|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Saturday, December 29, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
Can another year really have come and gone? Already? Where was I?
I guess I know where I've been, and if there's anything I've forgotten, then I can simply look back here through the
months and relive it all again (although I think once was more than enough, thanks).
I also guess it's been a good year, after all. I mean, it always seems like there's some sort of conflict or other tsuris underfoot
to keep me awake at night. But when I sat down this week to make my annual holiday card, I looked through all of the
photos from the past 12 months and was amazed to see how much time I spent with my kids. And whether or not everyone
was always smiling for the camera, there's nothing better than that.
What I also can honestly say is that it would not have been nearly as good a year for me without you, my readers.
You give me a sense of purpose. You give me reason to wake up in the morning. You genuinely help give me reason to live,
if only so I can write about it.
I blog, therefore I am.
And so, in the coming year I vow to try to do better at that. Not the living part, necessarily; I'm talking about the
writing part, or at least my writing schedule. In recent weeks, I've gradually fallen off my usual weekly routine, but as
soon as all of the holiday hubbub is over I hope to get back on track.
then, a happy, healthy New Year, everyone, from NiceJewishMom.com!
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
I wrote this entry a week ago, but didn’t quite manage to finish it
before leaving to celebrate Chanukah with my kids, followed by my daughter’s birthday. Then Newtown happened.
In view of this recent horrific event in my home state of Connecticut, I
feel somewhat ashamed to post something so upbeat and frivolous. My heart and prayers go out to everyone irreparably touched
by this monstrous tragedy.
I can't help thinking that after all the lengths
we go to in order to keep terrorists out, it turns out that the enemy is anyone, he is anywhere, and he is already here.
But even as a mother
-- and even though, to my shock, we turned out to know some of the families involved -- I feel presumptuous to comment
further on the issue. We grieve as a state and as a nation for all the victims of this massacre, their families, and everyone
who knew and loved them. But I believe the media has been too intrusive already and would prefer to let these people mourn
privately without insinuating myself.
here instead is the post I already had written in those preceding days, before we even could imagine that something so catastrophic might ever occur in our midst.
With all the time I’m spending buying last-minute Chanukah gifts and working
off the latkes we've been eating (not to mention the liquefied lard they’re fried in and low-fat sour cream
slathered on top), you wouldn’t think I’d have time to schlep into NYC to see a Broadway matinee.
Either did I.
But one recent Monday morning,
I suddenly decided to drop everything that I hold sacred – yes, even this blog – and give myself a real gift:
a full day of unadulterated fun.
There I was, watching the fourth hour of NBC’s Today in the discomfort of my own messy living
room, when Kathie Lee Gifford announced that anyone who bought a ticket to her Broadway musical Scandalous for that
Wednesday afternoon's performance could attend a luncheon directly preceding it with her and her trusty co-host, Hoda
Now, with the abundance of current shows on and off Broadway offering decidedly Jewish content – from
Fried Chicken and Latkes (sounds like a recipe for instant indigestion) to Old Jews Telling Jokes (sounds
like a rare reprieve from old Jews kvetching) to something actually entitled Bad Jews (although it doesn’t take a rocket
scientist to know that’s an oxymoron) – you might not expect NiceJewishMom.com to be rushing off to see a
musical about a rather flamboyant, pill-popping, early 20th-century evangelist.
The fact is, though, that I can
see aging Jews pretty much anytime. (All I need to do is look across the dinner table. Or in the mirror, for that matter.)
On the other hand, I’d been dying to see Kathie Lee’s show ever since it began previews in mid-October.
Along with being a sucker for the
theater, especially all things musical, I make it a policy to support my friends’ creative efforts. And although Kathie
Lee and I may not quite be tight – in part because we’d never even met – I spend more time with her and
Hoda than I do with almost anyone else these days, including my own children.
In fact, after years of watching this genuinely dynamic duo bantering on camera (and getting mildly tipsy,
never mind that their show airs weekdays from 10 to 11 a.m.), I feel as if I know them almost intimately, a feeling only enhanced
by a convivial, “just us girls” atmosphere that is so engaging that I can almost taste the cabernet, chardonnay,
or whatever else they’re imbibing, whether it be “Boozeday Tuesday,” as they call it, "Winesday Wednesday," or
I find them both so likable, and find so much of what they say enlightening and/or amusing, that rarely does a day go by on which I don’t quote one of them to somebody.
The prospect of actually meeting them was an opportunity I found hard to pass up. The problem was that this was not
the sort of experience you could undertake alone. Although I assumed that like-minded women would flock to this irresistible
event en masse, I didn’t want to sit in the restaurant or the theater solo. Like Kathie Lee, I needed my own trusty
sidekick. And in an instant, I knew just the co-conspirator for the job.
This instinct was instantly reinforced when I called the designated restaurant to make a reservation and
had my worst fears confirmed. “How many guests can you accommodate?” I queried, proceeding to hazard a wild guess.
“Fifty? A hundred?”
Nice try. While there wouldn’t be a cast of thousands, there’d be more
than enough competition for Kathie Lee and Hoda’s attention, not to mention any potential photo op. About 170 people
had already signed up, I was told, and they could accept up to 220.
Yes, my good friend Pat was definitely the woman
for the job. Never mind that she isn’t a fellow devotee of Today. The fact is, she’s never been a big
fan of TV of any kind. What she is a fan of is having fun.
She also has more than her share
of self-confidence and chutzpah, if you ask me. No matter how assertive I may sound in print, I’ve always been
on the shy, reserved side, and I was born without a self-promotion gene. Faced with hordes of other fans, I might not be pushy
enough to make sure I got to meet my idols. Pat, though? Not quite. No, not at all. The chances that she’d have a failure
of nerve weren’t just slim to none. On a scale of 1 to 10, they were a negative 1.
On top of that, she’s a veteran actress and stand-up comic who in earlier days opened for the likes
of Jim Carrey and Howie Mandel. She once had her own children’s TV series, and has for years been entreating me to collaborate
with her on a cable-access show on which we’d try to present ourselves as the local Kathie Lee and Hoda. (Which of us
would be which? You get one guess.)
So when I finally reached her later that morning, she didn’t even
pause to ask the cost (which, at $73 per half-price ticket and 32 bucks for lunch, was not insubstantial).
“I’m in!” she
I instantly hastened to buy our tickets, snagging fifth-row orchestra seats online.
We took off from my house in Central Connecticut early on Wednesday morning, determined to arrive well before
the 11:30 lunch and hopefully get our choice of seats. Rather than risking getting lost in the crowd, I’d dressed from neck
to knee in hot pink.
“Maybe they’ll pick you for a makeover,” my husband suggested enthusiastically
as he snapped a “before” photo of us in the driveway. (Although he might not want this publicized, he often watches
the show with me and is so enamored of the Thursday "ambush makeover" segments – in which two women from the
crowd gathered outside the studio are given a total style overhaul – that when he isn’t home I have to record
them for him.)
“I don’t need a makeover,” I seethed through the camera-ready smile plastered on my perfectly
glossed lips. “Besides, I hate to tell you, but this is as good as it gets.”
While gabbing throughout the two-and-a-half-hour drive, I found myself beginning to fret inwardly. Even if
we actually managed to meet these women, I’d probably get half a minute at most to introduce myself. How would I begin
to sum up my site and myself?
Would I get to explain that I envision
myself as something of a Jewish I Love Lucy, always setting out to do something nice – usually for the benefit
of one of my two grown children – but invariably managing to mess everything up and make a fool of myself?
Should I note that despite the name (and many stories on my site, like the one in which I sign
my son up for JDate without his permission), my blog is not really all that Jewish? In fact, it’s not really all
that different from Today, being mostly about dealing with friends, family, and the various other issues women face
while growing older and wider (though not necessarily wiser)?
Or should I just mention the slogan I post on
Twitter – “Looking for a fine whine?” Come to think of it, except for one letter, my web site was actually
right up their alley.
Yet in my heart, I’d realized from the start that the answer was none of the above. Even if I had only
10 seconds of their time, I wanted to use those moments not for my own benefit but my daughter’s. After all, I’m
not just NiceJewishMom.com. I am a nice Jewish mom!
Allegra, as my regular readers well know, is an up-and-coming young jazz singer. She’s preparing to record her first professional CD, featuring nine of her own original tunes, and I could
hardly imagine anything more thrilling than her getting to perform live on their show or having one of her songs aired on
“iHoda’s Playlist.” And although they typically feature pop singers rather than jazz artists – and
more established, mainstream performers rather than newcomers, at that – Hoda and KLG are both avid music
I figured it was worth a shot.
In fact, my daughter had run into Hoda in the city twice now, once on the street and another time in a restaurant.
Being a chip off this old block, Allegra had used these chance encounters to blabber about what a big fan I am, rather than
talk about herself. Yet I still viewed these meetings as a matter of beshert (that’s Yiddish for “meant
to be”). Couldn’t they mean that Allegra was destined to sing on Today someday?
While I mulled this over, Pat had her own thoughts that she wished to keep private. She said that she’d
come up with a crazy scheme to make sure we’d accomplish our mission. She didn’t want to tell me what it was,
though, because she knew there was no way I would ever go for it, which was almost without doubt true.
Were we an ersatz KLG and Hoda? Or were we just the Jewish Lucy and Ethel? Either way, her words
filled me with anxiety, bordering on dread. But just as Pat had readily signed on to aid and abet me in this adventure without
reservation, I deemed it only fair that I be a willing accomplice in her farkakte plan, whatever it might be.
With luck, we reached the city without encountering even a trickle of traffic. It still took nearly another
half-hour to navigate a mere four blocks across West 52nd Street. But even this had a hint of beshert, because after
parking hurriedly, we arrived at Gallagher’s Steak House just in time to see Kathie Lee and Hoda exit from a car and
rush right past us (I mean within two feet of us!) through an unmarked side door.
This happened so quickly that by the time I’d managed to whip out my iPhone, they were practically
gone. But I did manage to snap the back of KLG’s head and a rather blurry but nonetheless exciting closeup or two of
Then we took our places in the burgeoning line of fans that had already formed. While waiting for the doors
to open, we made friends with the two women behind us.
Norma Gorman and Sharon Duke had schlepped in by bus that
morning all the way from Westchester, PA, with 42 members of their Newcomers’ Club (none of whom were actual newcomers,
they hastened to admit. “We just like to have fun”). Like us, they’d learned about the event while watching
the show on Monday morning. Unlike us, they’d waited to buy tickets in person at the box office and ended up in Siberia
-- or somewhere in the mezzanine.
But as devoted longtime fans of the show, they were thrilled to be there at all. “I’d visualized
Hoda as being taller,” Norma noted, although she’d looked plenty tall to me.
Finally, at 11:30 on the nose,
the doors burst open and everyone began pouring in. To our surprise, there was a placard planted right inside the entrance
bearing big news.
“Please remain seated!!!” it read. “Kathie Lee and Hoda will be coming to every table.”
Hmmm… Maybe this mission wasn’t going to be all that impossible, after all. Still, there was
no guarantee that we would get much if any time alone with them. And so, while waiting in line to pay the prix fixe
price in advance, Pat began to strategize.
“Quick – take my coat and go grab us a table,”
she ordered, insisting that I opt for a back room that wasn’t even visible from where we were standing. The seating
areas in sight looked fine to me, but Pat insisted that the other room had to have better lighting.
Actually, it didn’t, but
it boasted something even better: Hoda and Kathie Lee!
There they were, already beginning to make the rounds. Frantic that they might come over before Pat managed
to rejoin me, I quickly snagged a corner table for two.
Then I got myself ready just in case, pulling out the items I’d
brought to show them, two NiceJewishMom.com business cards and a wallet-sized publicity shot of Allegra.
To my relief, Pat soon appeared,
but she instantly rejected my choice of table, insisting that we needed a bigger and better one that was more centrally situated.
I felt a bit sheepish about taking up a table for four, but she said she knew what she was doing.
Our waiter brought over the special, three-course menus printed just for the occasion, along with our allotted
one glass of wine apiece. But I couldn’t begin to focus on the choices, because there THEY were. At the very next table!!!
Then, as my heart began pounding so hard that it had to be audible over the dining room’s din, I saw Hoda heading
right toward us, with Kathie Lee in close pursuit.
Instantly, I leapt to my feet to greet them. Pat clambered up for
“We have Nice Jewish Mom over here!” she announced with commanding verve, gesturing toward me
as if she were a circus ringmaster introducing the bearded lady (NiceHairyMom.com?).
Mildly mortified, I flushed with
an odd mixture of embarrassment and exhilaration.
“Yes,” I acknowledged, hastening to proffer one of the
two cards I had at the ready. “I have a weekly blog called NiceJewishMom.com, and I came here to write about this.”
Then I handed Hoda the card, indicating the photo of matzah ball soup on the back.
Hoda seized it with what appeared to be genuine interest. “Kathie Lee, look! I have a Jewish website
for you!” Hearing this, her co-host reached deftly across the table to take my hand in hers.
As a longtime journalist, I’ve
met and interviewed many a celebrity. No matter. I nearly plotzed.
Then, after pronouncing my card
“so cool,” Hoda asked if she could keep it.
“Of course!” I replied with delight, hurriedly handing her the second card, which she passed
on to Kathie Lee. Then I rushed to segué into what I’d really wanted to say.
“I mention you and Kathie
Lee on my blog all the time because I watch you daily,” I said. “But mostly, I write about my assorted misadventures
with my two grown children.
“My daughter is a young jazz singer who’s begun performing all over the
city and is going to be recording her first CD,” I continued. “In fact, she’s run into you twice now.”
“Oh, really?” Hoda asked, flashing her inimitable radiant smile. “What’s her name?”
“Allegra Levy!” I replied. But knowing my daughter to be no more of a self-promoter than I am, I doubted
that she had bothered to introduce herself, so I quickly seized the snapshot I had carefully planted beside my plate and held
it toward her. “Here she is.”
“Oh, she’s beautiful!” she exclaimed, flashing
that huge smile again and hurrying to hand it across the table to Kathie Lee.
“She is gorgeous!”
Kathie Lee concurred. I proceeded to reiterate what I’d told Hoda about the singing and the CD.
“Mazel tov!” she exclaimed, having been born Kathryn Lee Epstein (although I don’t think her mother is Jewish
and, having spent years pursuing a career as a Christian singer, she presumably was not raised that way).
Then it was time to pose for the
photo I so desperately wanted. Kathie Lee sidled up to Pat, while I took my place beside Hoda as their handlers expertly did
Then Hoda turned back to me with the headshot still in her hand. “Can I keep this too?” she asked
Was she kidding? “Of course!” I replied, wishing that I had written my daughter’s name
on the back, or better yet the address of her own website, www.AllegraLevy.com.
She beamed. “But don’t
you need it for your wallet?” she asked apologetically.
“Don’t worry,” I assured her.
“I think I know where I can get another one.”
She grinned again. And before I could say another
word, they were on to the next group.
I gazed after them, still in shock. It had all happened so fast. I’d come in hopes that we would somehow
manage to meet them and procure photographic proof for my readers. Both tasks had been accomplished. Just like that.
Then again, we hadn’t even
ordered yet and all the excitement was already over. Or was it?
I immediately began kvelling about how fab they both
looked. Pat was not so sure.
“There’s something up with Kathie Lee,” she retorted. “She
looked very unhappy.”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” I replied. I looked across to the next table, where they were
greeting two young brides-to-be who’d shown up in Mouseketeer ears. Hoda looked gorgeous in her black sweater, pencil-slim
slacks, and low-heeled boots. Kathie Lee looked stunning and even trimmer in person in her black dress and shawl, worn deliberately
off the shoulder to display a discreet yet decidedly sexy patch of skin.
Granted, she had on matte-finish makeup that
made her look a little pale in person (although flawless in our photos). But was she truly unhappy to be there? I thought
For some reason, I felt obliged
to defend her, as though saying she looked less than exuberant were an insult. But if I were to be perfectly honest with myself,
she did not appear to be her usual vivacious and effervescent self, nor to be exuding the buoyant joie de vivre that
had once made her famous for trilling the Carnival Cruise Lines jingle, “In the morning, in the evenin’, ain’t
we got fun?”
So maybe she didn’t appear to be having the time of her life. But would you if you faced three rooms
full of wide-eyed tourists and had to make nice at every single table? Not to mention that this event had already been held
once or twice before?
Besides, to do a show at 10 a.m., they no doubt had to be up well before dawn. “Maybe she’s just
tired,” I ventured.
“No,” Pat maintained, with the absolute certitude about having a sixth
sense that had so often been exhibited by my late mother, who’d always purported to be “psychic.” “She
is definitely unhappy about something.”
The same certainly couldn’t be said for us as we ordered at
last, then proceeded to polish off an endive and beet salad followed by beef tenderloin with asparagus (Pat) and a spinach salad with goat cheese
and pear, succeeded by luscious grilled salmon and roasted potatoes (me).
Then, after sampling my slice of New York cheesecake and having the rest of it wrapped for my hubby
(who'd nobly stayed home with the dog so I could undertake this quest), I decided to chat with some of my fellow guests who’d
flocked there from near and far.
Far indeed. Teona Wright and Kim
Miller had come all the way from Indianapolis. Having heard the announcement just as I did, Teona had instantly arranged the
trip as a holiday gift for Kim, her best friend for over 20 years, after booking the flight on mileage. Both were longtime
“fourth hour” fans.
“Their show is just a light,” said Teona. “It’s always
fun, and it makes you laugh.”
“They’re both so open, honest and full of love,” Kim
concurred. “Love and grace.”
Like us, they’d been ecstatic to get their photos snapped
with their favorite girls. “Hoda literally said to her photographer, ‘Put their picture on the show,’”
noted Teona. “We’ll see.”
Bride-to-be Elise Rosemarin and her friend Elizabeth merely had journeyed from the Upper West Side, but this
was still a show of true devotion, given their circumstances. Elizabeth was getting married that very weekend, Elise early
“We love them!” they cried in unison.
Debra Walsh, a Realtor from Long Beach in a
sky-blue sweatshirt, wandered over to see what we were blabbing about. Then, upon learning my identity, she volunteered to
send me her grandmother’s mandelbreit recipe. “Everybody wants it!” she gushed. “My friends
call it Jewish biscotti.’”
As for what had lured her to the lunch, she said that she was a longtime fan. “Oh, my gosh,
of course!” she cried. “I’ve been watching Kathie Lee forever – since she was with Regis!”
Then Pat pulled me toward a table
of women that she was convinced were Jewish. Whether or not she had that sixth sense about people, she knew her Yiddisheh
They all hailed from Melville, on Long Island. “We live in a gated community!” said Carol.
A fun gated community. “We play mah-jongg. We shop. We go to oldies shows!” said Joan.
“We dance all the time!”
added Susan, calling herself and her companions “three alter cockers.”
For anyone out there who actually needs a translation, that's basically Yiddish for “old guys," which was
about the last way they would describe the glamorous TV stars they had just gotten to brush elbows with up close and personal.
“They look so much younger in person!” gushed Carol. “Kathie Lee? She looked so young!
And Hoda! She’s beautiful!”
What they wanted to know was what had made us so sure that they were Jewish. Pat simply laughed and declined
to answer. I shrugged, but they wouldn’t let it go. So I gave the best response that I could muster on the spur of the
“You look like very nice people,” I replied.
Then I realized that our new friends from Pennsylvania, Norma and Sharon, were at the next table and listening intently to
“You look like very nice people too,” I added, although they
were quick to note that they were not members of the Tribe.
But as nice as they all might be, it was time to bid our newfound
friends goodbye. The show was about to begin!
So we made our way out and a few doors down the street to the Neil Simon Theatre, where the giant marquee
“SCANDALOUS The Musical,” it read.
Inside, to our surprise, we discovered
that Teona and Kim, our new pals from Indianapolis, were seated in the two seats directly in front of us. We snapped them.
They snapped us. Could this be another matter of beshert?
Then the curtain went up to reveal the spectacular
set, featuring two towering circular staircases that evoked a small crystal cathedral, and the rousing first number began.
I’d only bothered to read one review in advance, but I knew that the critics, for the most part, had
not been kind. Then again, they’d come with a very different mindset. Critics, by definition, are geared to be critical,
maybe even hyperbolically (diabolically?) so. They also see so many productions that they become jaded, naysaying sourpusses.
By contrast, one goes to a friend’s show expecting to enjoy oneself and be ready to applaud like mad. That’s
what we were there to do. And we did a whole lot of both.
Scandalous, subtitled The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson, focuses on the life
and often lurid antics of an early 20th-century faith healer who was the founder of the Foursquare Gospel Church and a forerunner
of the modern evangelical movement. As one synopsis put it, “Holiness collides with 1920s Hollywood in one remarkable
woman’s charismatic rise to fame amidst scandalous romances and controversy.”
The show opens at a critical moment in Sister Aimee’s life, when she and her mother stand accused of
obstruction of justice, related to her prolonged disappearance. Was she abducted from a Santa Monica beach and held captive
in Mexico for a month, as she claims, or was she simply holed up in a hotel for weeks with her married lover?
This was far from the only controversy
in the life of this colorful, driven, pill-popping preacher who harnessed the glitz of show-biz, her assorted Hollywood connections,
and the far-ranging reach of radio to attract followers in droves to her Angelus church in L.A.
In the lead role, the vibrant and
versatile Carolee Carmello was simply astonishing. The New York Times had pronounced her “a gloriously gifted
singing actress,” while Backstage crowed that “The American Theater Wing might as well give Carolee Carmello
her Tony right now.”
Yet Roz Ryan, who played Emma Jo, a former brothel madam who becomes the faith healer’s faithful yet
bluntly acerbic sidekick, still nearly managed to steal the show, firing off lines like, "Some of these Christians are
just so pious, they pious me off!"
“A lot of energy!”
Pat exclaimed after almost every number. And at intermission, our Indianapolis friends gave two unequivocal thumbs up after
deftly pointing out Kathie Lee’s beaming mom, Joanie, whom I overheard professing to be there seeing it for
the fourth time.
Indeed, with one showstopping number after another, the whole production sizzled with verve and spirit. As
for Kathie Lee’s book and lyrics, I found myself thoroughly engaged and entertained, although there was one song in
Act 2, entitled “It’s Just You,” that struck me to be particularly poignant.
It was about how, even if one manages to attain fame and fortune in life, we are all just people in the end,
and we are basically all alone. As one typical line of the song essentially went, “Everyone wants to copy everything you do, but when you climb in bed at night, it’s just you.” And
I thought to myself, “That isn’t only about Aimee Semple McPherson. That’s about Kathie Lee.” (Although
in Kathie Lee’s case, it would be just her and Bambino, her little white dog.)
Regardless of all her years of
success and her innumerable fans, she must indeed feel all alone on some level. But I can assure you that I was not alone
in my enthusiasm, because in the end the entire audience rose to its feet to give a resounding standing O.
I almost couldn’t wait to get home and write this blog, giving my stamp of approval.
I was similarly eager to tune into the show the next morning, expecting to hear ardent reminiscences about the luncheon and
see photos of some of our new acquaintances (although I was almost certain that the handlers had only snapped us with our
own cameras, not theirs).
But after the show’s lead-in music had played, to my great disappointment the
camera zeroed in on Today’s third-hour co-host Willie Geist, who was sitting in for KLG. Hoda quickly announced
that Kathie Lee was going to Florida for some much-needed R&R.
Going to Florida? Much-needed R&R? Was there something up with Kathie Lee?
That’s when I went online
and learned the truth.
We had departed for NYC so early on Wednesday morning that I’d been unable to
watch the show that day. So I had no way of knowing that Scandalous was scheduled to close that coming Sunday, after
a month of previews and only 29 regular performances.
Kathie Lee had made the public
announcement on the show that morning, just before going to our lunch. After working for 12 years to bring her magnum
opus to life, she was being forced to pull the plug… and then go yuck it up with 200 gawking fans?
Under the circumstances, I’d
say that she’d behaved like a class act. A real pro. Not to mention a mensch.
In her announcement, she
attributed the show's plight in part to unfortunate timing. "Hurricane Sandy was
just devastating to everyone in the tri-state area,” she observed to Hoda on Today. “But Broadway was
badly hit... nobody has really recovered. The new shows haven't."
Indeed, there has been a recent
spate of open-and-shut cases on the Great White Way, including David Mamet’s The Anarchist, which folded within
two weeks, and The Performers, with Alicia Silverstone and Henry Winkler, which only survived six days.
KLG also felt that
her creation hadn’t had adequate time to attract a following. "It's taken awhile to find our audience because no
one knows what our show was,” she said.
Certainly, it couldn’t have helped that McPherson is not a household name – well,
not in my Jewish household, anyway. I also can’t help noting that many Christian-themed productions have fizzled fast
or faltered in recent years, including Leap of Faith, Sister Act, and revivals of Godspell and
Jesus Christ Superstar. Meanwhile, Jewish plays like those mentioned earlier, plus My Name Is Asher Lev,
The Last Seder, and Jackie Hoffman’s rant, A Chanukah Charol, seem to be thriving off-Broadway. Should
Kathie Lee perhaps have done “The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherstein" instead? Could it be that
the audience she failed to find were... Jews?
In any case, my heart
goes out to her. I know what it’s like to face tough odds and a totally blank page (or in my case, computer screen).
I also know that as many readers as I may find, when I climb into bed at night it’s just me (and NiceJewishDad, of course).
But I also hope she realizes that in her case it isn’t just her. Whatever that elitist
chorus of critics may have said, and whatever may have happened with her show, there are so many of us in her corner, enough
so that we’d drop everything and travel great distances just to be in the same room with her, shake her hand, and yes,
land that fleeting photo op.
In other words, when she climbs into bed each night, maybe it is just her. But when she wakes
up, it’s all of us.
It’s she and Hoda… and Pat and me… and Teona
and Kim… and Norma and Sharon… and Elise and Elizabeth… and Carol, Susan, and Joan… and several
million more where we came from.
Just us girls. And,
yes, one nice Jewish dad.
Thursday, December 6, 2012
A Word From the Weiss
A rose is a rose is a rose, and by any other name would surely smell
as sweet. But what about a Rosanna?
Or an Allegra?
Or an Aidan?
Even with the imminent approach of Chanukah, that issue has been on my mind lately in large part due to the recent
announcement that royal tabloid darlings William and Kate are expecting an heir to the throne, giving rise to all sorts of
speculation and even monetary bets as to what his/her name will be. (Odds favor George, John, Elizabeth, and Victoria. Diana
is also a decent bet. Fergie or Camilla? Not so much.)
I’ve also been thinking about it all week because we got a rather rude awakening a few mornings ago
(almost literally) when Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb announced the most popular baby names for 2012 on my much-loved fourth
hour of NBC’s Today.
That report, you see, struck very close to home, having direct bearing
on the heir to my own throne.
Perhaps the source of their report was not the most scientific of surveys, considering that
it was compiled by BabyCenter.com, a popular pregnancy and parenting website, strictly based on the kids of parents who have chosen to register
on the site. Yet by their calculation, the most commonly bestowed boys’ and girls’ names this year, for the third
year in a row, no less, were Aiden and Sophia.
(According to the Social Security Administration, Sophia indeed topped
the girls’ list for 2011, but the No. 1 boys’ name was Jacob. Aiden only squeaked in at No. 9.)
Now, Sophia -- presumably after Sofia Vergara, the sexy star of Modern Family and many a Pepsi commercial
-- I suppose I can understand. As for Aiden, though… oh, say it isn’t so!
When we were choosing a name for
our own first-born, some 26 years ago, we had no computer to consult. There was no such thing as a pregnancy and parenting
website, let alone the Internet. Yet we recognized this name-picking task as one of the most crucial duties we would ever
perform as parents (ranking right up there with potty-training, inculcating proper dental hygiene habits, and entreating our
kids to marry within the Tribe). So we invested in at least three volumes of potential names, and then proceeded to bicker vociferously for a whole nine months.
As Jews, we didn’t have unlimited
leeway when it came to this solemn job (although since my husband and I can both be indecisive and relentlessly argumentative,
this was probably a good thing).
Nothing, of course, is de rigueur
when it comes to choosing names for your children (which is probably not such a good thing, since actress Uma Thurman
saw fit to endow her most recent progeny, a daughter born in July, with five names, including Arusha, Arkadina, and Altalune,
in addition to a hyphenated surname).
In keeping with the Jewish custom to name a child after a dear departed relative – or to do the next
best thing, by picking a name beginning with the same letter as theirs – we readily agreed to select an “A”
name, in honor of my late father-in-law, Arel (pictured at right with my husband and mother-in-law when my
husband was 15).
But even after eliminating the other 25 letters of the alphabet, we were still left with an
overwhelming roster of options, from Abraham to Azariah (although the latter hasn’t been all that popular since the time of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah,
friend and colleague of Rabbi Akiva, those two sage guys we know and love from the Passover Hagaddah).
Of course, we didn’t want
either of those nice but ancient Jewish names.
What did we want?
Something a bit more modern. A nice
name that rolled off the tongue with ease. Ideally, a name that would reflect character, intellect, kindness, and a good
We also wanted a pleasant name that didn’t remind us of anyone we already knew and didn’t
really like, which was actually a lot harder than you might think.
But most of all, we wanted a name that was fairly
Growing up with an ordinary, popular name had not made me feel good or popular. It had made me feel like
one in a million. Or at least one in three. That was the number of girls named Pattie (or Patti… or Patty) in each
of my elementary school classes… and it made me feel more like a number than a person. I was essentially Patty No.
Even worse, maybe, was when I had
my last and longest running job in journalism. There were only ten of us on the masthead when I began working as
a staff writer at a Sunday magazine, yet as unlikely as it might seem, two of us were named Pattie Weiss. (Actually, the other
woman spelled her name Patti, not Pattie, and Weise instead of Weiss, but she pronounced it the exact same way that I did
and also had red hair, leading to almost constant and unimaginable confusion.)
Surely, I didn’t want to subject
my offspring to such potential for mistaken identity. Nor did I want him/her to be another face in the crowd… or just
another Alex or Anne. No, I wanted a distinctive first name that would make him or her feel special.
If it were a girl, I instantly latched onto the name Allegra, after ballet star Allegra Kent. I read that
this meant happy and cheerful. What could be better than happy and cheerful?
But choosing a boy’s name
was, well, a bitch.
Was Allistair distinctive, or just too WASPy? What about Ariel? (Too gender ambiguous.) Aloysius?
(Too geeky.) Aristotle? (Too Greeky.)
Arusha? Arkadina? Altalune? (Just kidding.)
Then one night when I was about
14 months pregnant (or at least it felt that way), my husband and I spent one of our last evenings out that would not require
the services of a babysitter seeing a movie that had just opened, called Desperately Seeking Susan.
It starred a young Rosanna Arquette and singer Madonna, then a relatively new sensation. Playing opposite
them, though, was a true newcomer named Aidan Quinn. I thought Quinn was particularly attractive and appealing in the role
of the romantic lead. What really caught my eye, though, was his first name.
It began with an “A.” It sounded nice. And I had absolutely no bad associations with it because
it was so uncommon in this country that I’d never even heard it before.
In fact, from what I gathered, unlike
Akiva or Azariah, it was a popular Irish name. No matter. With a last name like Levy, we figured we could pick almost any
name (well, anything but, say, Mohammed or Mahmoud) and everyone would still know our child was Jewish.
Game over, we thought.
Well, not quite over, because up to a week after the birth of our little Aidan (Gaelic for “little
fiery one,” according to one of our baby-name books), my mother continued to leave insistent messages on our answering
machine promoting alternate suggestions.
She had never heard the name and thought it sounded too unusual.
Even worse, she’d gotten the heebeegeebees about it from some crazy notion of my stepfather’s.
Grandpa Sid was a kind-hearted man,
but he tended toward anxiety, bordering on doom and gloom, and he kept issuing dire admonitions that this odd name was likely
to lead to an unwelcome nickname, reflecting a new disease then constantly in the news.
“Other kids going to call him AIDS,” he warned.
As a longtime teacher, my mother
knew how cruel children can be and she agreed. The alternative she was lobbying for, however, was something that we were convinced
would make our newborn a laughingstock for life. Knowing that we wanted a unique name, and preferring something far more Jewish
in flavor, she favored the name Asher.
Can you imagine? For the rest of his life, he would’ve had to repeatedly state, “My name is Asher
Levy,” only one syllable – a single letter, in fact – off from the name of the main character in the
classic novel by Jewish writer Chaim Potok (and now the acclaimed off-Broadway play based on it), My Name Is
After awhile – meaning basically by the time our sweet and rather precocious son entered kindergarten
– my mother gave up and even admitted she had grown to like the odd name we had chosen, and that she believed it suited
him well. She continued to assert that it was good we had chosen to spell it “Aidan” instead of the more common
“Aiden,” though, because when he grew up to resent us for saddling him with so uncommon a moniker, he would be
able to adopt the nickname Danny.
What she confessed to like even more was his middle name, Simon (with an “S,”
in honor of my maternal grandmother, Sadie).
“If he grows up to be a playwright,” she declared, “he
can drop his last name and call himself Aidan Simon.” She assumed that, like most celebrities of her day, he would wish
to alter his name to sound less Jewish. She also hoped that people would then associate him with celebrated playwright Neil
Simon (for whom my husband has been mistaken on more than one occasion).
As our little fiery one grew into a big fiery
one, he never seemed to regret his name. In fact, there were only two downsides I could detect to the label we had chosen.
One was that he was repeatedly obliged
to spell his name for people because they hadn’t heard it before and couldn’t quite get what he was saying. In
fact, when we shortened it within our family to a much less inflammatory “Aid,” more than one person misheard
it and thought we were saying “Abe” (conjuring up visions of my loud, boorish Uncle Abe, who as far as I could
see chomped on a fat cigar 24/7, even in the shower).
The other was a relatively minor but relentless frustration that I hadn’t foreseen when we opted to
go the unique route. Whenever we were on vacation, we would search exhaustively in souvenir shops. But amid the spinning
racks of fake license plates, key chains, and other tchotchkes imprinted with popular names from A to Z, there
were plenty of Roberts, John, and Jacobs to be found.
Yet nary a single Aidan.
Neither was there ever an Allegra, the name we indeed chose for his little sister three years after Aidan
was born. (In fact, we’d planned to name her Francesca, after my late paternal grandfather Frank, but my father and
I had a bad falling out toward the end of my pregnancy, and we reverted to our original “A” name in the eleventh
Flash-forward 14 years, to July
2000, when actor John Corbett began to play the love interest of Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw on
Sex and the City. Corbett (also known for playing opposite Nia Vardalos in the blockbuster movie My Big Fat Greek
Wedding) continued to portray this role on 22 episodes of the HBO hit show, from 2000 to 2003, and then to reprise it
in 2010 in the sequel to the Sex and the City movie.
The hunky and affable character that he played was named Aidan Shaw.
And suddenly the unique Irish name that we had so painstakingly chosen wasn’t all that unique anymore.
Soon enough, when we heard young mothers scolding their rambunctious toddlers in the supermarket or mall, the name
most likely to leave their lips was Aidan. In due time, it began cropping up at the top of many a most-popular baby name list,
along with a litany of new names that rhymed with the original, including Hayden, Jayden, Brayden, and Kayden
(imitation being the most sincere form of, well, imitation).
We really knew that the once-unknown
name had arrived, however, when we were visiting South Beach in Florida during the winter three or four years ago
and our daughter came running toward us exuberantly in a tourist shop, brandishing a brightly colored plastic cup in her hand.
“AIDAN,” it said. Never mind that our Aidan had recently graduated from college. He got it for Chanukah
As surprising as this discovery was, it seemed like an even more monumental step forward when our
daughter was perusing a store catalog from Lands’ End just last week and came across a kids’ bean bag chair that could be monogrammed as a holiday gift. The embroidery on the prototype shown in the photograph said Aiden. (Yes, with an
“e.” But still!).
There probably will be no such sightings of gifts or other items that say “Allegra.”
While our son’s name has basically been immortalized in pop culture (at least for the time being), our daughter’s
has gone a very different route, thanks to a popular allergy medication. Personally, I maintain that she is good for your
health and a very easy pill to swallow. Yet people are probably no more inclined to name their newborn daughters Allegra now than they would be to
dub them Claritin, Excedrin, or Tylenol.
The final crushing blow came last week with that report about the
baby names. (What can possibly be next on the horizon in this strange saga... other than an announcement from the palace a
few months hence that Kate has just given birth to the future king, bonnie Prince Aidan?)
So we couldn’t resist phoning our son immediately and leaving him a voice message about it.
When we hadn’t heard back
from him by the time Brian Williams had reiterated the report that evening on The NBC Nightly News, we left
another message. Still no response. And although we typically hear almost daily from our son, who is now 26, I was not
The fact is that Aidan, who has always been as unique as his own name is -- or was -- disdains
trendiness and has never made any discernible effort to conform. I would say that he marches to the beat of his own drummer,
except that neither this cliché nor any other can begin to sum up my son. He simply defies all categorization.
He also shuns almost any kind of trend when it comes to things like fashion, and has always had an aversion to clothes that
are hip or inscribed with any designer or brand name. (And if you think this is no big deal, then I wish you good luck
finding almost any men’s clothing that doesn’t howl “Hilfiger” or bear a polo pony insignia that not-so-subtly
broadcasts “RALPH LAUREN.”)
When we finally managed to catch up with him a day or two later, he shrugged the matter off with a joke about
having always known that he “was ahead of his time.”
Pressed a little further, though, he had only
one other thing to say on the subject.
“All I ever wanted out of life was to be normal,” he told me. This to a mom who
wracked her nice Jewish brain trying to make sure he was unique in name if not identity. I would’ve been flabbergasted
– and maybe more than a little distressed – had I not realized that, with his inimitable dry and fairly unique
wit, he was just putting me on.
The truth is that, to my knowledge at least, all he has ever wanted out of life was to be a screenwriter.
That is his professed professional ambition, at least. In recent weeks, though, he has admitted to us that perhaps the thing
he really wants most is to be a playwright. (Was Grandma somehow also ahead of her time... or was she just, as she always
proudly insisted to us, "psychic?")
The fact is that Aidan produced a couple of short plays in NYC during
and after college, and he realizes now that he enjoyed doing this so much that it might indeed be his true calling. And ironically,
despite all of the current avant-garde trends on the New York theater scene, the second and more substantial of these productions
bore an almost uncanny resemblance to the classic comedies of… you guessed it… Neil Simon.
Whatever he ends up doing, though, I don’t see him altering his name in any way. He shows no desire
whatsoever to disguise the fact that he was born and raised a Jew. He also certainly has no inclination to dupe people or
ride on anyone else’s coattails.
For whatever his name, or however popular it may become, he remains so much his own man that
I can’t help but think that he turned out to be very special indeed.
What’s in a name? Who knows? I’m just his nice (and mighty proud) Jewish mom. But if you ask
me, an Aidan by any other name would surely be as sweet.
|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!
|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!
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