That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.

This site  The Web 

A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
(With new content posted every WEEK!)

Archive Newer | Older

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

LevysatLaLunchonette.JPG        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.
        Until then, a happy, healthy New Year, everyone, from NiceJewishMom.com!


12:05 am 

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.Newtownvigil.jpg
        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.
        So 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.
potatolatkepicture3.jpg        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.ScandaloustheMusicalpromoshot.jpg
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 Kotb.
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 reprieveOldJewsTellingJokes.jpg 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.KathieLeeandHodawithwine.jpg
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 “Try-day Friday.”
I find them both so likable, and find so muchHodahystericalwithKathieLee.JPG 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.PatandPattieatStephsweddingfulllength.JPG
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.PatsywithTXmagazinecover.jpg
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 declared.
I instantly hastened to buy our tickets, snagging fifth-row orchestra seats online.PatandPattiebeforephoto.JPG
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.”Ambushmakeover1.jpg
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 myseAidanandfriendsNov2012.JPGlf?
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.AllegraatCaverockinredsilhouetted2.jpg
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 youngiHodasplaylist.jpg 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 lovers.
        I figured it was worth a shot.Allegrainpurplecoat.JPG
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?PatatGallaghers.jpg
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.LucyandEthel1.jpg
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.KathieLeerushingpast.JPG
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.Hodablurry.jpg
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 Hoda.PatandmeonlineatGallaghers1.jpg
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.NormaandSharon.JPG
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.”Pleaseremainseatedsign.JPG
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!KathieLeeandHodaatnexttable.JPG
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.Scandalouslunchmenu.JPG
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 other reasons.beardedladywithredbraids2.jpg
“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.NiceJewishMombusinesscardback.jpg
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.NiceJewishMombusinesscard.jpg
“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.”Allegrainbluebeadeddress2.jpg
“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 the honors.KathieLeeandHodawithus.JPG
Then Hoda turned back to me with the headshot still in her hand. “Can I keep this too?” she asked hopefully.
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.PatandPattieeatingatGallaghers3.JPG
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.”KathieLeewithbridestobe.JPG
“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 not.
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?Gallaghersroomfuloffans.JPG
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 toPattieeatingatGallaghers.JPG 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).CheesecakeatGallaghers.JPG
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.”Bridestobeinmouseears.JPG
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 next month.
“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.’”DeborahfromNewJersey.JPG
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 mamas.
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.HodaatGallaghers.jpg
“They look so much younger in person!” gushed Carol. “Kathie Lee? She looked so young! And Hoda! She’s beautiful!”KathieLeeatGallagher.jpg
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 moment.
         “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 this exchange.SharonandNormaatGallaghers.jpg
        “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!Scandalousmarquee.JPG
So we made our way out and a few doors down the street to the Neil Simon Theatre, where the giant marquee was ablaze.
        “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.Scandalousset2.JPG
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.ScandalousSisterAimeewithsinners.jpg
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.”ScandalousSisterAimeeontrial.jpg
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.”RozRyaninScandalous.jpg
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.AimeeSempleMcPherson.jpg
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 essentiallyKathieLeeandBambino.jpg 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.PatapplaudingatScandalous.JPG
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.WillieGeistandHoda.jpg
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.AimeeSempleMcPherstein.jpg
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?
Who knew?
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.Justusgirls2.jpg
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.
        You know.
Just us girls. And, yes, one nice Jewish dad. 

4:57 pm 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Word From the Weiss

roseimage1.jpg         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?WilliamandKatewithyellowroses.jpg
        Even with the imminent approach of Chanukah, t
hat 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.)KathieLeeandHodawithredwine.jpg
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.comlogo2.JPGBabyCenter.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.)SofiaVergarawithPepsi.jpg 
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). UmaThurman.jpgSo 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).HarlanHarrietandArel.JPG
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,RabbiAkiva.jpg 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.LittleboyreadingbookwithletterA.jpg
        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 personality.
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 unique.Pattieinclassin1963.JPG
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. 3.
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.AllegraKentbook.jpg
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.)
? 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.MadonnaandRosannainDesperatelySeeking.jpg
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.AidanQuinninDesperatelySeekingSusan.jpg
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.AidanasSuperbaby.JPG
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.Bunnieat53cropped.jpg
“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.MyNameIsAsherLevbookcover.jpg
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 Asher Lev.Aidaninkindergarten.JPG
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).NeilSimon.jpg
         “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).UncleAbewithcigar2.jpg
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.AidanandAllegrasnapshots.JPG
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 hour.)
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.JohnCorbettinMyBigFatGreekWedding.jpg
        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.MotherscoldingsonAidan.jpg
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 that year.
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 thatAidangreenbeanbagchairfromLandsEnd.JPG 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 AllegrawithAllegrameds.jpgpill 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 surprised.Aidanon25thbirthday2.jpg
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.”)Hilfigershirt.jpg
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.Grandmawaspyschic.jpg
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.AidanaNov2012.JPG
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.roseimage2.jpg
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.
        And unique.
3:15 pm 

Archive Newer | Older

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

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

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