope she is happy with whatever she wears for her wedding, and, far more importantly, with the man that she weds.

     They should live and be well in whatever they wear. I will happily say yes to that!

     Note: Our segment of “Say Yes to the Dress” probably won’t air until next fall. I will keep you posted.  

5:18 pm 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Word From the Weiss

 

     Note: Sorry! So sorry! I mean, I’m really, really sorry! I don’t call. But what’s worse is that I don’t write. Don’t write here, anyway. The good news is that I’m hard at work on another book. The bad news? No time lately for NiceJewishMom.com. Other duties call. But it breaks my heart. I lie awake at night feeling like I have an itch that I can’scratch.

       Days fly by without documentation or, even worse, self-examination. I don’t write. Therefore, I am NOT.

       Even more exasperating is that I did start writing something, several weeks ago. So many weeks that it’s now retreating into the rearview mirror. Every day, I think that if I don’t finish it soon, it will be way too old to post. Staler than a week-old challah. I mean, how can I tell you about Rosh Hashanah when it’s almost Halloween? 

       But my daughter says that one of her best friends, a faithful reader, keeps checking this space and is disappointed to still find nothing new. This story, as I saidis hardly what you might call new. No matter. Here it is. Kylie, this one’s for you!   

 

Pattie October 2017.jpg

      A very belated happy Jewish New Year from NiceJewishMom.com! I certainly hope this year will be a happy one. Not to mention a Jewish one. Yetbeyond being someone who blogs about being a nice Jewish mom, who am I to talk about being Jewish?

      I would hate to think that I am gradually turning into one of those Jews who only turn up in their temples on the High Holy Days. But the truth is that, in recent years, my husband and I often don’t even do that.

      When our kids were young, we celebrated everything from Shabbat to Tu Bishvat, which meant going to synagogue more often than not. But now that the kids are grown and living on their own, many major holidays force us to choose: Go to our own shul in Connecticut, or drive down to NYC instead and share the occasion with them?

Aidan on Shabbat age 8.jpg

      To me, when it comes to holidays, particularly the High and Holy ones, my priority remains being with family over simply following protocol. That is, I would rather eat with my kids – or, when it comes to Yom Kippur, not eat with my kids – than daven without themAnd in the pursuit of family togetherness, it tends to be easier for the mountain to go to Mohammed (excuse the expression) than vice versa.

      I was hoping this year that we might be able to kill both birds with one shalom. That is, to be with our kids and still manage to attend synagogue services somewhere. But however sweet that objective might sound, making it happen was far from as simple as dipping apples into honey.

      Since Rosh Hashanah fell midweek this yearthere was little chance that our kids would come home. So I looked for a temple in NYC to which we could go together.

      As members of a Reform synagogue in Connecticut, my husband and I are entitled to free reciprocal tickets to Reform synagogues elsewhere. But now that the kids rarely come home, we no longer maintain a family membership, so we couldn’t get free tickets for them. And for those of you who may not live in Manhattan, or don't go to synagogue there, let’s just say that these tickets come at a price.

      That price can top $400 per person to attend on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And since my son is married, and my daughter will be soon, there are now six members of our family. That could amount to quite a lot of gelt.

Kol Haneshamah held free services.jpg

       The distinct possibility also remained that the kids might cancel out at the last minute, so I didn’t want to invest too much in this endeavor. So I was very happy when an Internet search led me to Kol Haneshamaha.k.a. the Center for Jewish Life and Enrichment. Not only was it a short walk from my son’s apartment on the Upper West Side, but its services were free.

      Hesitant to take advantage of its hospitality completely free of charge, I made a small donation after reserving six seats for Rosh Hashanah morning. But not feeling confident that at least someone, if not everyone, wouldn’t reneg, I gave only a small amount, figuring that if all actually went as planned I could always give more later.

Kaitlin and Aidan at Passover 2016.jpg

     Unfortunately, just as I’d feared, when we checked in with my son the night before, it turned out that Aidan hadn’t been entirely aware of the plan. He wasn’t free to attend services the next morning. Neither was my daughter-in-law, Kaitlin.

     My daughter lives in Manhattan in the East 20s. We were staying at a hotel in Long Island City. We had been willing to schlep all the way to the Upper West Side only for my son’s benefit. If he and his wife weren’t coming, going there made no sense, free services or not.

      So my daughter found another service far closer to her home.

      This one was held by an organization called Ohel Ayalah, which offers free walk-in services meant primarily for unaffiliated Jews in their 20s and 30s. That makes it possible, according to its website, “for a Jew to wake up on Rosh Hashanah morning and say, ‘I feel like going to the synagogue today and being with other Jews.

Rabbi Hauptman.jpg

     It all began in September of 2003, on Erev Kol Nidrei – the night before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Judith Hauptman was on her way to religious services when she encountered a distraught young Jewish couple who had been turned away from two different synagogues earlier that evening. They had failed to make reservations, and all the seats had already filled up.

         Rabbi Hauptman, upon hearing this, was equally distraught. A conservative rabbi, and the first woman ever to receive a Ph. D in Talmud, she had been teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary since 1974. Determined to find a solution, she quickly came up with an idea: She would find a way to offer free, walk-in services for those who wait until the last minute to make up their minds about worshipping on the High Holy Days. (As well as those whose plans suddenly change?)

       The following year, Ohel Ayalah (“Tent of Helen,” named for her late motherwas born.

Ohel Ayalah services are for young Jews.jpg

        The very first service was packed, primarily with young people under the age of 35. In the ensuing years, the organization continued to not only flourish, but grow, branching out to add services in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Passover seders.

      This year’s services in Manhattan would be held at the Prince George Ballroom on West 27th Street. Allegra and JP agreed to meet us there late the next morning.

Luna with Allegra and JP.jpg

      We woke up to an urgent message from them, though. Their new little puppy, Luna, had been up all night vomiting. They were very concerned and rushing her to the vet. Allegra was not ready to cancel out on temple just yet, though. And neither were we. We agreed that we would go to the service ourselves and attempt to save her a seat.

     Good luck to us with that! Although the Prince George Ballroom is cavernous, at over 9,000 square feet, we arrived to discover that the service was already packed and standing-room-only. So we made our way to the back of the room... and stood.

The Prince George Ballroom was packed.JPG

     At least this spared us from the usual routine of having to get up every time the rabbi entreated the congregation to “please rise” whenever a major prayer was read. We were already on our feet.

     I felt a bit sheepish about going to a service intended mostly for young people in their 20s and 30s. I’m a nice Jewish mom of two people in their 20s and 30s. Young, I am not. And if I’m not young, then what is Nice Jewish Dad, who has just over a decade on me?

The Prince George Ballroom SRO.jpg

     Indeed, we stood out in the crowd – and I do mean crowd. Hundreds of well-dressed young Jews filled the rows of seats and stood lining the perimeter of the room. Many among the seated soon began approaching us and offering to give us their seats. As generous a gesture as this was – a mitzvah in the making – we would graciously decline.

My husband was beginning to shvitz.JPG

      Yet it was an unusually warm day, both inside and out, and I eventually persuaded my husband to accept one such offer, seeing that he was tired and beginning to shvitz in his suit.

     I was there mostly to be with our daughter, though, and there was no seat available for her. So I remained standing alone in the back, keeping one eye on the prayers in the siddur (prayer book) and the other trained expectantly on the doorway.

JP stayed to take care of Luna.JPG

     And finally, after an hour or so, there she was! They were still awaiting results of the X-rays, so her fiancé, JP, who is not Jewish, had been obliged to stay behind with poor sick Luna. But Allegra was finally there, and I moved over eagerly so that she could lean against the wall beside me.

Allegra finally arrived.jpg

      Eventually, I found that I could no longer stand on ceremony, though, let alone my high holiday heels. So I dared to sit down on the floor. Seeing this, to my amazement, dozens of young people instantly followed suit, despite being attired in dresses and suits.

Prince George Ballroom people on floor.jpg

      Maybe I had unwittingly managed a mitzvah of my own.

      But when it was announced that there were still seats available for an afternoon servicon Yom Kippur the following week – and that if you registered in advance, you were guaranteed to get one – decided to make reservations for us all. This time, I would make sure that everyone got the memo. We would get to worship as a family, after all.

     Not that I was complaining, mind youThe service that we were attending now was not only free, but included a free reception afterwards. After the closing hymn, everyone filed into the hallway to feast on gefilte fish, noodle kugel, and assorted rugelach. Yum!

      No wonder I felt obliged to make a donation to Ohel Ayalah afterwards. If you are interested in helping to guarantee the future of the Jewish community, what a worthy cause!

     Afterwards, we hurried home to Allegra’s apartment. Aidan and Kaitlin would be joining us for dinner. There was still a whole holiday meal to prepare!

Challah with raisins.jpg

    Knowing that her kitchen is barely bigger than a mezzuzah – there isn’t even a drawer in it for silverware or Saran Wrap – I had toted most of the food from home, along with pots and pans to cook it in. Not to mention bowls, trays, condiments, and assorted serving utensils.

     I had also done as much of the food prep as possible in advance.

     Out now came the apples and honey, the round braided raisin challah, the homemade chicken soup with carrots and fine egg noodles, the kosher chicken to roast with prunes, olives, and fresh herbs from my garden, the broccoli I had already cut into florets and fresh organic carrots I had already peeledthe portabella mushrooms I had already stuffed, the apple crisp I had already baked, plus a pot of quinoa, which may not be traditional Jewish food, by any means, but what the heck, it’s healthy!

     Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the rest of the afternoon cooking. Then the rest of the evening cleaning it all up. But all that I remember now, looking back in the rearview mirror, is the magical moment at which we all finally sat down together as a family, lit the tall, white holiday candles, and raised our voices to sing the Kiddush and the Motzi – the blessings over the wine and the breadSuddenly, it was worth every single second of effort. Andcertainlyhaving to have missed services at our shul back home.

Our Rosh Hashanah family dinner 2017.jpg


 (From left to right) Aidan, Kaitlin, Allegra, JP, my husband Harlan... and Luna, who was feeling much better, peeking out on the floor. 

 

 

      As for next year, I am already looking forward to services at Ohel Ayalah again. Whether we reserve in advance and get to sit, or end up needing to stand again, they deserve a standing ovation.

  

   To learn more about this group or make a donation yourself, go to www.ohelayalah.org.        

1:15 am 

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Pattieheadshotwithbaby1.jpg
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!   
    
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LEVYS! MEET THE LEVYS! WE'RE A MODERN JEWISH FAMILY...
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!
                                                                                           
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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.

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