Thursday, October 13, 2011

I'll Have The Corned Beef, Lean, A Pound of Chopped Liver, and the Chocolate Babka

Two nights ago a miracle in the form of an attractive 70-yr-old woman appeared, like Glinda the Good Witch in her ephemeral bubble, waving her magic wand. POOF! Leftover food from her Yom Kippur break fast appeared on the empty kitchen countertop at my friend’s house. Bags of bagels and tubs of whitefish salad, piles of lox and pans of kugel materialized like the poppy field that Dorothy and her nice friends get high and fall asleep in. In my delight, I suddenly found myself clapping my hands like a seal.

Where I live there is no easy access to food like this. Twice a year Whole Foods trots out buckets of chopped liver and brisket and I stand in front of the case wide-eyed, like a kid watching someone put a final squirt of whipped cream on a sundae. The Whole Foods employees look rather horrified as they are faced with the task of spooning the chopped liver into takeout containers, undoubtedly thinking, “This is not in my job description.” I want them to believe me when I tell them that it’s better than ice cream, but clearly they don’t believe me. And, when people ask if it’s like pate, I don’t betray the integrity of what it is—chicken liver, chicken fat, onions and egg. Just like people call Target, “Tar-jay,” I don’t buy into this notion of “let’s make it sound fancy” because it’s NOT. It looks like cat food, it’s got tons of cholesterol, it smells, BUT, it is the most delicious thing you’ve ever tasted.

It’s not an original subject, talking about a Jewish cultural connection to food. Every race and religion has one. My Puerto Rican husband will go to the ends of the earth for the perfect paella.An Asian co-worker of mine taught me to cook with bok choy and talked about the culinary wisdom her Thai father continues to pass on to her. We all love to gather around and eat food that is familiar to us with those that we have done it with before. My husband is not going to pick up the last remaining hunk of gefilte fish with his fingers like my brother would. New friends are not going to hang around in the kitchen and peel the skin off of a roasted chicken and shove it in their mouth like my sister would. At my former (Catholic) sister-in-law’s house, I would get a hand slap if I pinched a glob of stuffing, and be forced to eat the green jello mold that was a family tradition (no so bad, actually).

Despite the bad memories that have recently taken up more space in my brain, I will always give my father credit for creating one of the lovliest rituals of my childhood. Like Jews all over the the tri-state area, my father would get up early and hunt and gather. He would go to the not very originally named “Hot Bagels and Bialeys” which flashed in neon on a storefront, stand in line, and tell the guy behind the counter what to include in the baker’s dozen. They were picked from bins like the ones above, WAY before there were blueberry and chocolate chip bagels. The salt from the poppy seed bagels and the salt from the salt bagels would get mixed up with the onions from the onion bagels, so by the time he got home, the bottom of the paper bag looked like a dumped spice rack. We’d come back to them after eating, wetting our fingers and rolling them in the mixture, licking them off our fingers.

He would also go to what is called an “appetizer store” and get cream cheese and chives, whitefish rolled in wax paper, lox, muenster cheese and sometimes herring in cream sauce. With the resulting breath it’s no wonder we spent our Sundays in separate rooms.

When the question comes up, "What would you want your last meal to be?", you know, which happens a lot, I would go for everything in both of these pictures. In honor of my mother, I might ask for a pot of boiled beef flanken which looks like this:

I'd throw in some rice pudding, a linzer tart and I'd HAVE to have chocolate chip ice cream, which incidentally, was the only thing Timothy McVeigh, Oklahoma City bomber, asked to have as his last meal. He certainly wasn't Jewish.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Heckling at The Matzo Ball With Cocoa Butter Mark

To the best of my knowlege, my friend Mark doesn't use cocoa butter nor does he have a deep tan. This name was given to him by my daughter to distinguish him from my BROTHER Mark who I also assume doesn't use cocoa butter and really is more likely to burn than tan.

The origins are this: about 4 years ago, not-brother-Mark gave Amelia a Barbie Doll for her birthday, whose special feature was smelling of cocoa butter, Malibu Barbie for the new milennium. I think, 4 years later, she still does.

Throughout our 17 years or so of knowing each other, Mark and I have been on many priceless adventures. The first one I remember is being very stoned and finding an open, rusty gate to an urban garden hidden behind brick walls that I used to see from my apartment. Literally, a la The Secret Garden, it seemed as if the gate had been left open just for us to entertain us while high (I remember being in disguise, sunglasses, trenchcoat and a hat, but, I think this might be a false memory.) Incidentally, ten years later, I got married in what will always be known as The Secret Garden. However, I don't think I was high.

Every Christmas Eve, Boston (and probably cities all across the country) have something called The Matzo Ball to entertain us single Jews, post-Chinese and a movie. For YEARS I have been appalled yet slightly intrigued by a throng of lonely Jewish people looking for love, to later have to tell people that they met their future spouse at something called The Matzo Ball. But, really, who am I to judge? I'm a 45-yr old, single Jewish woman, looking for love.

Anyway, after watching a movie released for Oscar consideration just in the nick of time, and eating and drinking at the bar of P.F. Changs (yes, despite being at the gateway to Chinatown we ate at P.F. Changs--so sue us!), we decided to check out the Matzo Ball.

The door was being staffed by a rather large bouncer (not Jewish, I'm thinking) and the cover charge was too much for us to fork over despite our burning curiosity. Instead, we decided to lurk outside, a few yards from the entrance and just observe. Mark can cut a rather imposing and threatening figure, so with me leaning into him, God knows what people were thinking about what the hell two middle-aged people like us were doing hanging around the entrance to the Matzo Ball.

Activity was rather slow. Occasionally, a pair of giggling women in boots and too-short skirts would be deposited by taxi, or a single man, hands in pockets and head down, would pay the cover and go inside. Every once in a while we would comment on the "Jewishness" of someone's look (we're allowed to do that, because you know, we're Jews)or imagine what a certain guy would be like in bed (oh, right, Mark is gay and we were a teeny bit tipsy.)

Much to our glee, just as things were getting a little dull, a group of 5 or 6 20-something guys got out of a cab, all button down shirts and white teeth, "dude" and backslaps.

"Exuse me," some odd force grabs hold of me. "Can I take your picture?"

The snarky and apparent alpha male of the pack says without missing a beat "What, have you never seen Jews before?"

"Um HELLO, I was bar mitzvahed in Israel," Mark quickly says back, suddenly sounding VERY gay.

"I'm writing an article on The Matzo Ball," I say, "and would just love to have a picture." So, clearly, ruining and slowing down their Matzo Ball momentum, they pose for the picture above. They quickly de-pose, we say thanks, and they re-puff themselves up and go inside.

"Wow, Jewish boys didn't look like THAT when I was their age," Mark says.

After about a 1/2 hour and feeling satisfied that our craving for Matzo Ball knowlege had been satisfied, we walk to the subway, all giggly and amused. I comment that the night has risen to the top of Mark and Gayle adventures (little did I know that less than 6 months later, it might have just been outdone, or at least matched, by our attendance at a fireman's bachelor auction--more on that another time.)

It might not have been long after that that Mark and I, over the phone, decided to simulatenously, join JDate. He had always wondered if there were gay Jews on the site, so in solidarity, we both clicked away at our keyboards, answering questions about what we were looking for. I gave up when I got to the "do you keep Kosher question."

Mark coined 2009 "The Year of the Jewish Husband" for both of us. Well, it's looking like that moniker has been carried over to 2010. Christmas Eve is only 7 months away, giving us plenty of time to put money aside for the cover charge, iron button downs and whiten-up our teeth.

Jews Don't Camp

I know this assertion will create backlash and anarchy from all those Jews who love to camp, but until someone invents a portable Tempur-pedic mattress, or finds me a place like the above "guest teepee" on Ralph Lauren's ranch, this Jew isn't going camping. Spare me the "OMG, you would LOVE it," or "Just try it once," or "There's nothing better than sleeping under the stars," because I will ignore you. Yes, I went to sleepaway "camp" for 15 summers of my life, but the closest I ever came to camping there was sunbathing on a towel on the softball field.

I have also asserted that "Jews Don't Golf, " "Jews Don't Hike," "Jews Don't Fish," mostly to get me out of things I don't want to do (The golf thing has been ruined for me after watching Larry David and his Jewish posse golf on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and I actually DID fish once off the Santa Monica Pier.)

Until I had my daughter I would have said that "Jews Don't Sled." Growing up on Long Island I don't think I ever saw ANYONE sled, period. Noone came knocking on my door and said, "Hey, wanna go sledding?" My brother who lives in Vermont, got my daughter to try it at a fairly young age (he is the only one who gets her to try new things) and I tried it too, screaming and laughing the whole way down the little hill on the grounds of a church. Since then, I have tried tubing and loved it (I refer you to an earlier post, "Don't Forget to Drag Your Feet") and have recently discovered the joy of being pulled on my husband's speedboat on a tube, bouncing on waves with water pelting my face.

I tried to rollerblade once because it looks so graceful and easy and, after putting them on, my friend left me standing in the middle of an empty parking lot off-season in Provincetown, and walked away as I stood there, immobilized by fear and unable to move. I begged and pleaded for him to come get me, and after catching his breath from laughing so hard, he took pity on me and pulled me to the car.

Those are things that have looked fun and I've tried them. Here are things that don't look fun at all:

Jumping out of a plane

Bungee jumping

Standing up on a rollercoaster

Walking on stilts


Fixing a flat tire

Walking in stillettos

Sumo wrestling

Fire eating

Hot dog eating contests

Beer bongs

I think that having kids is a great barometer to get us to try new things, and maybe when my daughter starts to get over her own fears, of which there are many, I'll get right up there with her and carve a pumpkin or something. Yes, in case you didn't know, Jews Don't Carve Pumpkins.

Jews Gone Wild: Phase 1

The wardrobe and weight loss hysteria starts about two weeks before the actual event. Like girls going to a school dance, middle-aged women trade e-mails and facebook posts about their outfits and where to find great sales on shoes (the guys are more interested in what time to meet on the basketball court and who is going to buy the first round of drinks (Incidentally, I make sure to hang around the guys who are buying. Aah, the wonders of facebook.) I pretend that I couldn't care less about what I look like, that these people wouldn't notice if I came in pajamas because there is a TOTAL lack of judgment, but quite frankly, I berate myself for not starting a diet or exercise routine at least two months prior.

It is very hard for anyone who has never been to camp, spent 2 months away from home, living in a bare-bones bunk with about 20 people who end up becoming life-long friends, to understand a weekend like this, something akin to being on ecstasy without the ecstasy (DISCLAIMER--I have never taken ecstasy, and to my knowledge, there wasn't any at the reunion weekend.)

What's always been most impressive to me is that everyone remembers the summers they spent there: "I was there from 1974-1981." I can barely remember what I did yesterday, but I know that I was at Camp Delaware from 1967-1982. 15 summers. Yeah. I started when I was three.

Okay, so I know that sounds nuts, and when my daughter was three the last thing in the world I could imagine doing was sending her to sleepaway camp (she cried after two days of day camp when she was 6, so clearly, she inherited her father's goyish sensibilities.) The story goes that I came up on Visiting Day, always held smack-dab in the middle of summer, to visit my brother and sister and begged my parents to let me stay. When I type that, it sounds preposterous. Do three-year olds even BEG? So, like all good parents, they left me there (To be fair, my father knew the owners very well, having been there as a camper, and, there was in fact a bunk for the kids of staff, so, there was a place for me.)

This particular bunk was co-ed. I vividly remember a male counselor showering with us with a very skimpy towel wrapped around his waist. Now as an adult, this clearly sounds very suspect. I remember sextuplets (who the hell knows, maybe they were just triplets but that's how I remember it) and I remember the swingset coming out of the ground, tipping backwards, and Regina Cooper gashing her chin. I remember us walking in a line to the dining hall and everyone telling us how cute we were.

I can't recap 15 of the most priceless summers of my life on this blog. I spent 30 months of my life there, a total of 2.5 years. Suffice it to say, I know every inch of that place, I knew where to go to stalk the guys I had crushes on, where to go for some peace and quiet. It was the one place where I was a star of the plays and "composer" of winning Color War songs. It was the kind of place where no matter how popular or picked-on you were in the "real world", noone gave a fuck. The playing field was level from the get-go (except for the girl's softball field which is still a mass of mounds and divots.) But I digress.

It might appear politically incorrect, but "Jews Gone Wild" is what these reunion weekends are all about. Held every other summer on the grounds of our old camp, where over the years bunks and structures have literally fallen in on themselves and subsequently have been demolished, a sample of 4 decades of tri-state area Jews (some with tri-state origins have moved to Florida, perpetuating a cliche that makes me smile) come together, no spouses, no kids, no tagalong friends, to morph into a combination of the "then" them and the "now" them. The accents remain priceless.

Faces are unchanged. "You look EXACTLY the same" is exclaimed hundreds of times, addressed at everyone being seen for the first time by someone new. And you know what? It's true. Our faces really DON'T change. Bodies, maybe. Some noses and breasts tweaked, sure. But, if I were to post a collage of us then, and us now, and had you draw lines between the two, it could be done in minutes.

Sitting on the very strategically-placed porch on Girl's Side, a group of us sit in great anticipation watching as people arrive. We see legs first then bodies from far away, our older eyes straining to see who it is (oh, and also because most of us have smoked endless amounts of pot.) And then "OH MY GOD's" erupt, woman spring from their benches and chairs and get up to hug their favorite old friends. There is the equivalent on Boy's Side, enthusiastic hugs and endless grins. They run up and down the basketball court like they're in their teens, but a bit more slowly. Star athletes from back then often end up with ice packs on their knees or a lingering limp, but this is THEIR highlight, their ultimate joy of the weekend.

Small pockets of friends form in circles, scattered around the lawn, porches, bleachers, or sit on the hard wooden ping-pong tables. Cameras are EVERYWHERE often with one person snapping one group shot out of seven different cameras (this is the reason almost all the group shots look exactly the same on facebook.)

If you are curious to know who is smoking all the pot and cigarettes in this country, truly "representing," come to Winsted, CT the first weekend of June in 2012. I, for instance, smoke once every two years, at camp. That's it. I smoke my brains out and don't do it again until the next time. Trying to justify this is futile, I know.

Instead of wallet-sized pictures of our children, we use our cellphones, digital cameras, Blackberrys and i-phones, passing them around to the oohs and aahs of our friends. Unlike in past years, there is cell service on the grounds, and in some strange unplanned ritual, people use the softball field, walking around the bases with their phones up to their ears. A friend observing this said "Hey, it's the phone lap." I equated it with the scene in Midnight Express when the prisoners are walking around in a circle pushing that thing that hangs down. I don't know why. It wasn't like that at all. Except for the walking in circles part.

The new owners of the camp make us a barbeque lunch giving us a central gathering place to greet all the people who have initially been missed. More pictures. More memories shared. More "nice to meet yous." We scatter, we nap, we shower, we dres

Jews Gone Wild: Phase II

First of all, my apologies to my friend, ummm..."Gladys" above (fake name used to protect the innocent.) We've known each other since we were four so chances are good that I've done much worse than this. No visual could quite exemplify the slow, yet temporary destruction of our middle-aged bodies than this picture taken by an equally hungover person on the ride home.

So, picking up where we left off:

My friend Lauren and I go back to our room at the Quality Inn, the highest of quality for us because we've landed the honeymoon suite(so-named because of a big hot tub in the middle of the room which quickly turned into a horrible looking mess after I dumped the melted ice out of my cooler, forgetting the bag of now-smooshed cheese Combos and M&M's I put in there. I sheepishly call housekeeping and tell them that I'll deal with the mess, and that no, no one threw up in it.)

We get into our king-sized bed (well, the honeymoon suite would be sort of counter-intuitive with two fulls)and quickly fall asleep (Lauren and I both travel with our white-noise machines and worked out beforehand who would bring theirs--hers is much louder and fancier than mine, which come to think about it, pretty much sums up our friendship. She's kind enough to let me drive her Lexus when she visits and I'm always telling her to stop yelling.)

After precisely one hour, our cellphones which have been charging across the room, start erupting with annoying and LOUD rings. Our friends, "Gladys" and Beth yell at us to get up and get moving. We model outfits for each other, flatiron each other's hair, tell Lauren that everything she puts on is fabulous and doesn't make her look fat (however, when she shows up at the bar after I do, she's in a totally different ensemble from when I left her.)

(Favorite story #1--Beth, some time before naps, calls Lauren in a panic saying she can't find her phone. She asks Lauren if she left it in our room. "Gladys" overhears this and points out to Beth that she is, uh, USING her phone to call Lauren about her LOST phone. What's a bit disconcerting about this is that Beth usually plays the role of the most clear-headed of the four of us.)

Our (fantastic and handsome) organizers for the weekend provide a shuttle bus for those who are anticipating being too drunk to drive. There's a group of those adventurous types (and a generation younger) who actually CHOOSE to sleep in the bunks at camp, who spill out of the bus in front of the bar. Another group is shuttled from the motel. (Truly, I know myself well enough to never get drunk enough not to drive, stopping hours before it's time to go, so I drive into town, knowing that the bus is on hand in case I need to use it.)

I'm already sitting at the bar, surrounded by old and new faces. I'm being offered drinks literally, left and right. There's a group of wonderful guys behind me whose names and faces I know, but have known little about throughout the years. They are wonderfully special to each other. Best men at each other's weddings, investors and supporters in each other's assorted businesses and ventures, the Jewish equivalent of godparents to each other's children. One of them orders 10 shots of tequila. They toast to love and friendship. It gets me kind of misty (oh, and I get a shot too.)

My dear friend, Robbie, has taken the glasses off of one of the guys and is passing them around to us, and to assorted bar patrons, snapping pictures of each of us (later, these same glasses are photographed on top of a pizza.) We somehow all look really good in them (example above.)

We're clustered around the front room of the bar waiting for our private room with a hired deejay. It sees like every one of the early-30s group of women is in black. We in our 40s are more like the Jewish version of Chico's. The "townies" in the bar are either looking at us like we're aliens, or not-so-subtly leering at us. We suspect that when the owners of the bar get wind that we're in town, they water down the booze. The shots of tequila are in cups the size of those that are on the tops of children's medicine. Methinks lots of money is exchanged that night.

We make our way to the back room. Lady Gaga, pop singer of the hour, and an artist that we really only know because our CHILDREN are listening to her, kicks-off the dancing. I am often amazed at how well some of these guys dance. My theory is that it's because of all the bar and bat mitvahs they've attended. The women are fabulous and sexy. We totally let loose. I do my annual lap dance for my friend Robbie. I'm 45.

Camera flashes are everywhere. We're captured in some not-so becoming angles. Within 24-hours of being home, there are HUNDREDS of pictures on facebook. We de-tag, we replace our profile pictures with a favorite from the weekend, we comment endlessly. Status updates all talk about how sad we are to be home, how re-entry into reality is really hard. Regional mini-reunions are planned to extend the one-of-a-kind feeling.

Beginning of Favorite Story #2)The night goes too quickly. Buses are reloaded. Eddie M., who I've known since he was about 6, and has turned into somewhat of an icon in one short weekend, gives me a ride to my car. I playfully turn his GPS to give directions in French. I follow him out and when I get to the on-ramp to get back to the motel he keeps going straight. I think that he must know a faster way. I pull in at the same time as the bus. We gather for an impromptu after-hours party in a gazebo on the motel's lawn. A large bottle of vodka is being passed around. A joint travels around the opposite direction of the circle. I think someone has a video camera. Everyone's starving. The vending machine only has pretzels and gum left. Lauren has four slices of pizza in her car. She shares.

After about 45 minutes, Eddie pulls in, not looking very happy. "Does anyone know French??" Ooops. I think he thinks he'll never be able to get it back to English. Thank God I'm a good problem solver. He forgives me.

I think I get into bed at around 3:00 am. At home, I go to bed at 9:30 and read for an hour. I've smoked what feels like a carton of cigarettes. After we wake up and gather our stuff, we meet another group for breakfast down the road at a strip mall. A sign outside says "Voted Best Breakfast Buffet 3 years in a Row! Only $7.99!" That's quite a statement for Torrington, Connecticut, and it takes Beth and me about 5 seconds to agree to try it, congealed bacon and all. Lauren declares the sausage, egg and cheese sandwich she's ordered the best thing she's ever eaten. We are hungover and hungry. We'd eat anything at this point.

It's time for us to go. Lauren, Beth and "Gladys" pile into the rented maroon PT Cruiser to head back to Jersey. I have the shorter trip back to Boston. I have lied to my ex-husband in order to give myself a 3-hr stretch to nap before he drops off our daughter. It's quiet. My head hurts. I expect there are about 125 or so people feeling exactly the same way, off in their corners of the real world. Again, facebook status updates for 48-hours talk about how exhausted we all are. What's most impressive is that we'll rally and do this all over again, undoubtedly in larger numbers, two years from now.

Until then, "Friends, friends, friends, we will always be..."

A Modern Day Hate Crime

“I hate Jews. Kikes suck. Heil.”

The above words were posted on facebook by a 16-yr old who hangs around my stepson. They were posted on another kid’s page, the soft spoken best friend of my stepson and a boy I have grown to adore. This isn’t the first time that he's left his i-phone unattended allowing anyone within reach to post what they want under the guise of his identity. One can always tell by the vulgarity and the button-pushing, boundary-breaking language that it isn’t him, but this had crossed a line that hadn’t been crossed before.

I felt like I had been sucker punched. I sat there and stared at the words. My reaction was so visceral, so raw, that I truly began to shake. I called my husband and with a tone of voice I didn’t even recognize as my own, said “Look at ___’s status update NOW.” I implored my husband to call my stepson to (a) make him aware of this post and (b) find out who had written it. He called without hesitation and it didn’t take long for my stepson to tell us who it was.

He happened to be sitting next to my stepson with a group of other kids and I demanded to speak to him. I absolutely lost it on him, my anger escalating the more I spoke. It is hard to remember exactly what I managed to spit out in my highly charged rage. He initially tried to make excuses, said it was a joke, that they always did stupid stuff like that, that he’d forgotten that I was Jewish, and if he had known that I was a facebook friend of ___ he never would have done it.

So, imagine for a minute, what this unleashed in me. I thought that young people were more enlightened these days. I thought that for the most part, we were beyond all this. I began to spew out the details of my own personal connection to the Holocaust, that my mother was a survivor and that ¾ of her immediate family had been killed and how DARE he refer to this as a joke. I left out the part about how many Holocaust survivors and scholars ended up killing themselves, including Primo Levi, who hurled himself down a flight of stairs, and writer Jerzy Kosinski who suffocated himself by wrapping a plastic bag around his head in his bathtub. I left out the part about my mother’s eventual suicide as the result of the sadness and loss that she was never able to shake.

I ended the conversation, after some conciliatory “Yes ma’ams” and “I’m sorry ma’ams” by telling this kid that he was not welcome in my home where he had once come for dinner, and that I hope that was the last I would be seeing of him. I was tempted to call his parents, but I had no idea who I might be up against. The tree created this apple. Who knows how far or close, it has fallen.

I don’t pretend to be a “religious” person. The last time I went to temple during the high holidays I felt like such a hypocrite that I decided that it might be the last time I try to fake it through another service. I listened to the sermon, appreciated the words that the rabbi said, but was quite frankly terrified by the ongoing discussion on the lack of an afterlife. However, like many other non-observant Jews, the cultural connection to who I am is very authentic. I’ve got this history that connects me very directly to the epicenter of anti-Semitism. Right now I am in the middle of a book about the American ambassador to Berlin during the cusp of Hitler’s rise to power. I am reading about Jews being randomly jumped and beaten to death for not “Heiling” as the SS paraded down the street. I am reading about how laws were being enacted to stop Jews from practicing medicine and law. Even though I would never pretend to possess all of the information to educate a 16-yr old, or a 90-yr old on the events that created someone like Hitler or the Holocaust, I know enough to muddle through the basics.

Sooner than later I’m going to have to explain to my now 10-yr old daughter how her grandmother died. Her best friend just did a book report on Anne Frank so I was able to at least tell her that my mother was also hidden, not in the attic, but in the basement of a family’s home.When I was my daughter’s age, I knew that my mother didn’t really want to be alive anymore, but I don’t want to open that can of worms just yet.

In the end, who knows if I taught this kid anything. My stepson has ended his friendship with him and I am no longer connected to even the friends of his I love on facebook. Maybe I should just look at this unfortunate blip as an opportunity to have discovered my inner activist. Or, maybe, I should just be terrified.

I Played the Borscht Belt

"Star-studded live entertainment, exciting children’s day camp, teen and singles’ programs and daily Israeli dancing are only some of the constant activities featured!"

When I was about 5 yrs-old, my parents dragged me kicking and screaming to the Nevele Grand Resort in the Catskills. I think it was the poor man's Grossinger's but whatever it was, I HATED it. It couldn't have been during the summer because by then, I already had spent 1.5 summers away at sleep away camp (another story altogether) and in the posed pictures from the trip, I'm rather fetching in red tights and a wool dress.

During the day I would get dumped at some ridiculous activity while my parents clearly did something similar to what is illustrated in the above photos. As I recall, in an act of defiance, I took out my frustrations on a paint-your-own plaster frog doing a rather half-hearted glazing job. This was the precursor to me dropping out of Girl Scouts for having to sew badges on a sash and getting kicked out of Home Ec for stealing samples of Noxema from the supply cabinet instead of caramelizing sugar in a double-boiler.

What I lacked in detail orientation, I made up for in the ability to sing. Perhaps it was because my father was an actual PAID night club singer (he and my mother met at a New Hampshire resort where he was the featured act and she was a rather come-hither receptionist) but at that age and well into my late teens, I was very confident performing. I suppose that it was this confidence that propelled me to go from table-to-table in the resort dining room like a mariachi band without the mustache and sombrero. Even though people weren't slipping dollar bills down my dress to leave them the hell alone while they enjoyed their boiled beef flanken, I'm certain they were silently glancing at my parents with pity for having such an odd child. My infamy culminated in a rather demure rendition of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" at the Friday night talent show.

At summer camp, I was always the one entrusted with the showstopping number of every musical. I didn't have the leading-lady looks (one of the many factors leading to my years of self-esteem issues) but I had the powerhouse set of lungs that could belt out everything from "Everything's Coming Up Roses" from Gypsy to "Somwehere" from West Side Story. I brought tears to the eyes of the audience with my performance of "Climb Every Mountain" at ten (I swear!) and did a great Ben Vereen in the opening number of Pippin. Now, I have nightmares that I've forgotten the lyrics to songs I've sung forever or I can't find my costume.

I still have a pretty awesome voice. My medley of "Blackbird," "Dream A Little Dream," and "Where Is Love?" has gotten rave reviews over the years from my daughter. My sister and I are like the Jewish version of Wilson Phillips in our ability to harmonize to Crosby, Stills and Nash. Somehow, though, my confidence has jumped to other things but I really do hope to one day be able to again hit that one high note in "Climb Every Mountain" and to find the perfect person to sing "One Hand, One Heart" with at a karaoke bar.

Secrets and Lies

When my mother committed suicide somewhere between Christmas and New Year's Eve, 1985/86, someone made the decision not to tell her mother, who was about 90 at the time. This was a woman who watched 4 of her six children get taken away to concentration camps, witnessed as her husband was shot on a street in Belgium and had worked miracles to keep my mother and my uncle, the two youngest children, alive. As mentioned in previous posts, she somehow found her way to the Jewish Underground and found a couple to hide them in their Bruxelles-area basement for about 2 years.

The way I understand it is that she was told that my mother was living in Arizona in a restful and peaceful place where she couldn't be contacted (I refer you to my post about my dreams.) I can't imagine that she believed this and when I found out about it, I was stunned. I know it was to protect her but I didn't agree with the decision.

My grandmother was a very loving woman, barely 4'11 who spoke only Polish and Yiddish and a smattering of English. She lived in a teeny little apartment in Brooklyn and was most proud of a painting she had of a fountain that when plugged in, lit-up and simulated falling water. When she knew I was coming to visit she'd fill her bowl of sour balls and go out to buy pound cake. She would wait outside for us and would beam with delight when she saw us, and walk us to the car, waving her sweet little wave when we left. She spent most of her time sitting on a bench outside with her friends with her cash stuck into her bra. She lived to be close to 100 subsisting apparently on boiled potatoes and Manishewitz.

My mother and her mother had a very strange relationship. On the Jewish holidays when my grandmother would come over and help cook Passover dinner, there was a lot of yelling in Yiddish. My grandmother would say "SHA" to quiet things down. I have absolutely no idea why my mother seemed to dislike her so much. What it did for me, was to model a mother/daughter relationship where my grandmother was so desperate for my mother's love, and my mother just seemed annoyed all the time. One of my biggest regrets in my life was not taking the time to know her, while emulating my mother's indifference and annoyance.

When she slept over, my grandmother would take her hair out of her tightly wound bun and I would be sort of freaked out by her silver hair that reached 3/4 down her body. She would brush it while wearing her white nightgown and often brush my hair while I just got annoyed that she would accidentally brush my face. She would take her clacking teeth out and put them in a glass and leave them in the bathroom. She never went out without lipstick.

Many years ago I found a document, written in French which came from an Israeli governmental agency addressed to my grandmother. It's not so hard to make out the language that starts out (my loose translation): Dear Mrs. Kempinksi, I regret to inform you that (three of my four aunts and uncles are listed by name with their birth and death dates and the concentration camp numbers they were assigned) and died here:

Malines (Mechelen) concentration camp was situated in a former barracks by the river in the city of the same name in Belgium. It was appropriated by the Germans in 1942 to serve as an assembly camp for all the Jews of Belgium and other 'undesirable' groups. The camp was divided into several groups including those to be deported; nationals of neutral countries or Germany's allies; borderline cases (ie mixed race); political prisoners and, in the final stages of the camp's existence, Gypsies.

There was a set of boy/girl twins. The girls first name was Minda which is now my daughter's middle name. One of the sons is listed as whereabouts unknown.

Like A (Gefilte) Fish Out of (Its Jar Of Gelatinous Stuff)

Last night for work I attended a party at a home in the wealthiest suburb of Boston, which according to Forbes magazine has the 97th most expensive zip code in the United States.According to public record, the house has an estimated worth just shy of $2 million.

For 16 years I have made a living essentially asking rich (or as my boss has taught me to say, “well-resourced”) people for money for the variety of human services agencies I’ve worked for.I’m good at my job because I feel really passionate about the issues I’ve raised money for—at risk youth, the homeless, teen moms—and, I’m not afraid to ask anybody for anything.

These small events are a great and easy way to make money. Board members host at their lovely homes and invite their friends who also live in lovely homes so they can learn more about the work being done at our agency and ultimately whip out their checkbooks and give tons of money on the spot. I’ve planned about 30 of these and have been everywhere from an expansive apartment overlooking Central Park to sitting on couch cushions in a funky Park Slope townhouse, where I'm certain the hostess must have hid her hookah pipe before her guests arrived.

The picture above is the image Google came up with when I searched for WASP. I have absolutely nothing against WASPS. My best friend is the epitome of WASP. The couples at the party weren't quite or young, and sadly there were no perfect labs there, but Boston, really because of its proud blue blood history, has a lot of people who look like this, much to their credit. And, I LOVE that woman's dress.

Every once in a while, when I was still speaking to him, I would mention to my father some event or situation where I may have had conflict with a boss, or some other work or social conflict. The first question he would ask was "Are they Jewish?" It seemed like the most preposterous question in the world to presume that there was some rampant anti-Semitism in every interaction I had with non-Jewish people. In some cases I've been the first Jewish person someone has met and after that rather surprising admission I feel like they should meet another one first because I'm not exactly the poster child for Judaism. Even my first husband, a Catholic, ended up knowing more about my religion than I do.

I can't know this for sure, but I think that most people feel most comfortable around their own. When I go to Long Island or Manhattan, I feel at home, like being there brings out the authenticity in me that isn't the same in Boston. I have two Jewish friends here who I am very close to. When I first met the second one, we were out on our inaugural getting-to-know-you coffee, and I whispered to her, "Are you Jewish?" in the same way that people whisper about cancer. There was some instant understanding, like we belonged to a secret club. It's just how it is.

I am very proud of who I am. People seem to learn quickly that I'm the child of a Holocaust survivor giving me some bizarro Jewish seal of approval. That being said, I wouldn't know that tonight is Rosh Hashanah if I didn't have Jewish friends on facebook all wishing each other a Happy New Year. I won't go to services tomorrow or on Yom Kippur.

Of course, the people at the party were lovely and engaging. They didn't condescend to the teenage mother who came to speak about our programs. Of COURSE I wasn't the first Jew they had ever met. I might have been the least in shape person there, but certainly it's not because I'm Jewish. It's because I'm kind of a slug.

Sometimes, when I'm in a situation where the women are naturally blonde and the men are in Brooks Brothers I feel like this:

That's my issue, and noone else's. I am certain in SOME situations, that could be the case (as a matter of fact, with some statements said to me like "Jews are cheap, right?" and in one case, "Is it true that Jewish girls love to fuck?") I'm reminded that maybe that is what I represent to some incredibly ignorant people, but in reality, not to the rest of my orbit.

So, to all of my delightful Jewish friends, I wish you a very Happy New Year and an easy fast.

The Year of the Jewish Husband

After a couple of years running through the vast sea of non-Jewish men, my friend Mark and I decided that 2010 would be "The Year of the Jewish Husband." Our “dating” lives seemed to parallel each other. There was a period of time when we were both, um, “entertaining” black men, younger men, Latino men, and just plain old white guys (not “old” white guys, just your run-of-the-mill white guy.)

Both of us had quite a flurry of men after we had both ended long-term relationships, both with white Catholic guys. I was married for 7 years and Mark was with his lover for the same amount.2010 seemed like the time to buckle down and find the man that our mothers always hoped we would.

In a previous post, “Heckling At The Matzo Ball With Cocoa Butter Mark,” I end with our very short-lived desire and effort to join JDate. I was in my sunroom lounging on a chaise, glass of wine nearby, laptop on my, well, lap, and Mark was undoubtedly at a Starbuck’s, complaining about noisy kids, with his laptop on a table. We said, “One, two, three, GO!” and logged on to the registration page simultaneously.

The questions went something like this:

“What tribe do you belong to?”

a) Ashekanazy

b) Sephardic

c) Really bad Jew

d) Other

“What am I?” Mark asked?

“Well you’re kind of dark so just go with Sephardic.”

“What dietary restrictions do you follow?”

a) I keep kosher, of course. That way I get to have 2 sets of Crate and Barrel dishes!

b) I put bacon on everything.

c) I’m on a liquid fast.

d) Other

“How many times have you been to Israel?”

a) HELLO, I was bar/bat mitvahed in Israel!

b) Never. I’m too afraid to fly.

c) Once but it was so hot I just stayed in my hotel

d) Other

At this point, I knew I wasn’t the type of Jew they were looking for, and after a quick search of “Men seeking Men,” Mark decided that he wasn’t either.

We gave up and went on to talk about other more pressing things, like who got eliminated on Project Runway or the cute black bartender we both had a little crush on at our favorite dive bar. Onward and upward!

Around three or 4 months after this, Mark met someone that he seemed very excited about.Mark has the great ability to be cautious, to not get ahead of himself when it comes to relationships, but I could tell that he was hopeful about this one. His last name is Nunez. From then on, he has simply been know as “The Nunez.” He’s Dominican and a real throwback to 2009 when, for me at least, it was “The Year of the Dominican.”

Not long after, just as I was about to throw in the towel on, I met my now remarkable husband, whose last name just happens to be Rodriguez. Yeah. Now, instead of “The Year of the Jewish Husband,” it has become “The Century of the Jewtino.” We have even invented a cocktail—a Jewtini which is a delightful combination of rum, Coco Libre and Manischewitz, which premiered at our Jewtino Passover. If we had a spokesman he would look something like Geraldo Rivera or Juan Epstein from "Welcome Back Kotter."

We have both found true love in these incredible men. Everyone adores "The Nunez" and Ricardo Rodriguez. Mark and I have never been happier. He told this story at my wedding celebration and of course brought the house down (when he wasn't tearing up as he is known to do). We have no regrets for closing out "The Year of the Jewish Husband." We adore our spicy Latino men for everything they are and we love that we still bring out the "Jewish" in each other, throwing around the occasional Yiddish phrase while the men look on and grin.