|That's me, Pattie Weiss Levy.
A Modern-Day "Ima"
on a Modern-Day Bimah
new content posted every WEEK!)
Saturday, March 30, 2013
A Word From the Weiss
Why is this night different from all other nights? That is always the question
(or at least the opening salvo to that age-old series of them known in Yiddish as the Fir Kashes). No one ever asks,
“Why is this Passover different from all other Passovers?” Probably because the answer to that would be plain
Another year, another Pesach. Same basic cast of characters. Same Manischewitz,
matzah, brisket, and gefilte fish, not to mention matzah ball soup.
But who needs novelty when you have something
that’s even better -- tradition?
In keeping with that tradition, in case you’re wondering why I didn’t
post anything last week, the answer is that I have felt like I’ve been on a treadmill for the past few weeks. Being a true balabusta
(a Yiddish term which has absolutely nothing to do with balls, other than those of the matzah persuasion), I would consider
it perfectly fine if preparing for this holiday were just about food. But if you ask me, that’s the least of it.
Neither am I especially daunted by the need to purge my cupboards of chametz (bread,
pasta, cereal, cake, and other leavened stuff). Now that the kids are gone, there’s no chance that someone
will forget it’s Passover and inadvertently gulp down a granola bar. So I do little more than hide the Mint Milanos
and put all visible bagels into the freezer.
The real issue for me is my own personal plague –
that over the winter, my house somehow turns into a (pardon the expression) pigpen, incorrigible packrats that we are.
For years, prior to Passover, I would clean and purge manically for two weeks before my father,
the neatnik, arrived. I didn’t want him to know how we really lived.
Now that my father is no longer with us, having passed away nearly 15 years ago, I still clean
and purge for weeks before my big brother arrives, neatnik that he is, instead.
I would like to say
that I don't really give a rat's diminutive derriere what my brother thinks about the chaotic condition of my house.
But the truth is that I don't want to give him any reason to believe that I am defective as a human being or inferior to him
in any way.
I would also like to say that I'm cleaning and purging mostly for my own benefit. The truth? I think that I’m still
doing it for my father. I want to prove that I am neither defective nor inferior to my brother. And if so, this is a battle
that I will never win now.
So go figure.
Anyway, I easily managed to fill both our recycling bin and garbage can to the brim and then some. And then, just when
everything looked astonishingly pristine (for us, anyway), I proceeded to decimate the kitchen again while preparing chicken
soup, brisket, matzah balls, charoseth, carrot tsimmes, chopped liver, and all the necessary ingredients to a traditional
seder. (I insist on making everything from scratch, with the sole exception of the gefilte fish, which is already made expertly by
our local Jewish market, The Crown.)
This being the first time that my son Aidan’s girlfriend, the vegetarian, would be joining us, I also went to
the extra trouble of making vegetable broth and a veggie version of my brisket (which wasn’t anything like brisket,
but a noble effort nonetheless).
For us, the usual cast of characters included our two kids from NYC, my brother and sister-in-law from Long Island,
my niece from Brown University, and my cousin Susan, who lives nearby. We also make a special place at the table (or to be
exact, on the table), for my husband’s favorite Passover companion, The Dancing Matza Man.
They came, they saw, they read from the Haggadah, and a good and very filling time was had by all.
Within hours, though, they all had left, and I set about cleaning it all up once again.
And along with kvelling about how nice it had been, I couldn't help thinking to myself, I spent two weeks
cleaning manically just for one afternoon?
And the next day, just when I had managed to wash and put away every single
serving dish, wine glass, and piece of sterling silver flatware, I decided to invite a few friends over for a second seder
the following night.
No, I’m not a glutton for punishment (or for Manischewitz). It’s just that I had about four pounds of brisket
left over and didn’t know what else to do with all that meat (the veggie version went home with the girlfriend, and who
knows what she did with that?).
Also, having managed to clean up our act, I wanted to capitalize on our uncharacteristically tidy house by making sure
that someone else saw it while it was still presentable.
Plus, I had forgotten at the first seder to make use of the adorable
set of plague masks I had stumbled upon at a Judaica shop in NYC. Couldn’t let those go to waste!
I made it abundantly clear to the friends
I had invited, though, that this would not just be a second-night seder, but also a second-hand one. It would consist strictly
of leftovers served quite unceremoniously in baking pans and Tupperware containers.
My friends Pat, Michael, Liz, and Danielle brought some of their leftovers as well, and it was such a relaxing time
(and such a relief to make a sizable dent in that brisket) that we decided then and there that we may make that a new family
tradition as well.
No, by the way, we did NOT wear those silly masks throughout the whole meal. A little absurdity
goes a long way, and as they say at Passover, if we’d worn them just long enough to snap that photo, it would have been
enough. Dayenu! Still, it was
one of the most laid-back and satisfying seders I have ever attended, even if it was not the most elegant. Nor the most traditional.
Neither was it exactly the hippest, though. That, according to reliable sources, had already taken place the
As you may know, I fancy myself a sort of "I Love Lucy" of the Jewish mother set. I always start off having
some good intention, usually with an aim to help one of my kids. It just rarely quite ends up working out that way.
But then, every once in a while, it
I'm not sure that I should dare to write about this -- I probably should quit while I'm ahead.
But one such thing did happen just last week.
Aidan had written to me earlier this
month to ask a professional question. I think that one of the reasons he calls me as often as he does, even if he seems to
find me insufferably annoying, is that he wants to consult me about issues that often crop up in his sideline career
as a free-lance writer. He knows that his dad, who remains a newspaper reporter and consumer columnist, probably will have
an answer to these quandaries, but that (at least I would like to believe) as a longtime journalist and nice Jewish mom, I
may have an even better one.
In any case, he had a problem. As a jazz journalist who writes regularly for the Village
Voice, JazzTimes magazine and Blue Note Records, Aidan had learned that there was a super-hip public seder
being held at City Winery in NYC on March 19th featuring several musicians whom he admires, including Lou Reed, a founding
member back in the '60s of the Velvet Underground.
He had quickly pitched the seder event to the City Room Blog at The New York Times, for which he sometimes
writes as well, but they'd quickly turned him down. Having already gone to the trouble of artfully composing the pitch, he
didn't want that work to simply go to waste. He also was still eager to attend and also cover the event.
So he wrote to me for suggestions about
where else to send his story proposal.
I had no idea, but promised to give it some careful thought. I proceeded to Google “Jewish publications,”
and to peruse the pages of several of them online. Then I wrote back suggesting that Aidan could try the Jewish Week,
but that his best bet was probably the Jewish Daily Forward, which turned out to have a surprisingly extensive and
savvy, even hip-sounding arts and culture section.
That wasn't at all what he’d had in mind, he countered. He was
considering pitching the story to Spin magazine instead.
I confessed that I had never read Spin in my life. But the fact is that I do know how to pitch a story, and
where to pitch a story, and I was absolutely convinced that this could be a general-interest piece (for New York
magazine, perhaps). But if he was going the special-interest route, the category for his audience wasn't jazz. It was Jews.
When he continued to scoff at my idea, I went so far as to forward him the link to The Forward and a fascinating
retrospective story that I'd read in it about the movie Gentleman's Agreement, one of the best ever made, starring
my all-time favorite actor, Gregory Peck. Aidan never responded to this, though, or deigned to mention it again.
Just last week, though, he texted me
as follows: "I sold my Lou Reed Downtown Seder pitch to the Jewish Forward! Should make a great opening to my book proposal."
There was no explicit, "Thanks, Mom," added of course. But no thanks was necessary. It's enough for me to
know that I helped him on his way in some small way.
And he, in turn, is now helping me in a big way, because he did go to
that funky seder, taking his sister as his “plus one,” no less. The story ran in the JDF this week. And
in view of all of those guests I have just had, I am too exhausted to write an entire blog. So I’m going to treat you
to a guest blog of sorts and insert some excerpts from his article here:
The Hippest Seder on Earth
Lou Reed is standing in front of a room full of Jews on Varick Street on a night
that is unquestionably different from all other nights. “Exodus, movement of Jah people. Send us another brother Moses
from across the Red Sea,” Reed intones with the cryptic, stentorian sermonizing of a downtown, denim-clad rocker-turned-street
rabbi. The text, culled from Bob Marley’s “Exodus,” is a politically charged retelling of the biblical tale
— Reed’s assigned passage for the star-studded March 19 Downtown Seder at City Winery — and his interpretation
is anything but orthodox. “Move, move, move, move, move, move!” he rasps with a risible if unleavened air from
the de facto bimah. “Park… or move."
Now 71, the former Velvet Underground frontman and downtown
prophet held the bibulous congregation, perhaps slightly hipper than the typical minyan, in rapt if compromised attention
to receive the hard-earned wisdom of the “wise child” between their second and third glasses of wine. Or fourth
or fifth, but at this Seder, who’s counting?
“Feel free to drink in any order,” City Winery impresario Michael Dorf stipulated before the
first glass was tipped. “You are leaning as free men and women, leaning neither to the left nor to the right.”
At a Seder that was more deconstructionist than Reconstructionist, the other three children all betrayed a youthful
innocence that mined the Haggadah for its symbolic depth. Performance artist Laurie Anderson, Reed’s wife, as the simple
child, recited “The Dream Before,” a contemplation of the meaning of history. Rockapella founder Sean Altman,
the rebellious child, performed a whimsically irreverent papal tribute penned by fictional Pope Antisemiticus titled “Blame
the Jews,” as well as “My Phantom Foreskin,” a circumcision ballad. Cast against type as child who does
not know how to ask, Philip Glass opted out of the interrogative mode in typical Zen fashion by tickling the ivories with
his “Etude No. 10.” There are few reasons most Jews would consume the bread of affliction earlier than absolutely
necessary; this was one of them.
In lieu of the typical four questions, the Downtown Seder Haggadah expands on socially conscious quandaries that have not
yet been answered. Leading figures from the public and non-profit sectors addressed modern plagues — gun violence, the
modern slavery of human trafficking, climate change and global poverty — in an attempt to part a deadlier kind of Red
Sea. Among them were Julie Menin, a candidate for Manhattan borough president, Maurice Middleberg, executive director of Free
the Slaves, and Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence…
Despite a dearth of hametz, laughs
were not in short supply… Stand-up comic and author Joel Chasnoff extolled the virtues of kosher for Passover candy,
the dog-hair-covered afikomen hidden underneath the couch, and life in the Israeli army; [and] comedienne Judy Gold performed
a modified “Dayenu,” enumerating Lance Armstrong’s more than sufficient misdeeds.
For humor more conducive to reclining, screenings included Internet video star Michelle Citrin’s ode to the many uses
of leftover matzah, [and] a comic trio from the off-Broadway show “Old Jews Telling Jokes” (“A guy hands
a piece of matzah to a blind man. The man says, ‘Who wrote this crap?’”)…
The night ended, belt
buckles a little tighter from a festive meal of matzo ball soup, eggplant lasagna, and red bliss potatoes, with the obligatory
macaroon dessert. Then, as though possessed by the spirit of Elijah himself, liturgical folk singer-songwriter Jeremiah Lockwood
sang a fiery rendering of “Eliyahu Hanavi,” leading the crowd back into the urban desert.
Anyway, that’s the story from Lake Bread-Be-Gone.
And here, in conclusion, are my four
questions for you:
Who came up with the idea of having red wine, red horseradish, brisket in gravy, and all that other good, super-stainy stuff
packed into one mammoth meal? The tablecloth industry? The makers of Oxi Clean? (My late mother-in-law’s best tablecloth
now indicates that had there just been the horseradish -- the one with the beet-red complexion -- it would have been enough.)
Why does my husband drop everything and stand within a foot of the TV every time contestant Angie Miller starts to sing
on American Idol? Doesn’t he know that she’s close to being jail bait (having just finished high school
less than a year ago), and that, no, she isn’t Jewish?
If I find it this agonizing to go through eight days without a single crumb of bread, pasta, cookies, or corn products,
how does anyone manage to follow a gluten-free diet?
Why can’t anyone ever seem to admit that, at least sometimes,
Mother really knows best?
Friday, March 15, 2013
Word From the Weiss
Honesty is not only the best policy, it’s also in the Ten Commandments, along
with all that mishegas about honoring thy father and thy mother (my obvious personal favorite as NiceJewishMom.com),
keeping the Sabbath (which I keep meaning to do), and not coveting thy neighbor’s house, wife, male or female servant, ox and/or
donkey (no specific mention of iPads, perfect bodies, or Kate Spade pocketbooks, thank God).
It’s also the policy in this
country that we are deemed innocent until proven guilty. And although I’m far from perfect in any way, I’m scrupulously
honest and do nothing remotely skeevy enough to land me on the front page of the newspaper, let alone in jail.
Why, then, do I so often end up feeling guilty, or fear that others will think I am? Sure, as we all know,
inflicting guilt is the age-old specialty among nice Jewish moms. Yet we’re supposed to inflict those feelings on others,
rather than ourselves. Aren’t we?
Maybe it’s that long before I became an NJM, I had one myself. Not
just one, but generations of ’em, imposing pangs of guilt on me. What goes around comes around, as they say, and as
honest as I may be, guilt – or the appearance of it – keeps coming around to me.
As it did yet again, to my infinite
distress and duress, during the past week.
As I have mentioned before, my husband and I are the parents of not just two grown children, but also one
young and very high-spirited Portuguese Water Dog. Latke, who turned 1 last month, has begun evolving into a sweet-natured
and civilized little critter at last... provided that she gets her daily dose of exercise and socialization.
Without a vigorous play date or two, she soon becomes a nuisance and destructive menace. I don’t just
mean that she gets a little hyper; I’m talking Doggie Jekyll and Ms. Hyde. She has chewed up my husband’s Bluetooth,
not just once, but twice. She also noodges us relentlessly, nips at our heels and clothing, and litters the living
room rug with shredded items, ranging from decimated dog toys to plastic containers that she filches from the recycling bin and plenty of perfectly good
stuff that we still actually want.
So after managing to finish raising two fairly civilized human offspring,
I now find myself back in the business of desperately seeking playmates for my furry little toddler.
This involves prowling the neighborhood and nearby parks for canine companions, then plying perfect strangers
for their names and phone numbers so that we can arrange to meet them and their dogs again sometime.
The closest friend Latke has made so far in this manner is Duke, a wheat-colored, 1-year-old Labradoodle
who lives a few blocks away. With the exceptions of fur color and gender, these two are nearly identical in every way: size, age, temperament, and interests (they both favor snout-to-snout combat and are mad about mud). Together, they cavort
with abandon like wild savages, barking and biting, battling over twigs, and wallowing ecstatically in murky puddles. If only
my husband and I were close to this compatible.
It isn’t just a matter of genuine puppy love. They’re
a match made in doggie heaven.
The same thing cannot quite be said of Duke’s mom and me. “Becky” is about two decades
younger than I am, with three youngsters still at home. She’s also a presumed WASP who once asked me when we Jews would
be holding our Passover “cedars” this year because she feared that they would conflict with a fundraiser she was
Yet she’s truly one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, surprisingly friendly and unpretentious,
considering how pretty she is. And as the fellow parent of a canine hellion, she shares my eagerness to secure camaraderie
for her own furry little fiend.
So almost daily, Latke and stroll over to her house hoping to see Duke outside. Their huge yard happens to
abut a golf course, so the dogs have plenty of room to play. Although their property isn’t enclosed, Duke has an Invisible
Fence that keeps him contained, and Latke tends to stay in close proximity while they’re engaged in combat.
Our house has no such physical or electronic barrier yet. So the dogs only play there.
And since mine is the only dog
with the freedom to bolt, I am the only one who keeps watch.
Last week, only minutes after we arrived, Becky came outside and said that she had to run out to the gym
and to do some errands, but that Latke and I were welcome to stay for as long as we liked. She was simply going to leave her
garage door up and requested that, before leaving, I put Duke into their house via a door inside the garage.
She also apologized profusely that
she never seemed to have any time to talk to me because she was always on the run, but she promised to do it one of these
I said that all of this was no problem and readily agreed to put the dog inside.
The fact is that I don’t really expect her or any of the dog owners we visit to linger outside and
socialize. It’s bad enough that one of us is stuck standing outside in the snow and cold cooling her heels (literally)
for an hour or more. Why should two people have to do it?
Also, to be honest, who knows how much I will have to converse about
endlessly with any of these people while our dogs frolic together? For many years, I used to take a long walk five mornings
a week with our previous Portuguese Water Dog, Zoe, her best friend Maggie, and Maggie’s owner/mom. “Marta,”
as I will call her, didn’t read books or go to movies or the theater. She wasn’t Jewish, didn’t have children
of her own, and didn’t want to hear about mine. There was only one topic that we really had in common – our dogs.
On the other hand, I must admit that it feels creepy standing in Becky’s back yard by myself. Although
she has assured me that we’re always welcome, I feel like an intruder.
I also fear that the rest of Becky’s
family isn’t nearly as receptive as she is. Once, when my husband and I rang the doorbell and asked her husband if “Duke
can come out and play,” he looked at us askance and said that this just wasn’t a good time. Another day, one of
her children, upon seeing us there, anxiously ordered their dog to come in.
I also must admit that, on that
day last week, I felt even more uncomfortable about the notion of opening their door and putting the dog inside. I worried
that Duke might not come when I called. It also seemed a little risky for Becky to leave her house unlocked after I would
Yet Latke won’t ever give me the uninterrupted peace and quiet that I need to write unless she has
had enough activity to render her all tuckered out. So I had little choice.
Despite the bitter cold, we stayed
for over an hour, much of which I passed by chatting with a friend on my iPhone. Unfortunately, the phone eventually died.
I had intended to call my husband, who was home, to help put Duke into the house in case he refused or, even better, to come
and take over watching the dogs until Becky’s return. Now I had no way to contact him, so I stuck it out until I could
hardly feel my feet.
Then, to my surprise, Duke came instantly when called and ran right in. So I left.
Latke and I were halfway down the block when Becky drove up in her SUV and rolled down her window. She asked if I had
observed anyone going into her house during the time I’d been there.
I assured her that I hadn’t
seen a soul and asked why.
Her purse was missing, she explained.
She hastened to add that she had noticed muddy footsteps leading up to the front door and asked how recently
I’d left and if any of the workers who had been completing an addition on her house happened to have stopped by. Again,
I assured her otherwise, insisting that I was the only one who’d been there. Then, before I could say another word,
she sped off, saying that she was going to check if she had left it somewhere during her travels.
And by the time she had managed to reach the corner, the full implications of the situation sank in.
I had been the only person there
when her purse had mysteriously vanished. I also had been well aware that the house was open. Might she possibly come to suspect
And even if she didn’t suspect me, might her husband plant that bug in her ear? The fact was that only
a day or two before, she had left me alone with the dogs while he had accompanied her to get her car serviced. Initially,
she had proposed the same arrangement – that she’d leave the garage open and have me put Duke inside when I left.
Then her husband had summoned her for a hushed chat, after which she’d said that on second thought they were locking
up instead and I should just leave the dog in the yard.
Now I began wracking my brain, wondering if anyone could have slipped in while I was there without my noticing.
The fact was that it’s a large house with a circular drive. And I had been on the phone for quite a while. But I was
confident no one had come.
I felt glad that Becky had driven by before I had managed to reach home, hoping that
she’d noticed I was carrying only one thing – the short, spare leash that I always leave on
Latke when the dogs play, held carefully away from my body because it was so muddy.
But when I got home and blurted
out this sorry tale to my husband, I couldn’t help voicing my fears that I was not a citizen above suspicion. He told
me I was totally nuts, and that Becky would never suspect me any more than I would have suspected her.
Was I? The fact was that she was
so busy that we’d never had more than a fleeting chat while she was coming or going. She once had walked me home with
Duke, possibly to check out my house and get some insight into what sort of people we were. But beyond that, and the pleasantries
we often exchanged, she didn’t really know me.
Or how honest I really am.
OK, other than criminals, almost everyone probably considers themselves
honest. And far be it from me to ever toot my own horn. But the fact is that when I say that I’m honest, I mean that
I can be brutally honest. Almost excessively honest. Some might call it honest to a fault.
It’s not just that I don’t
cheat on my taxes, and when playing tennis, if I’m not quite sure whether the ball was in or out, I automatically call
it in favor of my opponent. When I pore over restaurant checks, it’s to make sure that they’re accurate for both
parties, and if I discover that I have been undercharged, I always call it to the wait staff’s attention.
Once, after taking my daughter
out to lunch, I noticed when I got home that the restaurant had forgotten to charge us for a bowl of soup, so I drove back
with her in the pouring rain to make amends. Granted, I was trying to set something of an example for her. Another time, though,
I bought some groceries at a store near my hair salon and realized when I got home that they had forgotten to charge me for a pie. My salon is some
distance away, though, so the next time I had my hair done, six weeks later, I went in and told them about it and insisted
on paying for the pie then.
They clearly thought I was a little crazy. I think that my integrity is not worth $7.99.
But Becky had no way of knowing this about me because we’d hardly ever talked.
The more I thought about
the predicament I was in, the more distraught I became. My only hope was that she might find the purse by retracing her footsteps,
or discover it misplaced somewhere in the house. And since she was unlikely to report this back to me, the only way I
was going to find out that this had happened was if I gave her a call.
I also hoped that placing such
a call would indicate my total innocence to her (although I also began to worry that it might sound suspicious, like I was
I didn’t have her number, but I knew my husband had it on his cell phone, along
with all the countless other numbers of dog owners he had collected. And when he showed it to me, I realized that until that
moment I hadn’t known Becky’s last name.
The fact was that I had never even been exactly sure of her first name, or what I was supposed to
call her. She was one of those “name users.” I don’t mean a name dropper, as in someone who peppers her
conversation with the names of celebrities and other influential people she knows in order to impress you. I’m talking
about someone who inserts your name into almost every sentence while she’s talking to you. “So good to see you,
Nice Jewish Mom!” Or, “You see, Nice Jewish Mom, it’s like this...”
I had long awkwardly avoided reciprocating
this habit in any way or directly addressing her because I hadn’t been paying enough attention when we’d first
Did she expect people to call her by her full given name, “Rebecca,” or did she prefer Becky,
or even Becca? I didn’t want to make a stupid mistake when I called her. So I resorted to the only recourse I could
think of – I Googled her.
And that’s when I learned not only her name, but all the things we had in common.
For years, she had been an editor at one of the largest publishing houses in NYC, much as throughout my mid-20s
I had worked as an assistant editor at New York magazine.
Then, according to the wedding announcement I found in The New York Times, she had gotten married when she was 29,
the exact same age at which I had tied the knot.
After this, she evidently had continued to work in her publishing
job for many years, but ultimately, just like me, had chosen to stay home with the kids.
My first reaction was enormous
excitement. We not only would have plenty to discuss, but maybe she could offer some advice about the book I intend to self-publish
The more I thought about it, though, it might seem skeevy that I had Googled her. Even worse, might my suddenly
knowing all sorts of information about her lead her to suspect that I actually had stolen her purse and taken a good look
through her wallet?
Either way, when I phoned her, all that I got was her voice mail. So I simply left a cheery
message (a little too cheery, perhaps?) saying that I remained concerned about her purse and hoped that she
had found it, and to please call me back either way on my home phone number, which I supplied.
Then I spent the remainder of the day fretting because she didn’t call me back. Nor did I hear anything
by the time I had to leave for my weekly Zumba class that night.
I never have been much of an exercise enthusiast,
and if it weren’t for Zumba, my physical exertion probably would be limited to whatever calories I manage to burn walking
the dog. I love this class so much, though, that I almost never miss it. The music and Salsa dance moves are so lively that they
help me unwind and make working out – dare I say it? – actual fun.
That night, though, I couldn’t unwind there, and it wasn’t at all fun because instead of losing
myself in the Merengue, Mambo, and other Latin-inspired moves, all I could think about was Becky’s purse.
I remained so nervous that she
might think I had stolen it that I left the class early. Then I rushed home, unable to wait to find out if she had finally
But she hadn’t.
Neither had she called by the next
afternoon, at which point I really began to obsess. By then, my imagination was running wilder than any naughty
puppy at play, and I had begun to expect the worst.
My husband continued to call me insane, but I quickly reminded him
of what had happened last year, when our portable generator had been stolen from our driveway after a major storm. “Do
you remember the first thing the police asked us when they came?” I inquired.
“Whether you stole Becky’s purse?”” he asked.
Argh! No, they had demanded to
know the names and numbers of everyone who'd been at our house that day so they could contact them and ask if they'd seen
anything suspicious. We’d been obliged to call our lawn service and cleaning woman to assure them that we didn’t
suspect them, but they could expect to hear from the police.
Wouldn’t Becky experience the same thing
if she reported the theft?
Throughout that day, I jumped every time the phone rang, wondering if it might be Becky -- or the cops. And when late that
afternoon the doorbell did ring, my heart raced.
Then, to my horror, I peered out and saw a burly young man with
I opened the door barely able to breathe. He said that he needed to speak with me.
Then he asked if I was interested
in switching my TV service from Comcast to AT&T U-Verse.
If only I could have switched off my mounting anxiety. I began to mull over the things I might say to Becky, provided we
ever got to speak again, that might subtly indicate that I’m not the sort of person who would ever steal anything, let
alone a neighbor's purse. As it happened, a friend had given me a gift certificate for my birthday to have a facial, and I
had scheduled it for that very afternoon. To me, this was the sign of a privileged life.
It was not the sort of thing I normally gravitate toward. I rarely if ever even get my nails done, let alone
indulge in a facial or massage. Face it: I'm just not the spa type.
But someone who was pampered enough to go for
micro-dermabrasion clearly wasn’t in the habit of pinching pocketbooks. Was there a way to work that naturally into
a conversation (assuming that I’d get to talk to her)? “I really have to run. I’m late for my facial appointment!”
or “I hope my face doesn’t look red or flushed. I just came back from having a facial!”
Or should I tell her about the three different stories I had written as a newspaper reporter about home thefts,
including one that had appeared in both Good Housekeeping and Reader’s Digest about the time that
I’d accosted a young intruder while he was trying to break into a neighbor’s house? (The whole block had hailed
me as a local hero, but the police had been livid that I’d taken matters into my own hands instead
of calling them first.)
Either way, the moral of the story was that I was someone who curtailed burglaries,
not committed them.
I didn’t dare go to Becky’s to let the dogs play, though, fearing that I was no longer welcome.
But by dusk, after that spa treatment, I could stand it no longer and decided to take Latke for a walk.
We strolled down the block in their direction, and as I rounded the corner, I saw that Becky’s garage
door was down, usually a sure sign that the dog was not outside.
We continued toward it anyway, though. And just
as we passed her driveway, a big SUV rounded the bend and turned into it, and I saw that it was her. I froze in my tracks.
When she saw me, though, she stopped short, rolled down her window and waved. It was not just a friendly wave. It was
a “come hither” wave. A wave that said, “Let’s talk!”
And when I had gotten within earshot,
her lips curled into an enormous grin. “You’ll never believe it!” she called to me. “It was at the
The only thing I really couldn't believe was that this ordeal
was finally over.
“Oh, my God!” I exclaimed, nearly crying with joy. “I’m so relieved!”
Then I did nervously blurt out
my anecdote about the home theft I had intercepted.
I did not mention anything about my new insights into her personal
life, however. The fact that I'd gone to the trouble of Googling her still sounded a little intrusive, I suspected.
Not to mention skeevy.
When I mentioned my phone call, she hastened to explain that she had wanted to call me back, but hadn’t
had my number, she said. Perhaps the end of my message had gotten cut off. Yet she now entered both of my numbers into her
phone and readily gave me hers so that we could arrange our future doggie dates more easily. And she restated that I was welcome
We agreed that it was too close to dinnertime for the dogs to play right then, considering that Latke, at
least, always needs to follow up these mudbaths with a 20-minute scrubdown in the sink. But Becky invited us to return
the next day, which we gladly did.
Then, once again, she reiterated her eagerness to stop and chat with me, and said that she just needed to
finish cleaning something in the house and would be right out.
But once again,
Latke and I stayed for nearly an hour, and she never did come out.
Nor has she stopped to talk since.
Maybe one of these days we will
get to have that conversation, and we will realize how much we have in common and decide to start a small press together,
and -- despite our differences in age and disparate backgrounds -- she will become my new best friend.
Or maybe she will come out in the
yard and we will discover that we have virtually nothing to sustain more than five minutes of idle chitchat, other than our
distant pasts… and our dogs.
Whatever. I’m beyond relieved that once again I’m a citizen above suspicion.
I’m also beyond relieved
that, as you can see, my facial didn’t leave my face red or flushed (although I’m not sure I'll ever choose to
indulge in one again).
But mostly I’m relieved that Latke and Duke are free to frolic, romp, kick up their padded little heels
and revel with abandon in the mud and muck once more. Because all I ever really wanted in all of this (aside from my
good name and a clear conscience) was to have a regular canine companion for my devilish little dog.
Friday, March 1, 2013
A Word From the Weiss
Happy belated Purim, everyone!
Purim – the closest thing
we Jews have to Halloween – certainly is a happy occasion, a time of frivolity, joy, and even rabbinically sanctioned
drunken revelry. But when happiness is officially on the calendar, am I the only one whose thoughts instantly turn not to
fun, but to all the potential disasters that might occur to spoil it instead?
Given my ordinary level of Jewish
mother’s anxiety, I’m not just talking about anticipating a few minor mishaps here, but rather the prospect of
anything and everything possible going wrong.
Maybe I should call myself Nervous Jewish Mom instead, for that has been my prevailing mindset in recent
weeks. And who could blame me? After all, we’re not just talking about one more day on the calendar for me. Why, beyond
being Nice Jewish Mom, Purim is practically my life!
As I have often noted here before, I’ve had the dubious honor for the past dozen years or so of writing
the annual Purim play, or spiel as it’s called, for my temple. Each year I rewrite the lyrics to nine or ten
songs from some Broadway musical of my choice, creating everything from "Bye, Bye, Haman" (based on Bye, Bye,
Birdie) to “South Pers-cific” and "Est Side Story." Then my husband and I attend rehearsals every
Sunday throughout the winter, along with anyone else at Congregation Beth Israel who chooses to join in the fun.
Along with appearing in many of the production numbers ourselves, Nice Jewish Dad and I also narrate the
story of the holiday, using a script that I wrote last year after our former rabbi, who used to do it, left the congregation.
Locally, I’m somewhat known in certain circles (i.e. Jewish ones) for these efforts. So, as lame as it might sound,
this is my one moment in the spotlight each year.
Yet never in more than a decade have I invited almost anyone I know to attend. For one thing, I was essentially born
without a self-promotion gene and feel uncomfortable calling attention to myself. For another, the production is customarily
held on Sunday morning in lieu of religious school, to maximize attendance by kids, and I figure that few of my friends or
relatives really want to wake up early on Sunday and rush over to temple.
This year, though, because Purim fell on a Saturday during school break, we decided to hold the spiel that
night instead. And not even at night, really. It began at 5 p.m. and lasted only an hour, meaning that people could come and
still go out for the evening afterwards. Not to mention that the reception immediately following would include an open wine
bar, courtesy of The Tribe, our temple's 20s and 30s group. (Did I mention sanctioned drunken revelry?)
So, I figured, why not invite people
for once? Maybe even everyone I know?
To my surprise, quite a few, including some non-Jewish friends, responded that they’d try to be
there. These included my dear friend Catherine Fellows Johnson, who is the director of the dance department at Central Connecticut
State University. (I had seen so many of her performances over the years, and was dying for her to see one of my efforts for
once.) So did several members of my book group, the Shayna Maidels, whom I’d invited in large part because another member, Beth Fox, had landed one of the lead roles, as Queen Vashti.
But just when it seemed like we
would have a record number of personal guests, Murphy’s law (which seems way too Jewish to have a name like Murphy)
began taking over. That is, everything that could go wrong started going wrong.
The only two people that I’d
thought I could count on to show up were my own kids. But I’d already resigned myself to the fact that my son would
not be bringing home his girlfriend for the occasion. In fact, I was afraid to even mention the possibility to anyone, following
one of the most embarrassing moments in my entire history of being a mom.
I’d broached the prospect to Aidan knowing that he and his sister always come home for Purim, and thinking
that he would not want to abandon the young woman he’s been dating on a Saturday night. But he instantly had replied
that she wasn’t available. The girlfriend, who is getting her Ph.D., would be away attending a conference that weekend,
When we took them out to dinner a few weeks later, I told her how sorry I was that she couldn’t join
us for Purim, given that conference that she needed to attend.
“What’s Purim?” she asked.
Then she turned to him, looking even more perplexed.
He looked at her. Then at me. His face turned beet red.
Am I so pushy, even on the Jewish mother Richter scale (that is, the Linda Richman scale, a la Mike Myers)
that he didn’t think I would’ve taken no for an answer if he’d said that he wouldn’t be ready to bring
her home until, say, Passover instead?
It was so awkward that I didn’t even dare to mention it to him afterwards.
At least I knew that I could depend on Aidan himself, as well as his sister Allegra.
Allegra, however, had decided to spend the week leading up to the spiel in LA visiting a friend, since she
was off from work for Presidents’ Week. She was scheduled to fly back the night before, specifically in order to be
home for Purim. Then she would take a bus from New York with Aidan on Saturday morning.
The weather report in the preceding days was rife with dire warnings about major storms brewing in the Midwest,
though. With blizzards, high winds, and even tornado warnings, flights were canceled everywhere. Chicago had already closed
its airport in advance for Friday. Did the powers that be have something against Purim? I resigned myself to the realization
that there was probably no way she’d make it home on time from L.A. As disappointing as this was, I was most concerned
by far that she'd manage to get back to New York safely.
I’ve long been a nervous Nelly about flying in general, but air travel in bad weather totally unnerves
me. What if something dreadful occurred? We’d been rehearsing for this performance for three months straight. What
if anything bad befell my daughter?
I couldn’t bear to think about it. Yet instead of rehearsing my
lines and dance moves in the preceding days, I had visions of planes crashes dancing in my head.
Meanwhile, weather warnings at home were also threatening to derail our performance and keep all of our friends at bay.
A mammoth blizzard two weekends earlier had already dumped more than two feet of snow, obliging us to cancel a desperately
needed rehearsal. Now forecasters were predicting another storm for Saturday afternoon, expected to douse us with 4 to 8 inches
of snow and/or sleet, making driving conditions perilous.
Hearing this, I wrote to our friends Sally and Dial, who are such
devotees of my Purim spiels that Sally appeared in it last year, even though neither of them is Jewish and she needed a crash
course in Hebrew to get by.
“Yeah, sounds like it could be bad,” Sally wrote back. “If it’s OK, we’ll play
it by ear; I must confess to being a wimp about driving in snowy conditions (or biting my nails when Dial does…).”
Of course we understood.
We also understood why our good friends Pat and Michael, who never miss it, already had
been obliged to opt out. Pat used to direct the spiel, and Michael had appeared in it for several years too. So they’d intended to stay home from Vermont, where they usually spend their
weekends, in order to attend it this year. But a burst pipe and other such disasters had just befallen their Vermont
home, requiring them to spend the weekend there doing repairs.
Our nephew Charlie and his then-girlfriend
Holly used to come when they lived in Connecticut. But after marrying last summer, they both had entered grad school at
Berkeley and were not about to fly in from California for... Purim.
My cousin Susan, who lives much closer by, had sent her regrets too, although given her rationale for missing
it, that was the least of my concerns.
She had gone away in early February to spend a week with her parents,
who go to Florida each winter. But upon arrival there she’d discovered that her dad was so ill and weak that she had
put him in the hospital. My Uncle Gerard, who was about to turn 87, had remained so frail that she had extended her visit
for two weeks more, unable to leave.
I love my uncle. He's not only my late father’s adored older brother, but also the person who
might be most responsible for my passion for musical theater; throughout my childhood, we went to see him appear in countless
community productions. Who could forget him as one of the two fathers in The Fantasticks, or the time that he truly
brought down the house as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys & Dolls, singing “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’
Not to mention the memorable Motzi he belted out at my daughter's
bat mitzvah, as well as many another family simcha?
So I remained anxious,
fearing that something awful would happen just before the spiel, leaving me unable to go on.
I dreaded the prospect of letting
the many people involved in the spiel down. How could I, given the incredible level of time and effort they’d all put
into it since December?
Then again, there was probably no one else who was
more invested in this enterprise than I was, in terms of time, effort, or emotion. Which is why, I guess, I was so eager to
finally have all the people that I know see it for once.
Also, I take pride in all of my Purim creations, the way that I
love both of my children in equal measure. Yet I had come to a growing sense that this one might
be my very best ever.
I had decided to base it on Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate after hearing one of that musical’s
catchiest songs, “Another Op’nin, Another Show,” performed at a concert last spring and finding myself unable
to get the tune out of my mind. By the time we'd driven home, I had already penned the first few stanzas in my head:
Another Purim, another spiel
At Congregation Beth Isra-eeel
Another carnival and a meal
Another Purim and another spiel.
Another Purim, another show
Set in the Persia of long ago
chance to read the Megillah scro’
Another Purim and another show.
Each year, we rehearse and rehearse
Hoping to get better, not worse
The Cantor says, “On with the show!”
While mouthing the words that we still don’t
Later on, under deadline
pressure in early December, I had managed to pen the rest of this year's nine musical numbers. Then auditions had been held.
Although I had dared to play Queen Esther once, about a decade ago, I am no stellar performer and prefer to let
other congregants assume the lead roles.
Jeff Smith, a Purim regular for the past 25 years, had proven riotous
as fun-loving yet pompously obtuse King Ahasuerus as he intoned his song, “Where Is the Wife That First I Wed?”
This was set to the tune of “Where Is the Life That Late I Led?” and began like this:
When I asked my charming wife to dance for me
She refused and then stormed out in a huff
And though women sometimes can act uppity
I’m the king and not some guy you can rebuff.
But now that a married man no more am I
How to pass all these lonely nights unsure am I!
Where is the wife that first I wed?
Gone with the wind. She up and fled!
She shared my phone,
my throne, my bed.
Was it my breath? Something I said?...
Mitch Cohen, another
spiel regular, had shown himself to be singularly hilarious as Haman, the man we love to hate (and boo and hiss), having cultivated
an effete, Cyral Richard-style English accent that might be described as “Captain Hook meets Haman.” His song,
sung to shrewish Kate’s musical diatribe “I Hate Men,” went in part like this:
I hate Jews!
I hate them from their kippahs to their shoes!
They will not work on Shabbat, yet still all have lots of money
They make a mess on Rosh Hashanah with apples and honey
They don’t believe in Santa Claus and
shun the Easter bunny!
Oh, I hate Jews!...
But my favorite song in the whole production had nothing to do with Purim whatsoever. It had seemed irresistible to include
that inimitable number from Kiss Me, Kate called “Brush Up Your Shakespeare.” So I had managed to work it into the script by having my husband begin peppering his narration
with Yiddish terms. The king was a bissel ferblunget (a little mixed up), he noted, and if our story wasn’t
just a bubbemeizer (old wive’s tale), then it was a shanda (shame or scandal).
Then, when I interrupted to remind
him that we were telling the story of Purim in English, he'd retorted, “English, shminglish… Sometimes
we Jews have a better way of expressing ourselves,” and launched into “Brush Up Your Yiddish,” which went,
in part, like this:
(Prelude:) In modern schools, kids all learn to say
“Por favor” and/or “S’il vous plait”
along with knowing those words mean “please”
Some kids now even learn Chinese.
But a century ago
Or for some folks even late-a
In most Jewish homes they spoke
The tongue of Bubbeh and Zaydeh.
Brush up your Yiddish
Start speaking it now
Brush up your Yiddish
And your friends will all say, “Wow!”
If you call any woman a yenta
Then watch out, ‘cuz she’s gonna resent ya
you dare call a man a schlemazel
Then he might punch you right in the schnozzle...
And when people say that they have tsores,
They’re about to start kvetching and bore us!
Brush up your Yiddish. Raise your Jewish
I thought that my husband was especially amusing as he mugged his way through this tune vaudeville style, as one of the "Yiddishe
Mammas and Pappa."
I also had worked hard on all the lyrics and had put in months of rehearsing.
We were all set with costumes, props, and choreography. I even had spent hours designing the program. So sue me, sue me, what
can you do me? I don't get paid a cent for any of these efforts. All I really wanted was for some of the people I know to
see it, and if they didn’t... well, to me it was going to be a real shanda.
But by the afternoon before, weather
predictions had grown gloomier than ever. With snow and freezing rain looming, would we even get to perform it at all?
I mean, could we in good faith really allow people to risk their Iives for… Purim?
I wrote to the cantor voicing my concerns about the forecast, but she wrote back assuring me that we would
be fine. “Smile and LET THE
SHOW GO ON!!!!” she said,
suggesting that I have a glass of gin. (Did I mention sanctioned drunken revelry?)
I was so edgy and in such a frenzy
that I ended up having a screaming match with Aidan on the phone on Friday afternoon, prompting him to hang up on
me. Regardless of the weather, I guessed he wouldn’t be coming any more.
By some miracle, Allegra’s flight from L.A. did take off, though, and even land on time. But I still
had trepidation about allowing her to travel by bus from New York in a blizzard.
Then, late Friday night, just after
1 a.m., the phone rang. Being a night person, I was still awake, but my heart sank as I saw my cousin’s phone number
on the caller ID. I lifted the receiver in dread, only to hear her sobbing.
She had just flown back from Florida
and walked into her apartment moments earlier to get a horrible shock.
“My cat died,” she said.
"Your... cat?" I repeated, just to make sure that I had heard her correctly.
Far be it from me to make light of that. She had adored sweet Wheat, who had been old and ill for some time, and I
can honestly tell you that when I lost my beloved dog Zoe two years ago, it was arguably the most painful thing that I have
But I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, as I offered my heartfelt sympathy to her, I also breathed
a sigh of relief.
When I woke up the next morning, there was no snow. There wasn’t even sleet. Just a little bit of rain.
Allegra phoned to say that she was dressed and repacked and was taking the noon bus. And her brother was coming
Then she phoned from the station with a slight revision of plans. Make that a clarification. She wanted to
make sure I knew that Aidan’s girlfriend was with them.
She was coming!?!
Sally and Dial texted to say that they’d be there after all. So did our good (WASP) friend Russ. Then
Catherine called for directions to the temple. She would be there for sure.
As I peered out into the full-to-brimming
sanctuary just before the show began, I saw all of these people, including my kids and Aidan’s girlfriend, seated in
the fourth row. I also noticed our good friends Suzy and Stan Glantz, with Suzy's folks Lorry and Marty, who always make it
a point to come, even on Sunday morning.
Then, among the 300 or 400 others who had gathered, I also spied our dear old friends Rafi
and Lois, who have never seen it, sitting toward the back. And inside the laced-up bodice of my purple velvet medieval
costume, my heart nearly burst.
Then, after the assistant rabbi chanted a few lines in Hebrew from the Megillah, I
heard her cry, “And now, on with the show!”
We may not be the most professional troupe of actors in the world. We may not even be the most professional
troupe of Purim players in the world. But from ages 8 to 80ish, we could be the most enthusiastic, and that show went on almost
without a hitch.
Afterwards, we got to pose with Allegra, who declared as always that it was my best ever, and that
she wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Then I got snapped with Aidan and his girlfriend, who now knows what Purim is.
I also stopped to have my photo
taken surrounded by four of the Shayna Maidels, as well as with Sally and Dial.
Then we all repaired to the reception
and carnival. And although at that moment I had no tsuris or sorrows to drown, it was nice to have that open bar
at which to toast the realization that every once in awhile, everything that could possibly go wrong goes right.
So, yes, it was a happy Purim
With or without sanctioned drunken debauchery.
To see "Brush Up Your Yiddish" on YouTube,
please click on this link:
To see our grand finale, "There Are Jews in Venice," to the tune of "We Open in Venice," click
|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