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Saturday, October 28, 2017

A Word From the Weiss


     Note: Sorry! So sorry! I mean, I’m really, really sorry! I don’t call. But what’s worse is that I don’t write. Don’t write here, anyway. The good news is that I’m hard at work on another book. The bad news? No time lately for NiceJewishMom.com. Other duties call. But it breaks my heart. I lie awake at night feeling like I have an itch that I can’scratch.

       Days fly by without documentation or, even worse, self-examination. I don’t write. Therefore, I am NOT.

       Even more exasperating is that I did start writing something, several weeks ago. So many weeks that it’s now retreating into the rearview mirror. Every day, I think that if I don’t finish it soon, it will be way too old to post. Staler than a week-old challah. I mean, how can I tell you about Rosh Hashanah when it’s almost Halloween? 

       But my daughter says that one of her best friends, a faithful reader, keeps checking this space and is disappointed to still find nothing new. This story, as I saidis hardly what you might call new. No matter. Here it is. Kylie, this one’s for you!   


Pattie October 2017.jpg

      A very belated happy Jewish New Year from NiceJewishMom.com! I certainly hope this year will be a happy one. Not to mention a Jewish one. Yetbeyond being someone who blogs about being a nice Jewish mom, who am I to talk about being Jewish?

      I would hate to think that I am gradually turning into one of those Jews who only turn up in their temples on the High Holy Days. But the truth is that, in recent years, my husband and I often don’t even do that.

      When our kids were young, we celebrated everything from Shabbat to Tu Bishvat, which meant going to synagogue more often than not. But now that the kids are grown and living on their own, many major holidays force us to choose: Go to our own shul in Connecticut, or drive down to NYC instead and share the occasion with them?

Aidan on Shabbat age 8.jpg

      To me, when it comes to holidays, particularly the High and Holy ones, my priority remains being with family over simply following protocol. That is, I would rather eat with my kids – or, when it comes to Yom Kippur, not eat with my kids – than daven without themAnd in the pursuit of family togetherness, it tends to be easier for the mountain to go to Mohammed (excuse the expression) than vice versa.

      I was hoping this year that we might be able to kill both birds with one shalom. That is, to be with our kids and still manage to attend synagogue services somewhere. But however sweet that objective might sound, making it happen was far from as simple as dipping apples into honey.

      Since Rosh Hashanah fell midweek this yearthere was little chance that our kids would come home. So I looked for a temple in NYC to which we could go together.

      As members of a Reform synagogue in Connecticut, my husband and I are entitled to free reciprocal tickets to Reform synagogues elsewhere. But now that the kids rarely come home, we no longer maintain a family membership, so we couldn’t get free tickets for them. And for those of you who may not live in Manhattan, or don't go to synagogue there, let’s just say that these tickets come at a price.

      That price can top $400 per person to attend on both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. And since my son is married, and my daughter will be soon, there are now six members of our family. That could amount to quite a lot of gelt.

Kol Haneshamah held free services.jpg

       The distinct possibility also remained that the kids might cancel out at the last minute, so I didn’t want to invest too much in this endeavor. So I was very happy when an Internet search led me to Kol Haneshamaha.k.a. the Center for Jewish Life and Enrichment. Not only was it a short walk from my son’s apartment on the Upper West Side, but its services were free.

      Hesitant to take advantage of its hospitality completely free of charge, I made a small donation after reserving six seats for Rosh Hashanah morning. But not feeling confident that at least someone, if not everyone, wouldn’t reneg, I gave only a small amount, figuring that if all actually went as planned I could always give more later.

Kaitlin and Aidan at Passover 2016.jpg

     Unfortunately, just as I’d feared, when we checked in with my son the night before, it turned out that Aidan hadn’t been entirely aware of the plan. He wasn’t free to attend services the next morning. Neither was my daughter-in-law, Kaitlin.

     My daughter lives in Manhattan in the East 20s. We were staying at a hotel in Long Island City. We had been willing to schlep all the way to the Upper West Side only for my son’s benefit. If he and his wife weren’t coming, going there made no sense, free services or not.

      So my daughter found another service far closer to her home.

      This one was held by an organization called Ohel Ayalah, which offers free walk-in services meant primarily for unaffiliated Jews in their 20s and 30s. That makes it possible, according to its website, “for a Jew to wake up on Rosh Hashanah morning and say, ‘I feel like going to the synagogue today and being with other Jews.

Rabbi Hauptman.jpg

     It all began in September of 2003, on Erev Kol Nidrei – the night before Yom Kippur. Rabbi Judith Hauptman was on her way to religious services when she encountered a distraught young Jewish couple who had been turned away from two different synagogues earlier that evening. They had failed to make reservations, and all the seats had already filled up.

         Rabbi Hauptman, upon hearing this, was equally distraught. A conservative rabbi, and the first woman ever to receive a Ph. D in Talmud, she had been teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary since 1974. Determined to find a solution, she quickly came up with an idea: She would find a way to offer free, walk-in services for those who wait until the last minute to make up their minds about worshipping on the High Holy Days. (As well as those whose plans suddenly change?)

       The following year, Ohel Ayalah (“Tent of Helen,” named for her late motherwas born.

Ohel Ayalah services are for young Jews.jpg

        The very first service was packed, primarily with young people under the age of 35. In the ensuing years, the organization continued to not only flourish, but grow, branching out to add services in Brooklyn and Queens, as well as Passover seders.

      This year’s services in Manhattan would be held at the Prince George Ballroom on West 27th Street. Allegra and JP agreed to meet us there late the next morning.

Luna with Allegra and JP.jpg

      We woke up to an urgent message from them, though. Their new little puppy, Luna, had been up all night vomiting. They were very concerned and rushing her to the vet. Allegra was not ready to cancel out on temple just yet, though. And neither were we. We agreed that we would go to the service ourselves and attempt to save her a seat.

     Good luck to us with that! Although the Prince George Ballroom is cavernous, at over 9,000 square feet, we arrived to discover that the service was already packed and standing-room-only. So we made our way to the back of the room... and stood.

The Prince George Ballroom was packed.JPG

     At least this spared us from the usual routine of having to get up every time the rabbi entreated the congregation to “please rise” whenever a major prayer was read. We were already on our feet.

     I felt a bit sheepish about going to a service intended mostly for young people in their 20s and 30s. I’m a nice Jewish mom of two people in their 20s and 30s. Young, I am not. And if I’m not young, then what is Nice Jewish Dad, who has just over a decade on me?

The Prince George Ballroom SRO.jpg

     Indeed, we stood out in the crowd – and I do mean crowd. Hundreds of well-dressed young Jews filled the rows of seats and stood lining the perimeter of the room. Many among the seated soon began approaching us and offering to give us their seats. As generous a gesture as this was – a mitzvah in the making – we would graciously decline.

My husband was beginning to shvitz.JPG

      Yet it was an unusually warm day, both inside and out, and I eventually persuaded my husband to accept one such offer, seeing that he was tired and beginning to shvitz in his suit.

     I was there mostly to be with our daughter, though, and there was no seat available for her. So I remained standing alone in the back, keeping one eye on the prayers in the siddur (prayer book) and the other trained expectantly on the doorway.

JP stayed to take care of Luna.JPG

     And finally, after an hour or so, there she was! They were still awaiting results of the X-rays, so her fiancé, JP, who is not Jewish, had been obliged to stay behind with poor sick Luna. But Allegra was finally there, and I moved over eagerly so that she could lean against the wall beside me.

Allegra finally arrived.jpg

      Eventually, I found that I could no longer stand on ceremony, though, let alone my high holiday heels. So I dared to sit down on the floor. Seeing this, to my amazement, dozens of young people instantly followed suit, despite being attired in dresses and suits.

Prince George Ballroom people on floor.jpg

      Maybe I had unwittingly managed a mitzvah of my own.

      But when it was announced that there were still seats available for an afternoon servicon Yom Kippur the following week – and that if you registered in advance, you were guaranteed to get one – decided to make reservations for us all. This time, I would make sure that everyone got the memo. We would get to worship as a family, after all.

     Not that I was complaining, mind youThe service that we were attending now was not only free, but included a free reception afterwards. After the closing hymn, everyone filed into the hallway to feast on gefilte fish, noodle kugel, and assorted rugelach. Yum!

      No wonder I felt obliged to make a donation to Ohel Ayalah afterwards. If you are interested in helping to guarantee the future of the Jewish community, what a worthy cause!

     Afterwards, we hurried home to Allegra’s apartment. Aidan and Kaitlin would be joining us for dinner. There was still a whole holiday meal to prepare!

Challah with raisins.jpg

    Knowing that her kitchen is barely bigger than a mezzuzah – there isn’t even a drawer in it for silverware or Saran Wrap – I had toted most of the food from home, along with pots and pans to cook it in. Not to mention bowls, trays, condiments, and assorted serving utensils.

     I had also done as much of the food prep as possible in advance.

     Out now came the apples and honey, the round braided raisin challah, the homemade chicken soup with carrots and fine egg noodles, the kosher chicken to roast with prunes, olives, and fresh herbs from my garden, the broccoli I had already cut into florets and fresh organic carrots I had already peeledthe portabella mushrooms I had already stuffed, the apple crisp I had already baked, plus a pot of quinoa, which may not be traditional Jewish food, by any means, but what the heck, it’s healthy!

     Being a nice Jewish mom, I spent the rest of the afternoon cooking. Then the rest of the evening cleaning it all up. But all that I remember now, looking back in the rearview mirror, is the magical moment at which we all finally sat down together as a family, lit the tall, white holiday candles, and raised our voices to sing the Kiddush and the Motzi – the blessings over the wine and the breadSuddenly, it was worth every single second of effort. Andcertainlyhaving to have missed services at our shul back home.

Our Rosh Hashanah family dinner 2017.jpg

 (From left to right) Aidan, Kaitlin, Allegra, JP, my husband Harlan... and Luna, who was feeling much better, peeking out on the floor. 



      As for next year, I am already looking forward to services at Ohel Ayalah again. Whether we reserve in advance and get to sit, or end up needing to stand again, they deserve a standing ovation.


   To learn more about this group or make a donation yourself, go to www.ohelayalah.org.        

1:15 am 

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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.