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Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

The Manischewitz Experience Pattie arriving.jpg        Craving chocolate macaroons, matzo pizza, matzo s'mores, and all things Passover, I went to NYC recently, as promised, to attend an event called the Manischewitz Experience. Who knew that what I’d ultimately find on this excursion was what I craved most of all:
The ultimate mom experience.
Needing photos of myself indulging in the extensive menu of promised delicacies – and far preferring to take a sidekick-slash-photographer over resorting to a selfie stick – I had invited my husband to join me, and he had readily accepted weeks earlier. But when I reminded him a few days before, he reconsidered. Taking a day off from work to sample Passover foods in early March was not remotely within the realm of possibility.
So I asked my good friend Pat, who keeps a kosher home, to take his place. She of all people presumably would be up for what promised to be a strictly kosher field trip. But she said she was too busy.Feather for removing chametz.jpg
That’s when my son’s girlfriend Kaitlin, who happened to be within earshot, piped up offering to take her place. To be perfectly honest, you could’ve knocked me over with a feather – you know, the kind that you’re supposed to use during the bedikat chametz, the ceremony the night before Passover begins, in which you sweep out the cupboards to make sure that there isn’t so much as a crumb of leavened bread left in the house.The Manischewitz Experience.jpg
Kaitlin is the loveliest and sweetest young woman I have ever met and one of my favorite people on earth. But she is very busy with grad school, and even more to the point, she is not Jewish, and it had not even crossed my mind that she would want to spend a night noshing on potato latkes and matzo s’mores, no matter how tempting those items sounded to me.
So just to be sure, I later forwarded the email I had received bearing the invitation. “Sounds like fun!” she replied. The kind of fun, apparently, that knew no cultural bounds. Besides, my son was busy with school that evening himself.
The following Wednesday evening, we met inside Chelsea Market – a large indoor complex of chic eateries and boutiques on Ninth Avenue  – in front of a familiar logo beneath an image depicting a whisk and other cooking utensils embedded into the New York City skyline.The Jimi Hendrix Experience.jpg
“The Manischewitz Experience,” it read.
Being 60, and a child of the ’60s, I was familiar with the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
        This was not it.
This free event would open to the public the next day, but what the Manischewitz Company had invited me to attend that night was their exclusive press preview. So I hastened to check in, only to discover a minor mistake on my name badge.
It didn’t really bother me that they had eliminated my maiden name, Weiss, which I usually include as part of my last name (since two Jewish names are better than one). But in opting for brevity, they also had drastically shortened the name of my affiliation.Under my name my badge said only
It didn’t state the name of this website, NiceJewishMom.com. Beneath my name, it simply said “Nice.”
I wasn’t sure what to make of this. But I guess it was better than “Not nice.”Kaitlin and me with the macaroon machine.jpg
Whether or not that label was accurate, it more than summed up the first activity. This consisted of a giant gumball machine. But this being the Manischewitz Experience, that mammoth device didn’t dispense gum. Or gumballs. The prize in every tiny plastic orb that popped out was a kosher-for-Passover macaroon, in my case chocolate. Yum!The Manischewitz Experience Manni's Pizzeria.jpg
Our next stop was a booth labeled Manni’s Pizzeria, where they were serving up piping hot matzo pizza. The question was which to choose – pesto or plain margarita?
Then again, why choose? This being a free event, and the samples being relatively small, we decided to go for both. And both were pretty equally delicious.Pattie eating matzo pizza.jpg
The fact is that matzo pizza is my standard go-to choice for lunch during the eight days of Passover, when I make it a strict practice to avoid chametz (bread and other levened products). My method of making this is pretty rudimentary, though. I just spread a few spoons of jarred tomato sauce on a piece of matzo, add a slice of mozzarella or muenster cheese, and microwave it for however long it takes for the cheese to melt.
This requires less than a minute to prepare and 20 seconds to cook. The Manni’s pesto recipe estimates the prep time at 20 minutes, but perhaps the results are worth it. The recipe yields six servings and goes like this:Manischewitz Experience pesto matzo pizza.jpg


        1 box Manischewitz® Thin Tea Matzo
6 oz. grated fresh mozzarella (about 1 cup)
3 plum tomatoes
3 tbsp. basil pesto

        Coarsely grate mozzarella and cut tomatoes crosswise into 1/8th-inch-thick slices. Preheat oven to 500°F. Spread pesto over a Thin Tea Matzo, leaving a 1-inch border, and sprinkle with cheese. Arrange tomato slices over the cheese and season with salt and pepper. Bake until cheese is golden brown, about 5 minutes, and transfer with peel to a cutting board. Cut matzo pizza into slices and serve immediately.

There was an urn full of water but no cups.jpg       The margarita pizza recipe was similarly time-consuming, although the results were equally tasty… and rather salty. At least by now both Kaitlin and I had developed a powerful thirst, so we were relieved to notice a large glass urn filled with water nearby.
        The mystery was that there were no cups in sight, only a large basin in front of the urn. I began to look around, perplexed, but Kaitlin was the one who solved the mystery first. She may not be Jewish, but she has taught English for years at Yeshiva University.
        The water wasn’t for drinking, she realized. It was for washing up beforehand.
Of course! But no matter. We would manage to assuage our thirst at the open bar.Kaitlin had red wine, I had white.jpg
I’m not sure what beverages they would offer to the public on the following days. But for press night, there was plenty of wine on hand, and none of it was the syrupy, super-sweet ritual stuff of which we are expected to down four cups during the seder.
She went for red. I went for white. They both went down with ease.
Before we could proceed to the next booth, the crowd was summoned for a brief announcement from our sponsor by the reigning CEO of Manischewitz, Mark Weinstein.Manischewitz CEO Mark Weinstein.JPG
He said that this event, the first of its kind ever, had been staged in large part to demonstrate the diversity of the company over which he presides, which encompasses labels ranging from Goodman’s to the Guiltless Gourmet.
“We’re really more than wine,” he stated, indicating a vast array of products displayed behind him on a panoramic series of shelves that nearly spanned the room. “We have many flavors of matzo. We have macaroons. We have noodles. We obviously have gefilte…”Manischewitz products.jpg
They also offer a wide variety of foods meant to cater to assorted dietary needs. “We actually have several products that are gluten free, dairy free, and free of GMO’s,” he added. Although the firm may have 127 years of history serving the Jewish community, “We’re really trying to seize trends and broaden our customer base.”The Manischewitz Souped Up Cafe.jpg
With that, everyone was invited to continuing savoring the many prepared Passover delicacies they were offering that evening. We didn’t need much prodding.Kaitlin liked the veggie soup.jpg
Matzo ball soup may be the most universally loved Passover treat of all, but the soup on tap at their so-called Souped Up Café was something updated and completely different – Carrot, Quinoa & Spinach, made with vegetable broth.
Talk about suiting dietary needs! Although you might best describe my own dietary need as “I need to eat,” Kaitlin is a vegetarian and was thrilled that she could eat this. And so, of course, was I.
The taste was subtle, healthy, and light. I may not ever substitute it at my seder. But I’m always open to new ideas, and if you’re expecting vegetarians, this is not a bad one.Manischewitz Experience Potato Patch.jpg
Next we moved on to the Potato Patch station. Although potato latkes may be more commonly associated with Chanukah, they’re perfectly acceptable as Pesach fare. And the quartet of colorful and flavorful toppings being offered here – including Wasabi Horseradish Aioli, an emerald green chimichurri sauce, Apple, Fennel and Tarragon slaw, and a deep red Beet and Apple Relish – really made me think spring (and matzo, not menorahs).Four different novel latke toppings.jpg
All of these recipes had been provided by Jamie Geller, otherwise known as the Queen of Kosher and/or the Jewish Rachael Ray. And if none of them appealed to your palate or dietary needs, no problem. Geller was right on hand to demonstrate even more.
I had met this virtual one-woman kosher conglomerate a year or so ago at another event, when she’d released her latest cookbook, The Joy of Kosher. OK, maybe “met” is a strong word. I had stood in line behind hundreds of other women for a small eternity until it had been my turn for her to sign my book and pose beside me for a photo op.Allegra and me at The Joy of Kosher book launch.JPG
My daughter Allegra had come along on this particular junket and been deliriously happy when she had been rewarded for her photographic efforts with not only free samples of food and drink, but her own copy of the book (the “joy of kosher,” indeed).Jamie Geller's latkes with lox.jpg
Now I watched with rapt attention as Ms. Geller demonstrated for the gathered crowd how to make her recipe for Silver Dollar Smoked Salmon Stuffed Potato Pancakes.
        Jamie Geller cooking latkes.jpg
“This is an amazing appetizer,” she said, expertly flipping sizzling latkes in a pan while noted that the secret was “having different layers of texture and flavor,” from the crisp savory pancakes themselves to the salty, slimy slab of lox layered between them, a slightly sour dollop of thick crème fraiche on top and a tangy garnish of chopped fresh chives.
As compelling as this little drama was, I must admit that I was a little distracted by the somewhat more intriguing drama of Ms. Geller herself. This beautiful young woman, who is bubbly to the point of effervescence, readily admits to being no true balabusta. She has made a worldwide name for herself as “the only cookbook author who wants to get you OUT of the kitchen,” for as a busy mother of five she has better things to do.Jamie Geller and me at The Manischewitz Experience.jpg
Well, having just seen her in the flesh – flesh of which there was a telltale amount more than the last time I saw her – I have news for you. She will soon have more to do. Or should I say more mouths to feed and more kinder (children) to do things for?
“I hate to ask, but what number will this one be?” I asked rather intrusively (although not any more intrusively than any other nice Jewish mom probably would be).
“Six!” she replied promptly and without any doubt proudly.
Being the proud mother of two myself – both of whom are grown and living on their own – my initial reaction was “Jesus Christ!” But that did not seem remotely appropriate for the situation. So I blurted out the very next thing that came into my head. “Baruch HaShem!”Kaitlin and me in photo booth.jpg
“Thank you!” she replied with sincere gratitude. So I guess I said the right thing, which was a good thing, because it led to yet another photo op courtesy of Kaitlin.
By now she and I had seemingly exhausted the savory segment of that evening’s tastings, but we had many more treats in store, not the least of which was a visit to the photo booth, where we had some fun mugging with macaroons for the rather candid camera.Gimme Matzo S'mores booth.jpg
Then we proceeded to partake of the first of many desserts on the roster at a booth with a sign that read “Give Me S’mores.”
Here, a young woman was toasting kosher marshmallows over an open flame, then sandwiching them between two squares of Manischewitz Dark Chocolate covered Egg Matzo.
During the seder, it is customary to make a “Passover sandwich” consisting of charoses (chopped apple mixed with nuts) layered with bitter herb to recall the hardships of building the pyramids and the bitterness of when we were slaves in Egypt.Manischewitz Experience matzo s'mores.jpg
I don’t know what this super sweet, new-fangled Passover sandwich might help recall, but what I recall about eating it is that I ended up with a whole lot of melted marshmallow and chocolate on my face. And it was still worth it.Manischewitz mini Passover cupcakes.jpg
Another booth offered mini-cupcakes iced and encrusted with sprinkles, made from Manischewitz’s Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Mix and its Extra Moist Yellow Cake Mix. Passover cakes are notoriously dry, but I must say that was not an issue in either case.
Yet another station offered assorted flavors of macaroons including chocolate and carrot cake crowned with a generous dollop of sweetened cream cheese frosting.Manischewitz macaroons with frosting.jpg
So is it any wonder that I hesitated a bit when I came to what promised to be the messiest and most caloric moment of the entire Manischewitz Experience, a booth at which you were invited to dip the macaroon of your choice into a multi-tiered chocolate fountain, and then douse it in chocolate or multicolored sprinkles or shredded coconut?Manischewitz Experience chocolate fountain.jpg
I told the young fellow perilously dressed in white who was manning this booth that a quick dip in the chocolate would suffice for me without any further embellishment. However, a fellow attendee standing close by urged me to go for the full experience.
So I did, opting for a light coating of coconut. After biting in, I dared to ask this woman, who was dressed in a long denim skirt and floral top, what had brought her there.Pattie with chocolate dipped macaroon.jpg
Although this had been billed as a press preview, throughout our time there neither Kaitlin nor I had come across anyone else who was actually a member of the press. There had been an affable fellow who said that he had produced some cooking shows, and a publicist who told me she was familiar with my blog. But other than one young man I saw taking notes, most of the attendees seemed to be from Manischewitz itself.Publicicists and
At least the woman in the skirt wore a tag that identified her as a free-lance writer. “Whom do you write for?” I asked.
At this, she explained that she didn’t actually write for any publications. She merely often posted online comments for concert venues praising their productions.
“You get paid for that?” I asked a little incredulously.
“No,” she admitted, “but I get free tickets to all sorts of events.”
        At the very least, s
he apparently gets invited to free events like this one.
Just when we were getting ready to leave, my son texted Kaitlin to say that he had gotten finished with his own event at school earlier than expected and was available to join us. I wasn’t sure if they would let me bring in a second guest, but when I identified him at the check-in counter as my son, they said of course – he could be my “plus one.”
What did that make Kaitlin? Chopped liver? (Vegetarian chopped liver, that is?)Kaitlin and me in the photo booth 2.jpg
So although we had already eaten our fill, we made the rounds of all the stations all over again, which Aidan agreed to do on condition that I not take any photos of him.
Needless to say, he did not join us in the photo booth.
Still, I was very happy to end up with not just a full belly, or one escort, but two. And Kaitlin had clearly been right from the start. Whatever your background, it had been fun... although I must admit that the most fun thing about it for me was being with her.
        And as mutual an attitude as that seemed to be, the highlight for her appeared to be the moment that we were each handed a giant swag bag on our way out – a Manischewitz tote laden with many of the items we had just tasted, including carrot cake macaroons, veggie broth, and their Red Velvet cake mix.Manischewitz swag bag.jpg
It had been a true Manischewitz Experience, and a true nice Jewish motherly experience, I might add.
But the ultimate mom experience is what followed.
Just as my husband had hesitated to take off a day from work to taste Passover foods, I had felt guilty shelling out for a hotel just for this purpose. After all, there was nothing else pressing that brought me to the city. I had nothing to do there the next day.
Or so I had originally thought.My niece was in from San Francisco.jpg
After I arrived, I discovered on Facebook that my niece Suzy would be in town the next day for a brief visit from San Francisco. I quickly texted her and arranged to meet for breakfast before she went on a series of job interviews. Had I not been there, I never would have gotten to see her.
And the moment that was done, I received a text message from my daughter in Hong Kong. As long as I was in the city, she had a favor to ask. Someone she knew from Hong Kong happened to be in Manhattan as well. Since Allegra’s initial gig at the Hong Kong Four Seasons had been extended for several extra months, she was about to run out of a medication that she takes.
She wondered if there were any way that I could deliver the meds to her friend’s hotel, even though this meant picking up the prescription at her doctor’s office, bringing it to a pharmacy to get it filled, and then schlepping all the way down to Wall Street, where her friend was staying.Pattie and Allegra at The Peak in Hong Kong.JPG
"If it's too much, please don't worry about it!!!" she wrote.
I could tell that she was sorry to bother me and thinking what a pain in the butt this would be. But I was thinking something very different.
I was thinking, “Thank G-d I happened to go into the city yesterday.”
I was thinking, “Somebody needs me to do something! And not just somebody. My own daughter!”
        I was needed. For something important. Something much more important than tasting matzo s’mores.
I would do it, I told her. Of course! Being her mom, I was happy to do it, and the only thing that would make me happier was if I could do even more.
“As long as I’m sending that, is there anything else you need from New York?” I asked.Makeup container empty.jpg
Well, as a matter of fact, there was. She was also out of some of the makeup she uses. To make sure that I got the right brand and shade, she quickly texted me a photo of the empty bottle.
And so my identity as merely "Nice" was over and my mission as Nice Jewish Secret Agent Mom began.Sephora.jpg
My first stop was at the makeup store Sephora. The closest one, I learned from consulting my iPhone, was a six or seven-block walk away. On the way, I bought Allegra a pair of leggings imprinted with the New York City skyline. Never mind that they had been made in China and I was sending them back to China. I thought it would be like sending her a slice of New York.Allegra's makeup.jpg
After locating and purchasing the makeup, I took the No. 6 train on the IRT several stops up the East side to her doctor’s office, where the receptionist handed over the prescription.
Then I walked several more blocks to the nearest CVS and waited for 30 minutes or so while it was being filled. While I waited, I bought her a few more bits of hazzerei to send along as well.Subway 6 train.jpg
En route to the subway afterwards, I couldn’t resist buying my daughter one more surprise, a glittering bangle encrusted with rhinestones that I saw in a jewelry store window.
But most of all, I was happy that I happened to have brought a container from home full of assorted homemade hamentaschen. Allegra had missed being home for Purim. This would give her a little taste of that Jewish holiday and also mom’s cooking.
I wrapped all of these items in a plastic bag tied with bright ribbons and took one more subway all the way to the bottom tip of Manhattan to the Millenium Hilton Hotel, where I entrusted my parcel to a woman at the front desk.Millenium Hilton hotel downtown.JPG
Then I took yet another subway all the way up the West side to return to my hotel, in order to collect my luggage. And even then my mom mission still wasn’t done. I made one more stop to drop off a piece of furniture at Aidan and Kaitlin's new apartment on the Upper West Side.
It may not sound like much, but the combined effort took the entire day. By the time I had gotten home to Connecticut that night, it was nearly 9 p.m.
        Did I mind?
My only frustration was that Allegra’s friend was not returning to Hong Kong for three more days. But soon after his return, I woke up to a text message written in all caps.
"BEST HAMENTASCHEN EVER!!!" it read.Allegra loved the bracelet.JPG
This was followed up moments later with a photo showing a familiar hand and wrist encircled by a slender rhinestone bangle.
        I didn't need to see her face to know that she was smiling.Pattie with
Mission accomplished, I would say.
        Just call me Nice Jewish Secret Agent Mom.
        Or maybe just "Nice" for short.
For the recipes for Carrot, Quinoa and Spinach soup and other dishes from the Manischewitz Experience, visit www.manischewitz.com or click on the following links: 


        As for having the ultimate mom experience, here is my very simple basic recipe:
Always be there for your children. Especially when they can’t be there themselves.

6:25 pm 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Mona Golabek in The Pianist of Willesden Lane1.jpg  


A Word From the Weiss       


         Last week, I promised you a story about The Manischewitz Experience in NYC. And don’t worry. I went. I saw. I ate – plenty! I will post all the details (complete with Passover recipes) early next week. For now, I have some other news. Exciting news… for Jews! Maybe even you!

Pianist of Willesden Lane.jpg

        NiceJewishMom.com has been given two free tickets to offer my readers to an incredible play called The Pianist of Willesden Lane, opening next week at the Hartford Stage Company.

        Yes, I know that my readership spans the globe, extending to other cities, countries and continents. But if you live within striking distance of Hartford, CT, feel free to enter my contest. This play is truly a do-not-miss experience. To enter, see details below!

        I had the privilege of seeing this phenomenal production in NYC last summer at a theater called 59E59. As you may have noticed, my husband and I are theater addicts. At least we go to live theater all the time. And I can say without reservation that this was honestly one of the best things I have ever seen anywhere.

        It was also especially appealing to me due to its decidedly Jewish content… although you certainly don’t need to be Jewish – nor a classical music lover – to enjoy it.

        The Pianist of Willesden Lane, running at Hartford Stage from March 26 through April 26, is a true story based on a book of the same name subtitled Beyond the Kindertransport: A Memoir of Music, Love, and Survival by Mona Golabek and Lee Cohen.

        In this uplifting and riveting one-woman show, adapted and directed by Hershey Felder, Ms. Golabek portrays her own mother, Lisa Jura, a gifted young Jewish pianist growing up in Nazi-occupied Vienna on the eve of World War II.

        The story begins in 1938, when, at the age of 14, Lisa is preparing for the most important hour of her week – her piano lesson. But she arrives to learn from her beloved teacher that it has suddenly been forbidden to give lessons to Jews.

        “I am not a brave man,” he informs her apologetically. And so life as she has known it is abruptly over and her dreams of making her musical debut dashed.

        Or are they?The Pianist of Willesden Lane at Hartford Stage.jpg 

        Soon after, her father obtains a single ticket on the Kindertransport, which will allow her parents to send a child away to safety in London. The problem is that they have three daughters. Her parents must make the most dreadful choice imaginable. And as it turns out, due to her musical prowess, Lisa is the chosen one – the lucky child selected to be saved from the impending doom of the Holocaust.

        The deeply moving coming-of-age story that continues to unfold follows Lisa in her new life, as she faces one setback after another while struggling toward the concert debut of which she has long dreamed. All the while, Golabek, a piano virtuoso herself, manages to embody each of the many characters that Lisa encounters along the way while playing well-known classical selections with astonishing skill and verve.

        The result is engrossing, poignant, amusing, and amazing, and on the night that I saw it the entire audience was ultimately moved to tears, along with a standing ovation.

        If you can possibly get yourself to the Hartford Stage, I really would not miss it.

        And if you enter my contest, perhaps you will get to see it free of charge.

        Simply send me an email at NiceJewishMom@gmail.com with your name. That's it. One entry per person only. I will conduct a random drawing next Tuesday, March 24 at 8 p.m. So time is of the essence. Do it now!

        NOTE: The pair of tickets I am offering is available only for the following dates:


        Thursday 03/26/15 at 7:30 p.m.

        Friday 03/27/15 at 8 p.m.

        Saturday 03/28 15 at 8 p.m.

        Sunday 03/29 at 2 p.m. or 7:30 p.m.

        Tuesday 03/31 at 7:30 p.m.

        Wednesday 04/01/15 at 7:30 p.m.

        Thursday 04/02/15 at 7:30 p.m.

 Hartford Stage Company.jpg             

        I will notify the winner on Tuesday night March 24 by email. She or he will then have to contact the Hartford Stage directly with his or her (1) complete name and address, (2) email address and phone number, and (3) top two choices of date, just in case the first choice is already sold out.

        The seating selection is at the discretion of the box office, and tickets cannot be exchanged for a different production or refunded.

         For further information about the show or to buy tickets (which sell for $25 to $55 apiece), go to www.hartfordstage.org. To enter the drawing, email me, and please do it asap. May the best mom (or dad or whatever you are) win!


6:45 pm 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Kaitlin, Aidan, and us after Purim spiel.JPGA Word From the Weiss

        Just giving you a heads up that I may not have the time, energy or kuyach to post much more than this during the coming week.
        For one thing, I must confess that I am suffering from my usual post-Purim depression. I am happy to report that this year's spiel, "Across the Jewniverse," featuring a dozen or so tunes by The Beatles, attracted the usual packed crowd of 500 or so revelers, both young and old. There was, of course, the usual booing and hissing at the evil Haman, but it otherwise went off without a hitch.
        Afterwards, my husband and I went out to celebrate over brunch with my wonderful son Aidan and his incredible girlfriend Kaitlin and a few very good friends who had made the effort to schlep out early on a Sunday morning to see it. What could be better than that?Across the Jewniverse after party.JPG
        But between all of the effort before, during, and after the production, with the added angst of adjusting to having the clocks spring forward that very morning, I am afraid I am simply zonked.
        So I am taking a little break and also a bit of a field trip.
        I am off to NYC to see the wizard -- the wizard of kosher wine, matzo, soup, noodles, and all things Passover and/or Jewish, that is.
        The Manischewitz Company is holding an exciting event at Chelsea Market in Manhattan. They promise, among other things, celebrity chef demos, a photo booth, and assorted giveaways, as well as a chance to taste such Jewish delicacies as macaroons dunked in chocolate or cream cheese frosting, matzo s'mores, margarita or pesto matzo pizza, and many more!
        What could be bad?
        What could be better?
        I will be attending a press preview on Wednesday night, but the event itself is open to the public on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. Come if you can!
        If not, I will be your eyes and ears -- and mouth. I will report back... next week.

The Manischewitz Experience.jpg 

1:37 pm 

Friday, March 6, 2015

A Word From the Weiss

Hamantaschen I baked.jpg        Time to make the hamantaschen… again?!?
It may not look like spring out there. But with Purim here, can matzah ball soup – and May flowers – be far behind?
Purim may look like the Jewish Halloween, or Mardi Gras, but there’s more to this festive spring holiday than masquerading around in crazy costumes and reading the Megillah.
Especially for me.Purim, the Jewish Mardi Gras.jpg
For the past 14 years, as I have been known to note, I have been writing the annual Purim spiel for my synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT.
Each year, I rewrite the lyrics to a different Broadway musical so that they retell the age-old tale in which a young Jewish woman becomes queen of Persia, then valiantly saves our people from destruction at the hands of hateful Haman, a nasty fellow indeed.Kiss Me Esther 2013, based on Kiss Me Kate.jpg
These full-scale theatrical productions, complete with live music and costumes of their own, have included everything from “The Zion Queen” (a parody of The Lion King) to “Kiss Me Esther” (based on Kiss Me Kate). Last year, it was “The King and Oy.”
This year, by special request, I abandoned show tunes as my source of inspiration and turned instead to what I consider to be THE best music of all time. I am calling it “Across the Jewniverse,” and it features 13 of the many hits penned and performed by The Beatles.
So the hardest part wasn’t, as usual, finding a suitable song for each character and then making the words fit note for note. Hardly! It was narrowing down the innumerable options. The Lads from Liverpool had nearly two dozen albums to their name, from Meet the Beatles and Rubber Soul to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Let It Be. How could I let any of them be?Across the Jewniverse with star.jpg
I worried that no matter what I chose, people would complain that I had left their favorite song out. But the fact was that I was obliged to leave my own favorite song out.
My favorite Beatles song is “I Will.” But after careful consideration I decided I won’t.
I did, however, use “Help!” But it’s now called “Oy!”
Oy, indeed. The process of elimination didn’t just amount to a hard day’s night. I had a hard day’s month, during which This Girl felt like a real Nowhere Man. Or mom. How could I leave any of them out? “Blackbird?” “Ticket to Ride?” “All My Loving?” “Penny Lane?”
In my life, I’ve loved them all.The Beatles Abbey Road image.jpg
No matter. I slowly made my mind up. I got by without a little help from my friends.
        This coming Sunday, after we sing “Today It Is Purim” to the strains of “[They Say It’s Your] Birthday,” the queen’s noble uncle Mordechai (embodied by a terrific tenor named Mitch Cohen), will sweetly croon “Esther Day” to the tune of the inimitable “Yesterday.”
        You were full of sweet naïveté
        Now it’s time to act without delay
        For I think this is Esther Day.

        You are twice the queen you used to be
        It is time to set our people free
        So they’ll live through eternity…
       Fred Fitzgerald as Haman.JPG “I Want to Hold Your Hand” will turn surprisingly sinister in the mouth of evil Haman.
Oh, yeah, I'll tell you something
        That may not come as news
        Hate Moses! And charoses!
        I really hate the Jews!
        I really hate the Jew-ew-ew-ew-ew-ew-ews!
        I want to kill the Jews!...
        “All You Need Is Love” will be recast as a rousing plea to the reluctant hero Esther: “All You Need Is NERVE.”Naomi Scheinerman as Esther.JPG
Esther, meanwhile, will rhapsodize about the perks of being a poor orphan who suddenly becomes Persian royalty: She'll have an iPad Air and lots of Jimmy Choos to wear.
I've had a hard young life
        No fun or money have I seen
        But as the king's new wife
        I'll soon be livin' like a queen!
For when I sit on the throne
        Think of the things that I'll own
         You know I'll be all right!

        Then there is the grand finale, in which the entire company celebrates the fact that our people have survived to this day by singing “We’re Jews!” to the tune of “Hey Jude.”That's me in The King and Oy.JPG
Over all these years, I have not only written lyrics to well over 100 of these songs, but also authored a script, designed the program, helped with costumes, shuttled older cast members to and from weekly rehearsals… and always performed in the show.
Why do I devote the better part of my winter to this wacky enterprise? I guess you could say it is literally a labor of love, in that I do love it, and I do it strictly as a volunteer.Rehearsing Across the Jewniverse.jpg
But right now, instead of feeling elated that this upbeat holiday is at last upon us, I find myself feeling an undeniable sense of disappointment and gloom, bordering on dread.
For one thing, it always makes me sad that I write 10 or so of these songs each year, then rehearse them religiously with the rest of the cast every week for months. Then comes the big day, for which we always manage to draw a full house of 500 or so (even some non-Jews).
And then, suddenly, it’s over. Just like that.
Talk about limited engagements! This one is always one night only. (And not even one night. We perform it at 10:30 in the morning, to coincide with the religious school.)
        For another thing, few people I know are able to come to it this year, or are inclined to get up early on a Sunday morning and rush to my temple to see a play about Purim.
As much as our annual presentation tends to attract a vast grogger-wielding crowd, it doesn’t mean quite as much when most of the folks attending are people I don’t know.Hamantaschen silhouetted.jpg
Then again, it’s really a case of whether the glass – or in this case, hamantaschen – is half empty or half full. I’m a little disappointed that many friends who normally come can’t make it this year, and am especially forlorn that my daughter Allegra is obliged to miss it because she’s still living in Hong Kong. (And I’m sad that she’s sad about that.)
Yet I’d be far better off dwelling on how grateful I am to the few people near and dear to me who do plan to make their own heroic efforts to attend this Sunday, including my son Aidan and his girlfriend Kaitlin, who will schlep up from NYC, as well as my dear friend Liz (ditto), and our friends Pat and Michael, who will leave Vermont at dawn and drive over four hours in order to see it and cheer us on... on Pat’s own birthday, no less.
Besides, there are so many things about this upbeat holiday that fill me with joy.
Whether it’s from the Fab Four or a Broadway score, I just love singing the music.The King and Oy my family in front row.jpg
I also relish the undeniably feminist messages inherent in the Purim story. Along with the courage displayed by young Queen Esther, who risks her own life to save our people, there is the marvelous moral example set by her predecessor, Queen Vashti. She stands up for her principles and refuses to comply when her boorish, party-hearty husband, King Ahasuerus, orders her to dance naked before his men.
(Although in the traditional tale told in the Megillah, she is removed from Across the Jewniverse Harlan, Barbara Friedman as Vashti, and me.jpgthe throne for her defiance and swiftly meets her unfortunate demise, in my version she storms out instead, while singing an inspirational anthem about standing up for your own integrity.)
Plus, I love the more general underlying message that anyone can become a hero. (All you need is nerve!)
But most of all, I love the happiness that my Purim spiels seem to bring to others, from the mirthful throngs who come to see our endeavors to our merry band of players.
The cast, a.k.a. The Not Ready for Purim Players, always consists of two dozen or so faithful participants, ranging in age from 8-plus to several adults who are nearly 80.
None of them are professional actors; as we note when we advertise the so-called auditions each year, “no experience necessary – in fact, the less experience the better!”
We’ll take anyone who can stand. (And don’t worry, if you can’t stand, you can sit.) Still, we have a small core of gifted performers who always assume the leading roles.Purim 2012 Young Esther, Queen of the Desert.jpg
And regardless of their level of talent, everyone involved seems to delight in getting to bask in the limelight once a year, if only in a synagogue in Central Connecticut (about as off-off-off Broadway as you can get).
Honestly, what could be better than getting to play a major role in facilitating that? So as trite and schmaltzy as they may be, the weekly Words of Wisdom that Hoda Kotb intoned last Wednesday morning on the fourth hour of Today struck a resounding personal chord.Hoda's Words of Wisdom.jpg
“The beauty of life does not depend on how happy you are, but how happy others can be because of you,” she said, quoting some anonymous sage.
I guess so, for that is enough to motivate me to volunteer my services every year.
Still, I was very surprised recently to have our former longtime rabbi single me out by name on Facebook in reference to Purim, employing a far more flattering term than “volunteer.”Rabbi Stephen Fuchs.jpg
In a blog he wrote entitled “Beyond the Grogger: Adult Issues of Purim,” posted on Feb. 20th, Rabbi Stephen Fuchs noted that during the 40 years he had served as a congregational rabbi, Purim had evolved into what might be considered “almost a third High Holy Day.”
“Attendance has boomed as we no longer simply read the Megillah to cheer Esther and boo Haman. We have come to expect elaborately choreographed and carefully rehearsed Purim spiels with clever lyrics sung to the tunes of popular songs or show tunes. At Congregation Beth Israel, Pattie Weiss Levy has become a legend for the clever lyrics she writes. Other communities have their bards as well.”PurimimageonFacebook.jpg
To my continued surprise and considerable amusement, that blog was reposted two days later in German, which might as well have been Greek to me, with the exception of the words “Wunderbar” and “die clevere Lyrik von Pattie Weiss Levy legendär.”
As unexpected as this was, it did not exactly come as a total shock. For many years, Rabbi Fuchs, author of the new book What's In It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives, had served as narrator in the production, and he had made no secret of his admiration for my artistry with respect to Purim.Rabbi Fuchs' with What's In It For Me?.jpg
As a rabbi, he received relentless pitches from other spiel writers over the years. He would often forward these to me, along with his rejection slips, one of which stated (and believe me, I blush to reproduce his rabbinical stamp of approval), "Fortunately, here at Beth Israel we are blessed with the incomparable Pattie Weiss Levy, who writes what I am sure are the best Purim adapted song lyrics in the entire world."
But then, a few days later, the blog was reposted yet again, this time by the Union for Reform Judaism. This consisted of the exact same essay, with one notable exception.
“At our congregation, one woman has become a legend for writing such clever lyrics, and other communities have their bards as well.” (Yes, the italics are mine.)
I honestly thought nothing of this. But Rabbi Fuchs, being a rabbi, apparently did. He soon sent me a private message on Facebook, assuring me that he’d submitted the original blog with my name in it, but the URJ had opted to edit it out.
No problem!” I wrote back, explaining that this had been instantly obvious to me. How the heck would anyone outside of our town know who I was, anyway?After cross the Jewniverse: Pattie and Harlan.jpg
“Thanks for your concern, though,” I went on, adding that “it is still gratifying to know that someone considers me a ‘legend.’ I consider myself ‘unemployed.’ "
I do. As busy as I may be with Purim at this time of year, and this blog year-round.
But as unemployed as I may be as a lowly blogger, this so-called legend (ha!) has an important, albeit limited engagement looming this Sunday at 10:30 a.m.
With more than our share of snow this winter, several much-needed rehearsals had to be canceled. No matter. As they say (more or less), the spiel must go on!
If you live anywhere within driving distance of West Hartford, Connecticut, join us. No tickets necessary. It’s free and there's even lunch!
For the rest of you, here are the lyrics to “We’re Jews!” (sung to the tune of “Hey Jude”):
        shofar and Jewish star.jpgWe’re Jews! We read Torah
        And at 13 become bar mitzvah
Whenever we pray, we say the Sh’ma
And we get married beneath a chupah!
        We’re Jews! We keep Shabbat
And plant trees when it’s Tu Bishva-a-a-at!
We daven
And don’t eat shellfish or pork
Or any dairy using a meat fork!
        And when we pray we wear kippot
Say the Avot
And some Jewish men put on tefillin.
And on Pesach we eat no bread –
Matzah instead
And hot chicken soup’s our penicillin.
        Hot chicken soup's our penicillin.jpg    
        Ma nishtanah nah! Nah nah nah nah!
        We fast on Yom Kippur
Some Jews wish that they could fast faster
And Purim means we remember once more
That Esther saved us all from disaster!
        And when we pray we wear kippot
Say the Avot
And some Jewish men put on tefillin.
And on Pesach we eat no bread – Meet The Beatles.jpg
Matzah instead
And hot chicken soup’s our penicillin.
        Mah nishtanah nah! Nah nah nah nah!
        We’re Jews!
Sometimes we may
Take a sad song and make it sadder
And yet we are always ready to pray
Pray that we may make the world better!
Better! Better! Better! Better! Better! Oy!
        Across the Jewniverse cast photo.JPGMah nishtanah nah nah nah!
Nah nah nah nah!
We’re Jews!
        Mah nishtanah nah nah nah!
Nah nah nah nah!
We’re Jews!
Mah nishtanah nah nah nah!
Nah nah nah nah!
We’re Jews!Across the Jewniverse band.jpg
       Jew-jew-ja-jew Jews!
Mah nishtanah nah nah nah!
Nah nah nah nah!
WE’RE JEWS!!!!!!!!!

11:18 pm 

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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.