Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

We all know that March can come in like a lion roaring, but I didn’t expect government buildings to close in DC and siding to get ripped off of houses in Cville. This morning we went to a preschool Purim celebration in Nashville, and Mother Nature may have turned colder here, but our wind blew in so many super heroes and princess/queens I fell in love with Judaism all over again!

When our kids were little, the President of the Brotherhood In our Berkshire’s temple dressed up as “Super Jew.” Bob once dressed as an Irish fairy because the date happened to coincide with St Patrick’s Day – a rare but exciting alignment of the stars. Purim is like Jewish Halloween and Feminist Easter rolled into one. Instead of the male protagonist dying and coming back to life, Queen Esther (who was secretly Jewish – kinda like Moses) saves her people from complete annihilation!

Purim is my kind of festival. It’s loud and glitzy and kids are all invited to the festivities. They blew up a little bouncy house in the Temple today! There’s no long wait for chicken soup, instead they had specially made cookies called hamentaschen. And just to top it all off, our female Rabbi and Cantor both dressed up as Wonder Woman!

Here are some Purim observances:

Reading of the Megillah (book of Esther), which recounts the story of the Purim miracle.

Sending gifts of two kinds of food (of course) to at least one person.

A festive Purim feast, which often includes wine or other intoxicating beverages.

Maybe I could have a margarita with lunch today? I was reading up on the news, and noticed the BBC dove into the special visa our First Lady Melania obtained to blow ashore in these United States. Not a bad idea for a story, considering Mr T is preparing to deport Dreamers and even spouses of military personnel.

She landed here from Slovenia on a tourist visa in ’96, then a string of working visas until she met Mr T 2 years later at a party. That’s when she applied for a very special green card.

It’s called “The Einstein Visa” or EB-1

To obtain an EB-1 for extraordinary ability, an immigrant has to provide evidence of a major award or meet three of 10 criteria proving excellence in their field. The criteria include coverage of the applicant in major publications, original and significant contributions to a field, and work displayed at artistic exhibitions.

At the time, all Melania was known for was, “… she appeared on the cover of British GQ on a fur rug in Mr Trump’s private jet, and in the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated in the US. She was not a top international model.” It’s not quite like being being published in a major journal or something.

Well.  Well.  Well. All right, so she didn’t win a Nobel Prize, but she did win Mr T’s heart obviously, if you believe he even has one of those organs. And I’ll bet he wrote her glowing testimonials as a reference. Hey maybe she was destined to be America’s next Top Model? The next Heidi Klum?!

I just heard a tractor trailer was blown over by 100 MPH winds on the Tappan Zee Bridge. I hope the people who bought our mountain home put some bricks on the hot tub! Or we may have to send in the Super Hero L’il Pumpkin!  IMG_2359

Read Full Post »

Morning grammar nerds! And you know who you are. I must admit I no longer watch “Presidential” press conferences, but I just couldn’t resist Melissa McCarthy’s portrayal of Sean Spicer, and so I occasionally tune-in just to see what nonsense the White House is dishing up today; or, as I like to ask Bob over my first cup of coffee, “Damage report?”

Well bless his heart, yesterday poor Sean was trying to soften Mr T’s words on Twitter yet again, by placing his fingers up and gesturing “air quotes” around the word “wiretapping.” In other words, the middle school bullies really are running the show up on the Hill.

Everyone knows air quotes when they see them: the middle and forefingers of each hand wiggling to resemble quotation marks. Often accompanied by a spoken “quote-unquote,” they’re typically used to mock or disown the phrase they surround. They mean something “is ‘so-called,’” rather than real, the late William Safire, the great scholar of political language, once wrote. They cast “aspersion on the word or phrase that follows,” he said. “A sneer is built in.”             https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/03/14/an-investigation-of-air-quotes-mostly-used-to-discredit-the-other-sides-words-not-your-own-as-per-sean-spicer/?utm_term=.fe463b8a7442

And the funny thing is, even the Urban Dictionary knows that air quotes are so… one whole generation ago. “Used ad nauseam by ‘pretentious’ and ostensibly ‘intelligent’ university students, to advertise their ‘superior morals’ and ‘erudition’.” It’s like the thumbs-up sign, only worse, because air quotes exude privilege. They were (past tense) a preppy way to discredit those plebes beneath them, not in the way Sean tried to use them discrediting his boss’ words.

They belong to the 60s, where they should have stayed, along with Kellyanne’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band jacket. http://mentalfloss.com/article/80939/11-facts-about-sgt-peppers-lonely-hearts-club-band

“Walking back” their boss’ Tweets seems to be a full time job on the Hill. But trying to soften Mr T’s attack on President Obama is yet another distraction. Let’s NOT discuss special prosecutors and Russia’s “involvement” in our election. Instead, like a child, Mr T turns responsibility away from himself, to shift blame on his predecessor for “wiretapping” Trump Tower. Only now, he only meant general surveillance, like spying “microwaves.” Darn, it’s hard not to use real quotes when writing about this stuff!

I wonder if Mr T went to his grandchildrens’ Temple for Purim this past weekend? Maybe that’s why his Twitter fingers went quiet, after all the “wiretapping” and microwave memes the media consumed during the week. Ivanka’s children are 5, 3 and almost 1. These are perfect ages for Purim celebrations; my Nashville grandchildren had a blast dressing up like super heroes and attending a carnival at their Temple.

Purim is a feminist’s delight because it’s about a Jewish woman who kills an enemy of the Jewish people. Esther is one of many Persian queens, but she, like Moses, was adopted and was actually Jewish. Think about this for a second. Does Christianity have a holiday dedicated to a woman? As a child, I remember having lots of saints days named after women, celebrating martyrdom…not exactly the same. Esther had balls, she had chutzpah! We had the Annunciation, i.e. a fourteen year old girl is visited by an angel and told she will have a Virgin Birth…

Coming out of years spent celebrating Mass in Latin, I was happy to enter a Temple and make lots of noise at Purim. In fact, Purim was so much fun – mohn cookies shaped like Haman hats, dressing up like Halloween or Carnevale, and laughing and playing in the Temple – I’m pretty sure that it’s what sold me on Judaism.

But the irony of my grandchildren celebrating in a building that had to be evacuated because of bomb threats since this last election is not lost on me. The paradox of a holiday marking Jewish survival during the week another attempt at a Muslim travel ban was enacted is surreal. Putting air quotes around the words of our Commander in Chief is yet another small cut in the slicing up of our democracy.

Our President is being sarcastic; he doesn’t really mean what he says; that was just locker room banter; it’s “alternative facts.”

I believe we deserve a President who doesn’t need minions to explain his rhetorical Tweeting voice, and a Presidential Press Briefing, without air quotes. The American people don’t need to watch the “built-in sneer” from an Oval Office devoid of compassion. In fact, Andrea Mitchell is a modern day Esther, insisting on answers at press “briefings,” refusing to be escorted from a room. Maybe a pair of parentheses would help us clarify Mr T’s meaning, his intent. Instead of charging President Obama with a felony, he would be revealed in all his paranoia.

(sometimes, alone at Trump Tower, I felt like I was being watched). My tower study (an aviary that functions as my refuge), was warm and inviting this (freezing cold) morning. Here is the view of the (snowy Blue Ridge) mountains. Only hawks watch me write. IMG_0183






Read Full Post »

Alright folks, it’s been a week and a half. According to President Obama it’s time to stop all our belly aching and get back to work. At least that’s what he told his White House staff after the election – moping shall cease and desist, like they’ve been on one long, communal shiva call with the rest of the country. Even though Hillary will win almost 2 Million MORE votes than the comb-over, it’s not a Popular Vote contest, is it?

“We probably have about 7 million votes left to count,” said David Wasserman, an editor at Cook Political Report who is tracking turnout. “A majority of them are on the coasts, in New York, California, and Washington. She should be able to win those votes, probably 2-1.” By mid-December, when the Electoral College officially casts its ballots, Wasserman estimates that Clinton could be ahead by 2 percentage points in the popular vote. http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/clintons-popular-vote-lead-will-grow-and-grow/507455/

So what’s a girl to do, besides sign up for the Million Women’s March on January 21? Watch a little Turner Classic? Walk your dog? Meditate to a new mantra; #LoveTrumpsHate? Find things for your newly retired hubby to do, like throw out half the spice cabinet? Cook up some comfort food? Well, sure all of the above, plus I’m reading a good book of historical fiction to take me back in time, way back, to the island of St Thomas in the 1800s.

“The Marriage of Opposites” seemed like a good title, since Bob and I have always said no modern day algorithm would ever make us a match. And I love Alice Hoffman! Because it’s now in paperback, this book has been a perfect traveling companion, from NJ to Nashville and back again. What I didn’t know is that she is telling the story of a certain French Impressionist painter, a real life Sephardic Jewish man born on St Thomas who was destined to take over his family’s business but wanted instead to paint.

He was born Jacob Abraham, but instead used his French name “Camille” Pizzarro; perhaps Hoffman has changed the spelling from Pissarro to keep this a fictional tale? I was well into the book before I realized who this last child of Rachel Pomie would become, the “Father of Impressionism,” the man who married his mother’s maid and began painting outside. The friend of Degas and Monet, he preferred living in the French countryside and was influenced by Gustave Courbet. His paintings “…dignify the labor of peasants in communal villages, reflecting the socialist-anarchist political leanings that the two artists shared.”

And in synchrony with my rebellious mood of the moment, it seems Pissarro is one of many early Colonial artists currently on exhibit at the New York Historical Society: “The First Jewish Americans: Freedom and Culture in the New World” opened November 1st and runs through February 26. The first Jewish settlement of the New World was in New Amsterdam in 1654, when Brazil expelled 23 Jews to this early Dutch Colony of New York. http://observer.com/2016/11/colonial-jews-who-knew/

The curator said that during this time, Jews were not seen as “invisible outsiders.” They had certain freedoms in our new country, to worship as they wished and to flaunt society’s norms. It seems unimaginable that almost 4 centuries later, a man has won an election by preaching about discriminating against our current invisible outsiders of the moment…Mexicans and Muslims. He even dreamed of punishing women who would seek an abortion. Is this the America we all learned to love in grade school?

Once I was stung by a bee under a clothesline of billowing sheets. It is my earliest memory, the first time I felt as if I didn’t belong. Nell was not my mother, my name was different.   Today the feeling remains.


Woman Hanging up the Washing, Camille Pissarro 1887

Read Full Post »

Long flowing hair…

“I want long, straight, curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy, ratty, matty
Oily, greasy, fleecy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen
Knotted, polka dotted, twisted, beaded, braided
Powered, flowered and confettied
Bangled, tangled, spangled and spahettied”
Read more: Hair – Hair Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Here are the things my mother, the Flapper, told me about my hair:
“Get it out of your eyes.”
“Brush it every night.”
“It’s your crowning glory.”
“You have to suffer to be beautiful,” while pulling tight on my braids. A message I did not internalize.

She never told me to cover it, unless it was cold outside. I’ve been thinking about hair because of FLOTUS’ scarf-gate. Y’all knew I’d have to write about it, that place where feminism, culture and religion intersect. To simply say it’s much ado about nothing, another political prank, is the obvious reaction. After all, we see Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton sitting, heads uncovered, with the Saudi royals. Oh, and that time when FLOTUS did cover her head in Indonesia? She was inside a mosque; similar to going to the Vatican to meet the Pope with a doily on top of your head. You pay some respect right?

But even as a child in Sacred Heart Church with a beanie or a doily on my head, I thought it odd that men had to take OFF their hats for Mass! Children are really good at spotting inequality. Back when men wore hats all the time, they would customarily doff them for a woman. It was a sign of respect, a greeting, “Top of the Mornin” and all that.

So what is it about our hair ladies that’s got severely religious Muslim and Orthodox Jews wanting us to cover up whenever we venture outside? From an Hermes scarf for an Arab princess, to the burka for a Persian schoolteacher. Granted with Hasidim the women can wear elaborate wigs that probably look even better than any hair style I could create with ten children hanging on my skirts. Aha, that’s it! Think about it…

It’s really not about our hair, it’s not that we wouldn’t want them to see our beautiful, long, flowing hair. Hair down to there hair. It’s about control. And it’s not that the men in these religious communities/countries wouldn’t be able to control themselves when confronted by our hair.

It’s all about controlling our bodies. And in this country, religion and state are separate, so our government cannot tell us: not to use birth control; not to drive a car; not to leave the house without a man; not to shake hands with a man we do not know; and on and on. Although some legislators in our government would like to limit our access to reproductive health care, would like their religious views imposed on us. But we, the female people, have prevailed so far, so good.

And as for Michelle Obama? Well played First Lady, well played.

Rag Curls before SHS

Rag Curls before SHS

Read Full Post »

Do you take offense easily? Are you wedded to being politically correct in everything you say and do? A few years ago I took a course on Buddhism at UVA. The first project our instructor asked us to do was to write down a list of words to describe ourselves. You can imagine when we gathered them together on the blackboard what that list looked like – lots of “mothers,” “fathers,” “friends,” and family ties and occupations galore. I probably added “writer,” and “wife” to the mix. The purpose if I recall correctly, was for us to banish all those words from our consciousness, words that separate us into different groups by clan or class or religion or education, and think in terms of a more universal, inclusive identity. We are all human, deal with it.

Now I’m not writing this just for Bob, who absolutely hates political correctness. He has since the term first appeared. I have to admit that what first attracted me to him was his iconoclastic nature, so even when I’m disagreeing with him about something, I understand his position, for the most part. So when I read this essay in The Spectator by Nick Cohen, I immediately forwarded it on to him. Can we really change the world simply by changing the words we use? I grew up when “mental retardation” was considered a birth defect, and calling someone “retarded” wasn’t cursing, it was just a fact. These children were not mainstreamed and so we knew very little about them. Then later we used words like “intellectual disability.”

Worry about whether you, or more pertinently anyone you wish to boss about, should say ‘person with special needs’ instead of ‘disabled’ or ‘challenged’ instead of ‘mentally handicapped’ and you will enjoy a righteous glow. You will not do anything, however, to provide health care and support to the mentally and physically handicapped, the old or the sick. Indeed, your insistence that you can change the world by changing language, and deal with racism or homophobia merely by not offending the feelings of interest groups, is likely to allow real racism and homophobia to flourish unchallenged, and the sick and disadvantaged to continue to suffer from polite neglect. An obsession with politeness for its own sake drives the modern woman, who deplores the working class habit of using ‘luv’ or ‘duck’, but ignores the oppression of women from ethnic minorities. A Victorian concern for form rather than substance motivates the modern man, who blushes if he says ‘coloured’ instead of ‘African-American’ but never gives a second’s thought to the hundreds of thousands of blacks needlessly incarcerated in the US prison system. http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/nick-cohen/2014/04/you-sexistracistliberalelitist-bastard-how-dare-you/

Cohen believes the right and the left are equally responsible for pitting one group against another, and fighting pretend wars so that all that exists really is the argument. Think about that video of Obama saying something about the middle of the country, or was it PA, “…clinging to their religion and their guns.” Think about that leaked video of Romney at that $50,000 a plate dinner where he said it wasn’t his job to win the 47 percent of voters who were committed to President Obama, because they are “dependent on government” (and he will) “never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” That pretty much deep-sixed his campaign. And I think it’s true. The media is always making it about us and them, except every now and then when a clear voice cuts through the rubble.

“As the late and much-missed Robert Hughes said, ‘We want to create a sort of linguistic Lourdes, where evil and misfortune are dispelled by a dip in the waters of euphemism’.”

Words of course can hurt, and they can heal. We returned last night from Great Grandmother Ada’s Passover Seder. We read through a whole book of words in English and Hebrew before a dinner filled with symbolism and meaning. It’s meant to recall our journey from slavery to freedom, to cement our Jewish identity, and it happened right after some KKK nut job in Kansas yelled “Heil Hitler” after killing three people. He will be charged with a “hate crime.” But Jewish people everywhere know it was so much more than hate. We remembered the six million in our reading of the Haggadah. Until we can break down the mental barriers that divide us, by race or sex or religion – and not just with words but with real legislation and dialogue devoid of political semantics – what should we expect of our politicians.


Read Full Post »

Tomorrow night the shofar will blow in Jewish temples around the world, calling Jewish people to prayer and to end their fast. It is an ancient tradition. We have emptied our pockets of our sins, done a fair job of asking forgiveness, even asking God to forgive us of those sins we may not even know we committed. I remember thinking that was brilliant when I first started studying Judaism. You don’t have to pony up to the confessional every week and recite your sins to a shadowy priest, then kneel and say a few Hail Marys, or maybe the whole Rosary. Jews get just one chance each year to make things right. And if you forget something, it’s OK, no worries. God will forgive you anyway.

But here’s the thing. You are supposed to fast for 24 hours, from sundown tonight until sundown tomorrow night. There are of course exceptions; pregnant or nursing moms, children before Bar or Bat Mitzvah age, and ER docs. No really, in the Talmud somewhere it says if you are busy saving lives you can eat! So we feast tonight, fast (well, some of us fast), then feast again tomorrow night…followed by Sukkot. A Jewish Thanksgiving that lasts for 7 days, where you not only feast, but you do it outdoors, in a tent.

While the rest of us are planning our kid’s Halloween costumes, you may pass by a house with a makeshift tent in the backyard covered with palms and fruit, a Sukkah or “…a hut of temporary construction with a roof covering of branches.” http://www.chabad.org/holidays/JewishNewYear/template_cdo/aid/4457/jewish/How-is-Sukkot-Observed.htm It figures that food plays a staring role in Jewish holidays, but eating your food outside is really special. Sukkot preceded the farm to table movement by about 3,800 years.

Which is why, on one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar, I must call to your attention our country’s little problem with the Farm Bill. You may not be aware that Congress failed to pass the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act aka the Farm Bill. Disavow yourself of the notion that this is a fight between the huge agri-business conglomerates and smaller organic farmers, or that it’s just a bid to throw more money out to the heartland only to waste resources on growing corn and soybeans that we cannot possibly consume. Only about 14% of the funds would go to farmers to subsidize their crops.

“More than two-thirds of the Farm Bill has nothing to do with farms. It funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—formerly known as food stamps. Spending-phobic Republicans see that as fat to be cut, and the House Agriculture Committee proposed drastic reductions in food assistance for the 2012 legislation. Both sides dug in their heels on the issue this year, and we’re looking at no Farm Bill at all until the next session.” http://www.c-ville.com/on-the-fate-of-the-farm-bill/#.UF3GLEL3CfQ

So dear God, while some of our cities are now allowing food stamps to be used at Farmer’s Markets during this recession, I’m asking you to forgive our legislators on Capital Hill. They are more concerned about saving money and an out-of-date tax code for the wealthiest among us, than they are about feeding the poor.

Leaving the City Market

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: