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

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie at Cornelia Street Cafe.JPG        One of the few advantages of my having kids who are grown and on their own is that I’m free to ditch it all every once in a while and do something totally spontaneous. Of course, as a nice Jewish mom, the most spontaneous thing I’m usually inclined to do is to go and visit my kids.Allegra and Aidan.JPG
And considering that they actually allow me to come, can you honestly blame me?
My most recent adventure of the sort began last weekend when my husband and I saw a movie with our good friend Sally (The Grand Budapest Hotel, which I highly recommend). I already was feeling more restricted than usual by my daily routine, given that Passover had been in progress for nearly a week, barring me from eating bread, pasta, rice, cookies, or almost anything better than kale.
That’s when something that Sally happened to mention sent me over the edge.Sally.jpg
She said that she was going to a fundraiser in NYC on Monday night for Shrunken Shakespeare, a theater company in which her son Sam, a young actor, is involved. Admission to this gala was $100 a head, so the fact that her husband Dial was away in Italy working on a book provided a slight reprieve. But to attend the event, she still needed to stay overnight and had booked a hotel that was going to cost her over $200, on top of which there would be parking, gas, tolls, taxis...Sally's son Sam.jpg
The math alone made me want to howl. How absurd to spend that much and have the organization that she was going to support receive less than a third of the dough. She didn’t see any other alternative, though. But I had an instant inspiration.
My daughter Allegra was singing that very same night on the Lower East Side at a venue in which she had never performed before. Although under normal circumstances nothing comes between me and my Monday night Zumba class, I’d been tempted to go down and offer moral support. Sally’s situation pretty much clinched it.Allegra.jpg
If I joined her, I said, I was sure I could find much cheaper digs in Long Island City. Or perhaps, even better, we could crash with Allegra in her apartment for free. Sally said she’d love to have the company, and we agreed to confer sometime before Sunday night at 6, up until which time she could still cancel her hotel free of charge.
        I realized that it would be much easier to stay home and stick to my normal routine. Easier and cheaper, but not nearly as much fun… No, not fun at all. Boring!rabbit.jpg
Unfortunately, Sunday was Easter, which Sally happens to celebrate, and by the time we got around to talking it was nearly 6 p.m. And by the time I had finished texting Allegra to wrangle an invitation, and Sally and I had finished debating the pros and cons of my tagging along, I suddenly realized it was 6:05 and urged her to call the hotel asap.
She called me back to say that the hotel reservations line was being firm about the deadline, and it was already too late. Now, of course, I was totally gung ho about going. Was Sally willing to phone the hotel directly and try to wheedle her way out of the deal, or did that require a little too much chutzpah (meaning it was strictly a Jewish kind of thing)?Got chutzpah hat.jpg
I’m not sure about the answer to that, but with some hesitation Sally agreed to give it a try, even though she is a nice WASP. And to our great relief the hotel caved at once.
Sally, who is a French tutor, needed to teach a student early on Tuesday morning, requiring her to leave NYC at the crack of dawn – something I was decidedly loathe to do – so we hatched a rather convoluted plan. I’d park my car at the New Haven train station, about an hour away from home, and she would pick me up there on Monday afternoon.
We rendezvoused at 2:30, as planned, and soon were barreling down I-95 South together in her Subaru station wagon, two Real Housewives of Connecticut on the run.
We arrived at Allegra’s on Roosevelt Island exactly on the dot of 5. When I'd asked Sally why she didn’t simply stay over with Sam, who lives in Brooklyn, she had responded with a look of pure horror. Not to cast any aspersions on Sam, who is a fine actor and a fabulous guy, but he’s a 27-year-old man who shares his apartment with another 27-year-old man. The mere prospect of using the bathroom in this man zone clearly gave her hives.Allegra's living room.JPG
By contrast, I had explained that Allegra shares her apartment with two other young women who happen to be obsessive neatniks. Not only was their three-bedroom in a modern doorman building man-free, but positively pristine.
Still, Sally was unmistakably flabbergasted when we arrived and saw the premises. All of the walls were painted in soft, feminine shades like coral and lavender. The mostly vintage furniture, including a persimmon chaise longue, was elegantly arranged, with flourishing plants, mermaid figurines and other distinctly girly tchotchkes scattered throughout.Jamie and Courtney.jpg
Allegra was still at work when we arrived, but she’d left a key with the doorman, and her roommates Jamie and Courtney came in soon after and began squealing over the bag brimming with goodies from Whole Foods that Sally had brought as a house gift.Sally and me on subway.JPG
Soon enough, we took off for our respective adventures. I’d agreed to accompany Sally by subway to the stop nearest the theater, on West 34th Street, before continuing on to the Lower East Side, where I would meet Allegra and mutual friends for dinner.Pattie and Liz.JPG 
My friend Liz, who lives in Brooklyn, is among Allegra’s biggest supporters, and when she’d heard that I was going to the show, she’d decided to come too. Of course, I was thrilled to see her and have the company… not to mention that, along with offering moral support, we’d provide financial support as well.
        To boost business, y
ou see, this new venue had hired five different bands to play between 7 p.m. and midnight. None would be paid a set rate by the club, however. Allegra and the three musicians who would accompany her were only going to receive the $10 cover charge forfeited by each patron who happened to show up for her set.Aidan and Allegra by Joe Mondello.JPG
In addition, she believed that she would receive 50 percent of the bar proceeds. That, at least, is what she’d been told. But who knew how many people would come?
I am a big fan of my daughter’s singing. No, let’s be honest. I’m her BIGGEST fan. But I am not a big fan of her taking gigs for which the compensation is uncertain at best.
It reminds me of the years I spent earlier in this century as a free-lance contributor to the Connecticut section of The New York Times. You might think it is quite a privilege to get to write for The New York Times. Well, I have news for you: They do, too. So getting paid for this honor became something of a gamble, like putting all your chips on red.Gloria Steinem story I wrote.JPG
Each time that I wrote a story, I would be paid according to where in that section of the paper the story was placed. Its placement was never determined, however, until after I’d finished writing the story. I once worked full-time for three weeks on a profile of a local newscaster who was retiring after three decades, only to be paid a total of $300. I think that I earned more per hour baby-sitting back when I was a teenager.
At least I made something, however. Being a jazz singer is even more precarious. 
Whether or not there were any proceeds that night, Allegra would have to pay her band. Once last year, my husband and I went on a Monday to see her sing at a different location. Mondays are far from popular nights for going out, even in New York City-that-never-sleeps. We and two of Allegra’s friends were the only people who turned up. She had been obliged to perform two sets anyway and then pay the band out of her own pocket.Kaitlin and Aidan.JPG
At the very least, this might be a rerun of that experience… for just before I left, my son texted me to say that he and his girlfriend Kaitlin would be there too. As thrilled as I was to hear that, I also felt slightly mortified because I hadn’t bothered to tell him I was coming into the city, not having had a clue that they’d be coming too.
I quickly extended an invitation to them to join us for dinner, but it was too late. They already had other plans. Now I really felt guilty.Pattie breaking Passover.JPG
That sense of malaise lifted when we arrived at the restaurant, though, and after a week of eating matzah and other unleavened products I got to bite into a piece of fresh, hearty Italian bread… followed in quick succession by some delicious pasta and pizza.
When I finally break Passover, I break it all the way.
Only later did I realize that I'd miscalculated and broken it one night early. Passover actually ended at sundown on Tuesday.
Oh, well.
I can assure you that it wasn’t a matter of having too much to drink because I was only drinking water. If Allegra was going to receive some of the bar proceeds at her show, then I was going to delay any imbibing until then.Allegra, Liz, Danielle and me.JPG
Liz’s lovely daughter Danielle joined us at the restaurant, a quaint Italian joint called Lil' Frankie’s, but said that she couldn’t join us for the show because she’d made a blind date with a guy she’d met online.
Allegra left halfway through dinner to go to the club, then Liz and I followed suit. The show was at a bar called Tammany Hall, on Orchard Street, and as we entered through the heavy Tammany Hall doors.JPGwooden doors, we encountered a young woman in the foyer seated at a small table behind a metal box collecting the admission fees, which were cash only.
Liz is a music booking agent and knows the drill. “You need to say that you’re here for Allegra,” she advised me. So I did.Tammany Hall interior.JPG
Inside the darkened club, there was a long bar with only three or four stools. On the opposite wall stood three small tables along a well-worn black leatherette banquette. All of the seats were already taken, so Liz and I just stood there, leaning awkwardly against the bar.
Counting the handful of hipsters nursing beers in the back, there were about 15 patrons altogether, all clearly under the age of 30. Plus us.
Although Allegra was supposed to have gone on soon and perform from 9-10, the music was running way behind schedule. The band that preceded hers had just begun.Kenny G wannabe.JPG
Perched on a stage in the corner lined by red velvet curtains and stage lights as bright as four full moons, these five young musicians were led by a saxophone player in a snug white t-shirt and even tighter jeans who evidently fancied himself the next Kenny G. In fact, according to his bio, he had played with Kenny G.
Tenor sax strapped around his neck, he blared out “When a Man Loves a Woman,” the Percy Sledge classic from 1966, sounding impassioned to the point of high drama, his spine arched so far backward that it was a wonder he didn’t suddenly snap in two. Then he launched into his next number, imploring the modest crowd of onlookers, “Anyone here like Michael Jackson? And if you don’t, get out!”Michael Jackson.jpg
It was a bit too loud for my taste and also just a bit too corny, to be totally candid. But his audience, most of whom presumably had come on his behalf, didn’t seem to mind. Or even notice.
“Anyone here like Alicia Keys?” he called out next. Just shoot me now, I thought. But at that moment Aidan burst through the door and joined us beside the bar.Aidan at Tammany Hall.JPG
“Did you tell them you were here for Allegra?” I whispered in his ear above the din after giving him a quick hug. He nodded, assuring me that Kaitlin wasn’t far behind.
The sax player proceeded to poll our opinions on everyone from James Blunt to Beyoncé before launching into his closing (and corniest) number, “Hit the Road, Jack!” But before Allegra could take the stage, she came over to announce some bad news.Kaitlin and Allegra at Tammany Hall.JPG
“Turns out that I was wrong about getting 50 percent of the bar,” she divulged. Rather, the deal was that her band got 50 percent off their drinks at the bar (unlike at most venues, which typically offer performers one or two beverages on the house). Plus, all of their orders had to be on one tab, which she felt obliged to pick up herself.
In other words, she could forget about what probably would have been her biggest financial asset for the night and add a big check mark in the deficit column instead.
Following the sax player’s final bow, many of his fans abruptly vacated their seats. I was worried that the entire audience might get up and leave en masse at that point. But no. They simply relocated to the bar, creating room for our group on the banquette.Allegra singing at Tammany Hall 2.JPG
Kaitlin had arrived by now, and just as Allegra launched into her opening number, Danielle suddenly burst in too, to our great surprise. Her blind date hadn’t blown her away. So she had blown him off and come to join us (and add another 10 bucks to the coffer).
Unlike the Kenny G wannabe, Allegra announced that she would be singing mostly songs she had written herself. I wondered how the remaining crowd would respond. After all, this would be a far cry from his brand of jazz lite. But I didn’t worry for long. After each number, they erupted with wild applause, peppered with hoots of approval.Tammany Hall interior 3.JPG
Although many more people had begun pouring in, it was painfully obvious from the instruments they were toting that many weren’t paying customers, but merely other performers who would take the stage next. To my delight, though, and Allegra’s as well, one of her closest friends from high school, Leslie, showed up halfway through her set.
        Leslie at Tammany Hall.JPG
Also to Allegra’s delight, one of her favorite horn players randomly turned up to watch the show and happened to have his trumpet in tow. Allegra actually had considered including this fellow in the show, but had hesitated to expand the band, given the uncertainty of the pay. Yet as long as he was there, he readily went up to play.Allegra singing at Tammany Hall.JPG
It added immeasurably to the sound. Not that the band needed any amplification. Sitting there listening to my daughter singing song after song that she’d written herself, I knew there was nowhere I would rather be, and that I could not have been any prouder.
Although her set had started nearly Allegra at Tammany Hall closeup.JPGhalf an hour late, after about 40 minutes the club’s sound technician said that it was time to wrap things up, leading her to launch into the title song of her forthcoming album, “Lonely City.” This was met with prolonged raucous applause. Even the next Kenny G-to-be stepped up to commend her. But soon after, given that it was a weeknight, everyone in our entourage began to say their goodbyes.
The music had been so deafening that I'd barely spoken to my son the entire night. Now I felt doubly guilty.
After treating everyone in her band to a drink, Allegra went out front to collect her earnings. But within moments she was back by my side. The young cashier had insisted that only four people had come specifically for her set, so she would only receive $40.
I’d been feeling good to have done my part in assembling a respectable turnout. If I hadn’t come, then neither would Liz have, and if she hadn’t then neither would Danielle.Tammany Hall selfie sextet.JPG
I also knew that at least six of us had gone on Allegra’s behalf. But maybe two members of our group hadn’t known they had to mention her name when they entered. What proof did we have now? Would the selfie that I’d snapped of the six of us suffice?
Before I could suggest it, the cashier stated flatly that we needed to summon the music promoter, who was inside the club. Allegra ran off to find her. I just stood there fuming.Shrine World Music Venue.jpg
This brought back memories of the first gig Allegra had ever played in NYC, at a club in Harlem. She’d been promised a percentage of the food and drink purchased during her set. So we had assembled a sizable group of friends and relatives and treated many of them to drinks and dinner. When she went to collect her pay, however, we were told that since we had not finished settling our tab before her set had ended, credit for everything that we had paid would go to the band that followed hers instead.
It had taken all the self-restraint I could muster not to slug the manager, a man with an impressive Afro who was about 6 foot 5. I would never make that mistake again. But I guess this time we had simply made another.Allegra at Tammany Hall by Danielle.jpg
With luck, Allegra convinced the music promoter that she’d attracted six guests. Yet the woman said they needed to subtract $10 for expenses, leaving Allegra with $50.
Counting the trumpet player, there had been five of them onstage, so you might assume they would split the take and each get a measly 10 bucks. But it doesn’t work like that.
        Allegra felt obliged to pay each of the musicians she had hired $40, plus a drink. The trumpet player declined to take anything for merely “sitting in,” so she bought him a drink and then we drove him home to Queens, which was some distance out of our way.
So by my calculation, she ended up after all of her efforts 90 bucks in the hole.
But she was happy to have played a great show. And I was very happy to have heard it.
Sally met us back at Allegra’s apartment around midnight, and she was happy too. She not only had gotten to support her own son’s creative efforts, but also to spend time with him and get to meet his new girlfriend. Plus she had saved at least $200. So at least one of us came out ahead.Allegra applying makeup.JPG
Poor Sally did get up at the crack of dawn the next day, while Allegra and I slept in, so I wouldn’t have traded places with her for anything. My plan had been to hang around and help Allegra with a photo shoot the next morning because she needed publicity shots for a possible singing opportunity abroad (an opportunity guaranteed to be much more lucrative than that rip-off joint on the Lower East Side).
But to my surprise, at 11 a.m., out of the blue, I got a text message from Aidan. “What are your plans today?” he asked. “I could get lunch with you.”
My 27-year-old son not only wasn’t mad, but actually wanted to hang out with me? Talk about offers you can’t refuse! Plus, I never want to appear to be playing favorites.Allegra in orange gown.jpg
So as a professional mom and former fashion editor, I did what I could to assist Allegra before I left. I steamed her wrinkled gown and helped choose glam accessories, including my late mother-in-law’s vintage opera gloves and my late mother’s mink stole.Aidan at Coffee Shop.jpg
Then I schlepped my overnight bag on the subway down to Union Square and met Aidan at the trendy café he had chosen, a place called, simply, Coffee Shop.Coffee Shop food.JPG
It being a balmy afternoon, we sat gabbing at an outdoor table for nearly two hours, long after he’d polished off his burger and I had finished my Asian chicken salad with kale.
So in the end, I not only had a break from my normal routine, but also got to hang out with both of my kids. You might call it a double-header. I would call it heaven on earth.Pattie asleep on train.JPG
        It was certainly a whole lot more interesting than Zumba, cooking dinner, doing the laundry, annoying my husband, or any other nice Jewish mom business as usual.
        Pattie on train.JPG
Of course, I was pretty fried on the train back home. And counting both that dinner and lunch out, and yes, the 50 bucks I gave to Allegra when she came up short to pay the band, I probably shelled out close to the $200 that Sally saved. Maybe even more.
But sometimes, let's face it, no matter what the cost, you truly need to ditch it all and do something spontaneous. Just take it from a happy nice Jewish mom-slash-housewife from Connecticut on the run.

5:57 pm 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Word From the Weiss
Passover plague masks.JPG
        Happy Passover, everyone! I hope that the holiday has brought you a little levity along with all the brisket, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread. Having had both of my children home myself, I really can’t complain. But neither can I mask the fact that the past week has felt far less like a feast of freedom than a recreation of the ten plagues.frog.jpg
No, never fear, I haven’t been infested with lice, cattle plague, or frogs to my knowledge, and my first-born is doing just fine (kinahurra!). My last-born, however? Well, not so much.
It all began last Friday, when a horrific thing happened. Rather than leaving Latke, my Portuguese Water Dog, at home for the whole afternoon while I did a mammoth shopping trip for Passover, I chose to take her along for the ride. We stopped briefly at the bank first, then I decided to take her for a quick walk before entering the supermarket.Latke loves to play.jpg
It was a beautiful spring day and Latke, who at 2 years of age is still full of pep, was delighted to spy another dog being walked nearby. Being incomparably gregarious and genial in nature, she is inclined to greet every single person or creature she sees. When we crossed the street to approach the other dog, however, its owner instantly crossed to the other side, an unmistakable sign that they had no interest in fraternizing with us.
Well, the owner wasn’t interested, anyway, leading me to intuit that the other dog was not a good candidate for a casual meet and greet. His pet, though, was plenty interested. Not, however, in a good way.
On the contrary, with its solid, muscular build, narrow eyes, and pointy ears, what it looked like was a pit bull, and an angry one at that. I wasn’t quite sure, but the way it was chomping at the bit to get to Latke, I didn’t want to get close enough to let Latke become lunch.Pit Bull terrier.jpg
The owner, a middle-aged man in a t-shirt, struggled to yank his young charge in the opposite direction, but that did little to deter it from growling menacingly or straining mightily to reach us. Latke did not get notably discouraged. But I directed her firmly down the block.
Then, suddenly, I heard yelling behind me and turned to see the dog racing across the street toward us. It had pulled so hard that it had managed to sever its leash in two. I rushed to rein in Latke, who'd ventured many feet ahead of me on her retractable leash. But it was already too late.
The next few moments were just a blur.Pit Bull charging.jpg
Before I could reach Latke, the other dog proceeded to climb on top of her, pinning her to the ground belly up as it bit her all over savagely. Shrieking, I fell to the ground before them and tried desperately to pull the assailant off, but it was too strong for me.
Within seconds, though, the other owner reached us at last and managed with great effort to grasp and extricate his pet as it continued to snap and snarl.
Just at that moment, a passing driver halted abruptly and rolled down his window.
        “Do you want me to call the police?” he called to me.
“Yes, please!” I cried before I even realized that the driver was one of my neighbors.
The other man had already rushed off with his dog, evidently toward his car, parked in the lot of the adjoining supermarket. But before he could disappear, my neighbor drove in, accosted him, and continued chatting with him until the police arrived. That’s how I later learned that the man was a Vietnam Vet and his pet a rescue dog that he had recently adopted.
Meanwhile, I also dialed the police as I hastened to put Latke in my car. She had her long tail tucked so far between her legs that I thought at first it had been bitten off.
Inside the car, I tried to calm her and examine her all over as best I could. Although she had many wet and matted areas on her coat, I didn’t detect any blood.Police car.jpg
The policeman who arrived within a few minutes summoned an Animal Control officer to the scene, and she agreed with me that I should bring Latke to our vet asap. Then she went to interview the other dog’s owner.
I called my vet’s office, which was fortunately less than a mile away, and was assured that they would take us at once. Before leaving the scene, though, I drove over to where the officer was chatting with the dog’s owner to tell her that I was going.
When I reached them, the other owner looked at me impassively and said nothing.
        “You know, you could at least apologize!” I called to him.
He looked at me blankly and just shrugged. “Sorry,” he said, “but my leash broke.”
“Your leash broke?” I retorted. “Yes, but your dog also happens to be vicious!”
We proceeded to have a little altercation about that, but the officer soon cut it off. “This is no time to rehash the whole incident,” she barked. “Your vet is down there. Go!”Latke with leg wound.JPG
Latke’s chocolate brown fur is so thick and curly that they couldn’t find anything significant on her but one small gash. But when we were finally allowed to leave, I noticed that she was limping badly. So we went back inside and they looked again. And sure enough, they found a puncture wound on her leg so deep that it required staples.
They wanted to keep her overnight for observation, but I begged them to do the procedure as soon as possible and let me take her home. She was so distressed that I figured the best thing for us both was to return to our normal routine if at all possible. And with luck, they agreed.
The bill came to $280, not including the return visit we would need to make 10 days later to have the staples removed. But another Animal Control officer who happened to be present checked with the first policewoman and learned that the other dog’s owner appeared to be cooperative and had offered to reimburse us for any expenses.Closeup of Latke's leg wound.JPG
We’ll see.
Poor Latke has been healing steadily, although until the staples come out she was supposed to wear a cone around her neck and be restricted from doing almost anything. As for me, I totally shredded the skin on one of my fingers while trying to restrain her. And even though that has begun to heal too, I feel like I have been traumatized for life.
        Meanwhile, sadly, that episode turned out to only be the first of many plagues on our house.
With all the drama, my husband and I didn’t get to bed until nearly 2 that morning. Then, at 5:30 a.m., we were startled out of a deep sleep when the phone began to ring.Allegra.jpg
It was our daughter Allegra, and the moment we answered she burst into tears. She’d been up all night with unbearable abdominal pains, and they were getting worse.
Now, had this occurred a few days later, we might not have been terribly alarmed. After all, when following a diet consisting mostly of matzah, matzah brei, matzah pizza and matzah balls – aided and abetted by brisket and the occasional coconut macaroon – who among us doesn’t have abdominal pains, or at least some form of gastric distress?matzah.jpg
This, however, was last Saturday morning, two days before Passover even began. We had yet to even open a box of matzah. So we could only imagine what was wrong.
As a nice Jewish mom, I was tempted to throw on clothes and drive straight to NYC. My husband, however, insisted that Allegra take a cab immediately to the nearest emergency room.
Over the next few hours, I stayed awake fielding text messages from her as she underwent tests and languished on a gurney in a hospital hallway, hooked up to an IV.patient on gurney.jpg
Meanwhile, I dressed and packed a bag, expecting to depart at a moment’s notice. Yet Allegra kept begging me not to come. And when it was finally determined that she had some sort of terrible E. coli infection, she just wanted to go home and sleep all day.
That was Plague No. 2. “Please tell me that bad things don’t always come in threes!” I emailed anxiously to my good (and Gentile) friend Kathy, who lives in London.
“That trinity/threesome thing is just Christian gobbledygook,” she replied reassuringly. “Jews are far too sensible... aren't they?”Harlan's car with scuffs.JPG
Sensible? I don’t know about that. As for lucky… apparently not that either. Or not us, anyway. For when pulling into the garage late that night, my husband misjudged the distance and smashed into the side, badly scuffing both the paint job on his car and the garage wall.Kaitlin and Aidan on Passover.JPG
I’m happy to report that Allegra rallied enough to make the trip up from the city with Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin the next day. And (although I nearly collapsed after three days spent cooking nearly the entire meal from scratch), on Monday night we had a lively and spectacular seder, made all the more memorable by our having chosen to include our good (and Gentile) friend Sally, who had never experienced the infinite joys (or potential gastric distress) of matzah ball soup, charoses, carrot tsimmes and gefilte fish.Sally and me on Passover.jpgGefilte fish.JPG
Afterwards, everyone was in too much of a food and four-cups-of-Manischewitz stupor to move a muscle, so I cleaned up the entire mess myself, then got up at dawn to bake Passover popovers for breakfast before the kids departed early the next morning.Passover table I set 2014.JPG

Passover popovers I baked.JPG       
Then I changed all of the bedding, reset the table all over again, and recreated all of the side dishes from scratch, because we had invited friends from near and far for the second seder, and as a true ballabusta I have too much pride to serve day-old veggies.
We had just as spirited and uproarious a meal the second time around, if not moreso (even though by then I was truly ready to collapse). And although by the end of the meal almost everyone at the table was surreptitiously checking their cell phones, I was inclined to believe that our hard luck had disappeared along with all the chametz.Passover seder 2 with plague masks.JPG
But no.
The next night, Allegra phoned at 10 p.m. to say that she’d just gotten home after a long day of work to discover that the quart of matzah ball soup I’d sent home with her had already spoiled, and that one of her roommates had helped herself to most of the Passover rolls I’d sent home with her, and all but two chocolate-covered macaroons.
We keep Passover by avoiding all bread, pasta, rice, corn, and other chametz for all eight nights, so she had almost nothing in the house that she could eat for dinner.chocolate-dipped macaroons.jpg
This may sound like a rather minor problem, but I must confess that it irked me to no end… even though Aidan assured me that the roommate's behavior was not unusual. Why, back when he was in college, he said, he’d returned to school with a large plate of homemade potato latkes I’d made for him for Chanukah, only to find the next morning that one of his (non-Jewish) suite mates had already devoured them all.
I suppose it’s gratifying to see that non-Jews can become enamored of our cooking to the point of losing self-control (and all sense of propriety). But can they appreciate what it’s like to subsist almost entirely on matzah while enduring a whole week of bad luck?Technical difficulties.jpg
That, apparently, is what was happening to me. For the next day I tried to log onto my website only to discover that, to my unmitigated horror, it no longer existed. Yes, three-plus years of blog entries had simply vanished into the stratosphere. I desperately phoned my web-hosting service and was put on hold indefinitely while they investigated.
After what felt like an eternity, someone came back on and explained that they were having technological difficulties and hoped to remedy the problem within a few hours… as they eventually did. But until then, I must admit, I could hardly breathe.
        Our water heater was leaking.JPG
Then the next night, while cleaning up dinner (brisket and matzah ball soup… again?), I discovered that the water running out of our tap refused to get hot. Sure enough, down in the basement, a steady stream was gushing out of the boiler, which had chosen that exact moment, after 10 years of faithful service, to suddenly go kaput.
But we got a plumber to come over the next morning, and $1,860 later – which is a whole lotta bread (pardon the expression on Passover) -- we had hot water once again.
Normally, by now, I’m counting the days until Passover is over because I don’t think I can survive another day of eating matzah (not even matzah pizza). This year, I’m looking forward to it being over because I’m not sure that I (and/or my bank account) can survive another day.matzah pizza.JPG
Then again, it’s times like these that remind you how important it is to get a grip. Yesterday, one of my neighbors’ houses caught fire, leaving one family member in critical condition. Yes, my dog suffered minor injuries last week in a brutal attack, but that family’s poor dog actually didn’t survive.
And what about the spate of freak tragedies that have begun occurring around the world? My children just came home for Passover. The high school kids who went on that fateful bus tour to colleges in California, or were lost on that ferry in South Korea? They are never coming home again.
I would much rather lose hot water for a day than be in hot water, like South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius, or Connecticut’s former Governor John Roland. And even if those horrifying leaflets that ordered all Ukrainian Jews to register weren’t actually legit, I’m still lucky to be free to celebrate Passover with whomever I choose and however I choose (even if hosting two seders back-to-back did put me over the edge).frog image 2.jpg
I guess that one way or another, this still qualifies as a happy Passover. So bring on the vermin, the cattle plague, the darkness or boils. Come what may, Monday night is just around the corner. And by my count I only have two more days of matzah to go… and only three or four more plagues until Passover passes over again.

4:34 pm 

Friday, April 11, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

seder plate with Manischewitz wine.JPG        What would you say is the most significant part of the seder, the ritual meal that we Jews will consume in the coming week to mark the beginning of Passover?
         Is it the Four Questions chanted by the youngest child present, beginning with the inimitable words, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
Is it the crisp squares of matzah we eat in place of normal leavened bread?
The four cups of cough-syrup-like Manischewitz kosher wine?matzah ball soup I made.JPG
Or the steaming bowl of chicken soup laden with light-as-air matzah balls?
OK, I’ll admit it. That was kind of a trick question.
Obviously, it’s hard to imagine Passover without any and all of the above… along with the parable of the Four Sons, the ritual dipping of parsley into saltwater, or biting into a glistening slab of chilled gefilte fish smothered in bitter, beet-red horseradish. However, the word “seder” translates as “order,” and, if you ask me, it’s impossible for everything to seem like it’s genuinely in order unless my entire family is all together.Aidan Kaitlin and Allegra.jpg
With luck, my kids will both be coming home this year, as always, to celebrate the holiday over a home-cooked meal, along with Aidan’s wonderful girlfriend Kaitlin. And yet the truth is that we’ve sadly reached a stage in life when being all together is utterly impossible because my dad's been gone some 15 years, and my beloved mother passed away five years ago this week.Bunnie young with camera.JPG
Although in some ways it feels like that happened only yesterday, it’s simultaneously hard to fathom that a full five years have already managed to come and go without her. And although a day rarely goes by on which she doesn’t spring vividly to mind, we’re destined to always think of her at this particular time of year, not just because I couldn’t possibly make the seder without her family recipes, but because we lost her in early April.
Bernice Lichtenstein Weiss Groves, known as Bunnie (or Grandma Bunnie) to all, was not only “exquisite and shapely” by her own account, but also the single most upbeat person I ever hope to meet. I can still hear her distinctive, voluble voice resounding on our telephone answering machine, assuring us exuberantly that she was “absolutely fine” as she raced from a hair appointment to her weekly writing class, to be followed by an evening at her card club, The Bridge Deck – a message she left only a few days after undergoing surgery for cancer.Energizer Bunny.jpg
The Energizer Bunny, indeed.Bunnie at 53.jpg
After graduating at the top of her high school class, she attended Brooklyn College, then earned two Master’s degrees and taught thousands of children with learning disabilities to read before she retired as the curriculum coordinator at a private school at the age of 74. And I use the word “retired” loosely. Ceasing work simply gave her more time to devote to all the activities mentioned above, as well as her two book groups, tennis, Mensa, the MT Nesters club she had co-founded at her temple, and of course her two children, four grandchildren, and her own mother, who lived to be nearly 98.
Meanwhile, she endured plenty of hardship in her life, from the loss of her only sibling to cancer at a relatively early age to my father’s daily derision and relentless infidelities. Yet nothing – and I mean nothing – could ever manage get my mother down.
So I’d like to tell you that we planned a special dinner or other event in her honor. But my daughter Allegra was going to be away in California last weekend, when the actual yahrzeit fell. So even though my husband and I were going to NYC, it seemed only right to wait until our entire family could all be together – on Passover itself, that is.Yahrzeit memorial candle.jpg
Still, I thought about her all day Saturday and was alarmed when it dawned on me suddenly early that afternoon that I had neglected to bring a yahrzeit candle from home.
I’m a big proponent of the custom of lighting a memorial candle to mark the anniversary of a loved one’s death, and I couldn’t imagine forgoing this tradition on such a significant milestone. So when my husband proposed going to the Lower East Side to look at art that afternoon, I readily agreed.Hester Street the movie.jpg
He’d read an article in The New York Times endorsing various galleries in that area of the city, some of which were situated on Hester Street. I instantly had visions of the classic 1975 movie named after that street, about a Jewish woman named Gitel (played with verve by Carol Kane) who emigrates from Russia in 1896 to join her husband Yankel, only to learn that he has already assimilated and fallen for a far more Americanized dancer.Grandma Mary's family circa 1914.JPG
I had photos of my own relatives from around the same era, when my mother’s mother’s mother, Bubbe Chaia, came over from Kiev to join her husband, Zeyde Shmuel, who had preceded her to Brooklyn with two of their sons and started a laundry.
Surely, if there were anywhere in all of New York City where I could easily track down a yahrzeit candle to light in my blessed mother’s memory, Hester Street was it.Hester street panorama.jpg
The moment we exited the subway at the nearest stop, Canal Street, though, I realized that I was in for culture shock… or at the very least a rather rude awakening.
We made our way past the insistent Asian woman entreating me to come see the bargain-rate designer pocketbooks in her shop – “I have Prada, Coach, Kate Spade. You like?”Prada handbag.jpg
Then we turned a corner and walked till we reached the street sign that we sought. It indeed read Hester Street. But this was certainly not my great grandmother’s Lower East Side.Hester Street sign.JPG
OK, I was not born yesterday, nor do I live in a cave (although central Connecticut sometimes feels like one). I am well aware that the Lower East Side has long been overrun by hipsters, even if it still houses many Jewish meccas like Katz’s Delicatessen, where the famed “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in When Harry Met Sally was shot.Hester Stree tdining on pasta.JPG
What I didn’t quite anticipate was that Hester Street also runs through the heart of Little Italy. So instead of encountering butcher shops and delis offering corned beef and hot pastrami on rye, we found ourselves passing young urban dwellers dining at outdoor cafes on dishes heaped with pasta. Forget about candles. Pass the Parmesan, please!Christmas in New York.JPG
Forget about Judaica shops offering Hagaddahs, seder plates, and other wares for Passover as well. Even though it was early April, forget about Easter, too. On Mulberry Street, between Hester and Grand, evidently it is always Christmas in New York.
Yule logs, yes. Yahrzeit candles, no.Cannoli cart on Hester Street.JPG
My husband has always been a sucker for hot dogs sold by street vendors, and little doubt had hoped to find a cart on the Lower East Side purveying kosher franks. There were, in fact, plenty of street vendors here, but no hot dogs, kosher or otherwise. Cannolis, yes. Yahrzeit candles? Non.Coffee You Can Sleep When You're Dead.JPG
Also in abundance were kitschy shops meant to cater to the brisk tourist trade. While passing one, a poster caught my eye that brought my vivacious mom to mind. (Coffee, yes. Candles? Nope.)
As we continued making our way through the area, Little Italy soon gave way to a large variety of Asian markets and fruit stands. Could this really be the Hester Street once known to be the center of Ashkenazi Jewish life? Kumquats, yes. Yahrzeit candles, no.Hester Street lobster farm.jpg
In fact, let’s forget about kosher food of any kind. Lobster, yes. Lox? Not likely.
And although Chinese lettering seemed to prevail on most signs in sight, other ethnicities clearly had found a firm foothold in the old shtetl. Curry, yes. Candles? No.Hester Street curry shop.JPG 
Eventually, these myriad cultural outposts gave way to more high-tech emporiums that reflected the influx of modern life. Ironically, the vast majority of these stores sold chandeliers, lamps, and other lighting fixtures. The obvious subtext: Let there be light.
Light, yes, from halogen and fluorescent to CFL bulbs. But yahrzeit candles here? Not likely.Hester Street lighting shop.JPG
By now, it was getting to be late in the afternoon. My husband was ready for me to relinquish my mission and make a beeline for one of those art galleries before they closed.
And truth be told, my mother would have understood and forgiven me if I had. She may have been the quintessential nice Jewish mom, but not in the sense of being the classic self-sacrificing yenta who would have whined, “Maybe you forgot you had a mother?”Bunnie and Allegra with me before prom.jpg
She was someone who had loved life and all that it had to offer, and would have preferred that I enjoy the spring day and, more importantly, not antagonize my husband.
Then again, on the other hand, my mother had been someone who was persistent beyond the point of sanity and who never, ever gave up, under any circumstances. And in that respect alone, if nothing else, I am proud to say that I am my mother’s daughter (just as my daughter is mine).Chinese Hispanic grocery.JPG
So while my husband ducked into one of those many galleries listed in The Times, I decided to make what was essentially a hail Bunnie pass and pop into the mom and pop market on the nearest corner. Never mind that it didn’t seem remotely promising.
After all, the sign on the yellow awning above it read “Chinese Hispanic Grocery.” Lychee nuts, yes. Flan, no doubt. But how would they know what a yahrzeit candle is?
Yet as I made my way past the dairy case, canned goods and innumerable Goya products, my heart began to race as I saw an entire section devoted to, believe it or not, candles.candle display in Chinese Hispanic grocery.JPG
And I'm not talking about scented candles or tapers to place in candlesticks. Right above the cleaning products, there were three entire shelves crammed with candles in jars.
These jarred candles came in almost every color you could name. Some bore labels with the likenesses of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, and a wide variety of saints.Hindu devotional candle.jpg
Others appeared to be Indian devotional candles embellished with Hindu gods.
        Most were as tall as, say, a can of tennis balls and were likely to burn for a week (as opposed to a standard yahrzeit candle, which burns for 24 hours more or less).
But there amid them, on these shelves, was an entire case of low white candles.white candle in a jar.jpg
They didn’t say “Yahrzeit” on them, or have the usual Hebrew writing of some kind. But they were otherwise pretty much exactly what I was looking for. So I bought one.
And under the circumstances – and for only $1.29 – this candle would surely do.
        Florian Pumhosl Rabbinical Map Panel.jpg
Then, with a sense of true satisfaction bordering on triumph, I joined my husband at last in one of those recommended art galleries. But I must confess to feeling more than a bit baffled (and frankly like a total square) when I finally got to glimpse the do-not-miss work of Austrian painter Florian Pumhosl in the Miguel Abreu gallery on Eldridge Street. For it consisted entirely of white ceramic panels printed with a series of narrow brick-red lines.
Only later did I learn that these underwhelming and incomprehensible abstract designs were based on a map of Israel made by a 19th-century European rabbi.
And maybe that was as close to a hub of Jewish life as I was gonna get that day.Vanessa's Dumpling House.jpg
But all was not lost. On the way out, I noticed a crowd of young urban hipsters filing into a rather nondescript-looking storefront known as Vanessa’s Dumpling House. And following their lead, we discovered what may be the best dining deal in all of NYC.
A mere dollar there would buy you a quartet of fried dumplings doused in sesame oil. Two servings, for only $2, would more than suffice the average appetite for dinner.Vanessa's dumplings.jpg
Of course, at these prices we could easily afford to explore even more of the vast menu. So we also indulged in a hefty sesame pancake stuffed with shredded Peking Duck ($2.50), another sesame pancake filled with slivered carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro ($2.50), and a plate heaped with steamed baby bok choy in soy sauce ($3).Pattie eating Vanessa's dumplings2.jpg
And after buying more than we could eat for only 10 bucks, we squeezed in at a tiny table between two young grad students and a group of young artists, musicians, or whatever the heck they were, chowing down on fast food even cheaper than McDonald’s.Vanessa's Dumpling House diners.jpg
And I realized that, in the end, maybe this was the same Lower East Side it had always been, a cultural crossroads where anyone just starting out could find dinner, a life... and a memorial candle, if need be.
When I texted Allegra afterwards to tell her about the wonderful place I had found, she quickly replied thanks anyway, but she knew all about it and had even eaten there herself.Yahrzeit candle on Allegra's dresser.JPG
She also told me that there had been a perfectly good, authentic yahrzeit candle sitting right on her dresser all along.
No matter. When we got back to her apartment that night, I saw that she was right. But I said a little prayer as I lit the candle I’d tracked down at that Chinese Hispanic grocery anyway.Aidan Pattie and Harlan after brunch.JPG
The next day, we met Aidan and Kaitlin for a lovely brunch at Café Henri in the Long Island City section of Queens. Then, exploring the surrounding neighborhood, I wandered into a second-hand shop and spied something that I couldn’t possibly resist: a pretty glass butter dish with a lid in the shape of a rabbit.
The owner had probably put it out thinking it would sell during the current holiday season. I, of course, wasn’t thinking about Easter at all. I was thinking about my mom.Bunny butter dish.JPG
I’ll put it out when we toast to my mother during Passover next week, and for every year to come. It may look a little out of place beside the seder plate and the cup set out for the prophet Elijah. But after my recent trek, I’ve really come to appreciate the idea of a cultural mix. Plus, now I know that wherever she may be, Grandma Bunnie will always be with us for Pesach after all.

8:31 pm 

Friday, April 4, 2014

A Word From the Weiss

Pattie sick.JPG        Normally, you go to the doctor after noticing that you’ve come down with something. But last week it was only while at the doctor’s office that I first recognized a strange and rather alarming symptom in myself.
I had called for an appointment that morning after what I assumed to be a virus appeared to be getting worse. My regular physician, alas, was booked solid. But one of her partners had an opening, and this being a Friday I’d readily agreed to see him rather than coughing my way through a whole weekend without a diagnosis and possible meds.Jewish Film festival 2014.jpg
When the doctor entered the examining room at last, I quickly chalked up my affliction to the Jewish film festival, which we had been attending nightly for the past week. As wonderful as the films had been, many other patrons had been coughing their brains out, including the woman who’d been sitting next to me two nights before my ailment began.Doctor with no bedside manner.jpg
The doctor, a stern, humorless fellow who'd evidently missed the entire course on bedside manners, did not appear convinced – about the source, anyway.
        “Have you been around anyone else who was sick?” he asked.
I thought hard. “Well,” I finally replied, “my son did seem a little under the weather when the kids came home for Purim. But that was more than a week before this began.”Allegra and Aidan at Purim.JPG
Perhaps I was just trying to elicit some rachmones (Yiddish for “sympathy”) by broadcasting subtly (or maybe not so subtly) to this stony-faced fellow, whose last name was Cohen, that we presumably shared a personal bond. (To my frustration, he didn’t pick up on any of these details or evince the slightest interest in them.)
But it occurred to me afterwards that there was something else peculiar going on.
I fear that I’ve developed a sort of speech impediment that might be likened to Tourette’s Syndrome. No, I don’t find myself exhibiting facial tics or inadvertently uttering random obscenities. (And far be it from me to make light of a very serious neurological condition.) But after three-plus years of writing a Jewish blog, my automatic response to almost any question seems to be to blurt out something Jewish, even if it is only related in the most tangential way.Jewishexclamations2.jpg
And/or to start kvetching at once as only a real Jew can.
Add to that a tendency to let the few Yiddish words I know spew freely, and there you have it: NiceJewishMom.com Syndrome.
        Oy! Vey iz mir!
        Granted, it doesn’t take that much to span the gap between almost any topic and my Jewish heritage… or to find something to kvetch about. Especially these days, which are turning out to have more than enough Jewish activity – and tsuris – to go around.Womens seder selfie with Pat and Liz.JPG
Why, no sooner did Purim end than I attended a massive so-called Women’s Seder two nights later. Sponsored by the local JCC, it had been scheduled nearly a month before Pesach actually begins. But that didn’t prevent my friends Pat, Liz, and Amy from joining me and 300 or so of our Jewish sisters to dip parsley into saltwater, eat charoses spread on the Bread of Affliction, and dance around the room manically to the strains of folk singer Judy Silver crooning “Miriam’s Song,” while taking an unprecedented number of selfies.
          Womens seder Miriam's song.jpg    
        And the women dancing with their timbrels
Followed Miriam as she sang her song
Sing a song to One whom we’ve exalted
Miriam and the women danced and danced
        the whole night long!
The next night, my husband and I finally got to see Book of Mormon. Granted, it was only the traveling road company, and yes, I realize it wasn’t exactly a Jewish event. But maybe that’s only a matter of opinion, because almost every Jew in town appeared to be there.
Book of Mormon image1.jpg        
        Our shirts are clean and pressed
        And our haircuts are precise
        We are the Army of the Church
        We are the Army of the Church
        We are the Army of the Church
        of Jesuuuus Christ!!!

Jewish film festiva laudience.jpg       
The following night, that Jewish film festival got underway. Encompassing 10 days, 23 films, and 13 different countries, the 18th Mandell JCC Jewish Film Fest was a hotbed of culture… not to mention germs and gossip. And although we couldn’t possibly attend the whole thing, we came pretty close, and that’s when the real tsuris began.
        The opening night included an early dinner, as always, held in the lobby of a local movie theater. Knowing that it always sells out – since every prominent Jew within miles goes to this illustrious event to see and be seen – I had purchased tickets months ago.
       Unfortunately, I also had purchased tickets to another event the same evening, not having anticipated the conflict.Mardi Vaz at The Society Room.jpg
      The second event was a night of food, fun, and fashion held once or twice a year. Conceived as a lively girls’ night out for women of all ages, it gathered wares from various designers, makeup vendors and beauty salons in a giant banquet hall called The Society Room to offer an evening of shopping and pampering, complete with free samples of assorted food, wines, and liqueurs.
        I had been to this extravaganza many times before and always had a great time. The company sponsoring it was called VAz, combining the first initials of its co-founders, two young women named Vanessa and Alana. And given that it occurred in March, they had given it a Mardi Gras theme and called this installment “Mardi VAz.”Mardi Vaz patrons.jpg
        Although these two events overlapped, Mardi VAz began at 4 p.m. and the Jewish film festival didn’t commence till 5:30, so I figured that I could go to the first for at least an hour or so. I’d purchased a pair of tickets to it, hoping to bring a friend. But given how little time I would spend there, I invited my husband to go with me instead.
        Having joined me there once before when a friend had canceled out last-minute, he knew it was a great place to imbibe for free, as well as to get an eyeful of attractive young women. So it didn’t take a whole lot of kvetching to convince him. His only reason to hesitate was that he was reluctant to leave our dog home alone for so many hours. So I asked the teenager who lives across the street to walk Latke while we were gone.
        Shortly before we left, however, two major complications arose.Latke on Daddy's lap.JPG
       One was that I heard from the mother of the teenager, a boy named Santiago, that their entire family was going out for the evening, so he would not be able to help me. That meant that my husband would not be able to join me for the first event either.
       The other was that my husband took Latke for a walk just before I left and came back to announce that her stomach was evidently upset, if you get my drip… er drift.
        Normally when Latke has indigestion, I feed her boiled chicken and rice. However, a thorough search of the pantry indicated that we were all out of rice for once.Carolina rice.jpg
        Given that it was nearly time for me to leave, my husband proposed a solution. He would go to a nearby take-out Chinese restaurant and get some already cooked rice from there.
       Moments later, I got a text message from my neighbor. Her son had decided not to join the rest of the family and would walk Latke after all.
      The problem was that I was dressed and all ready to go out, but my husband was not. So I told him to shower and dress quickly while I picked up the rice instead. And to avoid abandoning Latke for any longer than necessary, I took her along for the ride.Chinese takeout carton.jpg
        After leaving the takeout place with my little white carton in tow, I began to pull out of the parking lot, Latke perched in the passenger seat beside me. Halfway out of my space, though, I noticed that a large green commercial van was pulling out two spaces down from me. So I stopped my car and waited patiently, giving the van the right of way.
        It proceeded to maneuver out of its parking spot, making an arc toward the back of my car, but stopped with an ample number of feet between us. Then, perhaps not seeing my car, it abruptly resumed its arc toward me, slamming into my car nice and hard.
        When I say “nice and hard,” I don’t mean “nice” at all. Latke and I were both badly startled and had our brains scrambled like an egg for matza brie. The van had collided with me with so much impact that I had little doubt it had made a sizable dent in the rear of my car.green van.jpg
        My response was to slam down hard on my horn in outrage. At that, the van began driving away as fast as possible, given that we were in a rather busy supermarket parking lot.
       Shocked by both the impact and the affront, I turned my car off instantly, leapt out, and tried to glimpse the van’s license plate before it could totally disappear. But I could only make out the first four characters, which appeared to be 900C, before it was gone.My car after hit and run.JPG
        Incensed, I returned to survey the damage. To my amazement, there was no dent, only a few scratches around the bumper. But the fact is that my car is over 12 years old, and it had more than its share of scratches already. It also has a small, rusted nick on the fender, a remnant of the summer that my daughter drove it when she was still a teen.
        Incredulous yet thoroughly relieved, I jumped back in, patted Latke, who was still shaken by all of the excitement, and stuck the key into the ignition to drive home.
        That, at least, was my intention, but the car refused to turn over.key in ignition.jpg
        Rather, to be more exact, it appeared to still be on, in that the dashboard was all lit up. When I inserted the key, though, it turned all the way to the right without any resistance, and the motor failed to respond in any way. The car appeared to be dead.
        With luck, the garage to which I go for repairs was only a block away. When I called them, though, they couldn’t begin to fathom what was wrong. They also couldn’t spare anyone to come check it out on the spot or begin working on it until the next day. My only recourse was to get AAA to tow it to them and leave it there overnight.
        According to AAA, the current wait time was about 90 minutes. It was already 4:15. Not only was I going to miss that first event, but I might not even make it to the second.
        When I explained my predicament, they offered to put a rush on it, estimating that I might see a tow truck as early as 5. While I waited, I phoned my husband to relay the not-so-good news. He quickly came to retrieve the dog and rice and take them home.tow truck from AAA.jpg
        With luck, a tow truck appeared not long after he had gone. The driver tried to start the car himself, but soon gave up, confirming my worst fears. The car was indeed still on, in that the dash was all aglow, but it would not turn over. Evidently, I’d turned it off so abruptly when I saw the van begin to burn rubber that I’d broken the ignition switch. There was no way to turn it on so it would drive, or turn it off so the battery wouldn’t die.AAA tow truck and driver.jpg
        I pretty much kept my composure, though, until the guy from AAA estimated that the damage would cost more than $500 to repair. Then, as I watched him load my car onto the back of his truck and drive off, I kind of lost it.
        My husband found me standing in the parking lot alone, tears nearly freezing in the tracks they’d traced down my cheeks. The last thing I wanted to do at this point was go to a fancy dinner. Even a nice Jewish one. But we’d already missed one event and had paid handsomely for this one. It made no sense to stay home.
        “If only we hadn’t been out of rice for the first time, like, ever,” I moaned forlornly as my husband drove us to the theater….
        “Or if only you had gone to pick up the rice instead of me, as originally planned…
        “If only Santiago hadn’t changed his mind, so you had stayed home with Latke....
        “If only we had decided to feed Latke dog food even though she was sick…”
        “Dayenu?” my husband interjected, interrupting my woeful litany of coulda-beens.
        “Huh?”I asked.
        “Dayenu!” he repeated emphatically, giving the name of the classic Passover song. “It would have been enough!”
        He was referring to the tune we chant each year during the seder, in which we enumerate all the ways in which God blessed the ancient Jews by parting the Red Sea and delivering them from their oppressors when they were slaves unto Egypt:Passover Haggadah.jpg
        Had He destroyed their idols and not slain their first-born,
        It would have been enough! DAYENU! 
Had He divided the sea for us and not brought us through it dry-shod,
        It would have been enough! DAYENU! 
Had He brought us through it dry-shod
       and not drowned our oppressors in it,
       It would have been enough! DAYENU!...

       And I suddenly realized that I’m not the only one with Nice Jewish Mom Syndrome; the only one who uses every possible opportunity to mention some random Jewish thing.
       I also realized that maybe I was better off counting my blessings instead of my troubles.
        Or so I thought… until I got the repair bill a few days later, and it was for $690.
        That’s when I realized that I had functionally spent $693 to buy a quart of rice.
        A quart of takeout Chinese rice… for my dog.Latke with Chinese food.jpg
        And for the next few days I was so depressed that I could hardly get out of bed.
        I was angry at the driver of that dark green van.
        I was angry at the universe.
        But most of all, I was angry at myself.
        There are those people who consider writing a blog rather self-indulgent, and even though it’s an unpaid job, and a thankless one at that, I could hardly argue with them. Yet I spend most of my spare time doing things for other people (or animals, like my dog). And while I don’t expect any compensation or real reward of any kind for that, neither do I expect to get kicked hard in the tuches, and that is exactly what this felt like.
        I also couldn’t believe that I had done something so stupid, even under duress. Plus, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the things I’d rather have done with that dough.Pattie Life goes on.JPG
        Since I don’t have a paying job, I can’t make up the difference by working harder. We simply have to spend less. My husband has proposed that we refrain from going out to dinner again for the next few months… and counting the $400 it cost him to fix his tailpipe when he backed into a snow bank, I don’t think we’ll be dining out till Tisha B’av.
        Or maybe even Yom Kippur.
        But the fact is that this stuff happens, and we all make mistakes, and life goes on.
        Sometimes, the only thing you can do is just be more careful in the future, hope for better luck next time, and try to forgive, not only the culprit, but also perhaps yourself.
        Kinahurra. Zei gezunt! You should live and be well! Dayenu!
12:24 am 

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.