Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Babs Revisited

After years of hearing mothers’ laments about how Barbie poisons young girls’ minds with an unrealistic ideal of womanhood, Mattel created a new line of Barbies with three different body types (short, tall and curvy), 22 eye colors and 24 hairstyles. These are not “friends” of Barbie, but actual Barbies.

I should be rejoicing. But instead, I feel a little disquieted.

It was so much easier to bash Barbie when she was the mean girl from high school with the perfect coif and the impossible bust-line. But seeing her transformation is like running into your nemesis 20 years after graduation in the plus-size aisle at Target and having her bend your ear about her scaring divorce.

I need Barbie to remain ridiculously proportioned and blonde. The uber shiksa with the unobtainable curves. I need her to be that way because – after all these years – I realize that my problem with Barbie wasn’t a problem at all.

As it turns out, I relied on Barbie to be blonde and button-nosed because I needed a foil for my Jewishness. I needed her to represent the ideal for assimilation and the ideal for womanhood, so that I could know what to push back against, as well as what to embrace.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Breaking Up is Havarti to Do

Dear Cheese,

These are the hardest words I’ve ever had to write to a food product, but I have to be honest with you and with myself, and tell you that it’s over between us.

We had an amazing run, Cheese. From those innocent days of Kraft singles and string cheese through those experimental college years of Stilton and Gruyere, you’ve been a constant in my life – the first food I ever truly loved.

I remember discovering goat cheese and thinking that I had tasted Heaven. Some snickered when a girlfriend declared, “Havarti tastes like sex.” But I didn’t snicker. I knew exactly what she meant.

You were sweet. You were salty. With blue, veiny abandon, you were sometimes a bit nasty. My mother warned me that you were bad for me, but that just made me want you more. I had you first thing in the morning, spread out on my bagel, and I twirled you around my tongue atop pasta any evening I thought I could get away with it. I loved it when you were soft, and oh, how I loved it when you were hard.

But I can’t go on like this.

I’m of Ashkenazi descent, Cheese, and there’s this thing called familial hypercholesterolemia that affects my people with a greater frequency than the rest of the world. (You knew, the first time I refused a cheeseburger, that religion would eventually come between us.) I’m at an increased risk of having my heart broken by you… well, not broken so much as stopped. Clogged up with cholesterol.

I have to protect myself; I’m a married woman and a mother. I can’t just go about, cavorting with any food product I like, as though there were no consequences.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

You say Thanksgivukkah, I say Chanksgiving

This year, for the first time since 1888, Thanksgiving will overlap with the first day of Hanukkah, and I for one am excited to smother latkes with cranberry sauce. But even as I scour the Internet for pilgrim-themed dreidels and a turkey-shaped menorah (You’re welcome, Etsy shop owners), I’m feeling kinda sad.

According to snopes.com, the happy convergence of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving will not likely occur again for another 77,798 years. And since kale and Botox will only take me so far, I doubt I’ll be around to celebrate this ever again.

How to fill the void left by the fleeting Thanukkah? I propose we alter the Jewish and Gregorian calendars every few years to pair other holidays, and I know just the ones to link. The following are some suggestions that I think would go together like gelt and gravy:

New Year’s Day and Yom Kippur: On which holiday do you wake up feeling awful and repentant about recent indiscretions, resolving to change your behavior from here on out?

Exactly, both!

Imagine reciting Kol Nidrei to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne.” Or popping a few corks with your pre-fast meal. And how much more interesting would the Amidah be if it were recited on a Rose Parade float?

Mother’s Day and Pesach: An interminable, bland and overpriced meal in which you rehash a litany of past misdeeds suffered at the hands of a tyrant. Does this describe: (a) Mother’s Day brunch or (b) the first night of Pesach? If you answered both, you are correct!

Why is this brunch different than all others? Because it features poached eggs on matzah and chametz-free mimosas. Dayenu!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

A Letter to My Daughter

Dearest Sivan,

May your intellect and humor propel the human race forward. May your kindness inspire nations to beat swords into plowshares. May your beauty dazzle brighter than all the stars in the sky.

But, most of all, may you be a colossal pain in the ass.

The women who came before you – who dug, pounded and paved the path to your existence – these women were giants. They didn’t do what they were told. They didn’t make the easy decisions. They didn’t shut up when shutting up would probably been a pretty good idea. You wouldn’t be here if they had.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Remembering Ann

Her name was Ann Chervin.

I don’t know much about her. I don’t know which concentration camp she and her husband, Marion, were in or how they got out. I don’t know how her husband and their adult child, Eve, preceded Ann in death. Or why Eve was childless when she died.

But I do know Ann liked red roses. I know she custom ordered her oak veneer kitchen cabinets from a place in Torrance in the 1970s. I know she let her ficus trees grow rampant and that she must not have been very tall, because her bathroom sinks were installed slightly lower than you’d expect.

I know all these intimate details about Ann because I live in her house. People say it takes six months for a new home to feel like your own, but it’s been three years and I still sometimes feel like the caretaker.

For one, I still get her mail. Mostly stuff from survivor groups and Shoah foundations, particularly at this time of year. More deeply than that, though, Ann’s spirit is still here. I don’t mean that in a haunted house kind of way; just in the sense that the touches she put in her home are still very much present: The mezuzah she kissed every day is still here, tucked in a drawer in my living room.

Her red rose bush is still here, too, the only plant that survived the year between her death and the time her home went on the market. I have a strict policy for my garden: I’ll only plant you, if I can eat you. But I made an exception for Ann’s roses. A survivor’s only surviving plant deserves love.

Then there are the intangibles. I think about her when I chop vegetables at my kitchen counter for my family. I am certain Ann did the same for hers. Did she roll up her sleeves the way I do? Or did she keep them down to hide the numbers tattooed on her arm?

And what about the fact that her daughter died? I think about that when I read about the Six Million Coins project. It’s a program in Los Angeles to collect money for Holocaust survivors in need. As part of the project, Jewish leaders in L.A. plan to read the names of all 6 million people who perished in the Holocaust.

According to Rabbi David Wolpe, who gives the intro on the project’s Web site, the reason given for reading the names is not to remember that these people died, but that they lived. We say a person’s name to remember them.

Ann Chervin may have survived the Holocaust, but there is no one left to say her name. She has no grandchildren to fuss over her rose bushes or to keep her mezuzah safe. She survived, but it’s unlikely she will be remembered. Maybe that’s why I still feel as though I live in Ann’s house – because it is my duty as a Jew to remember that Ann lived at all.

And so I remember this stranger. This person whose house I inhabit. I remember Ann Chervin.

As Yom HaShoah approaches this month, I hope you will, too.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mommy

My parents put the breaks on my teenage plans to join the IDF long before my college admission letters arrived; and on the whole, I think it was probably a wise move on their part.

But there have been many times throughout the years when I wish I had put up more of a fight. Being a parent myself, I realize why they didn’t want to send their ludicrously American teenage daughter to Gaza (“There are no malls in the army,” was how my dad ended the discussion).

Still, there is no doubt I would have learned skills in the Israeli Army that my journalism professors never imparted: How to face an unpredictable and relentless adversary. How to coax a hostile into compliance. How to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles while sleep- and food-deprived.

How, basically, to function like a normal human being in the presence of a toddler.

When a friend whose son is around Ozzy’s age recently confided that she hadn’t showered that day, I realized that I hadn’t either. Nor the day before. If she hadn’t made the remark, it’s possible I would have gone a week before remembering that that funny stall in my bathroom was meant for more than hosing “accidents” out of tiny pants.

A few weeks of basic training, and I’m sure I would handle my second go at motherhood calmly, wisely and hygienically. Instead, I’m being undone.

After weeks of struggle, Ozzy finally slept through the night – a feat I celebrated by blinking angrily at the ceiling, having being jolted awake out of habit. That wouldn’t happen in Gadna.

And then there’s my ability to speak. Were I able to retrieve enough language from my depleted noodle to actually form sentences, I wouldn’t know how to relate them.

Last year, when Ozzy was new and quiet, I counted on school pickup as the social highlight of my day. We moms crowded the hall, sharing news and gossip as we waited for our then-first-graders to emerge from class.

These days when I talk, I sound like I’m shouting radio commands in the middle of a battlefield. “Hotel! India! That’s a nice sweater. Do you copy?”

“Mayrav, I have to tell you this funny story,” Alisa said, approaching me in the hall.

“Hi. Yeah. Hang on,” I said, darting after Ozzy who had managed to dash inside an elevator and push the alarm button. “Ozzy, come here. We’re going to see Alisa. No, don’t stick your fingers there, Ozzy, that’s an electrical socket. Come here. Alisa wants to tell us something. Baby, we’re not climbing the stairs. Ozzy, get off the stairs. I can’t believe how quickly you just climbed that flight of stairs! Ozzy! Come back here. Ozzy!”

That was September. I still haven’t heard the story.

One day, my kids might want to enlist in the IDF. I don’t know how I’ll feel about them going, but I still think about it for myself.

If for nothing else than the peace and quiet.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Jewish Woman's View Straight Marriage, Gay Marriage and Blood Oranges

Are gay weddings destroying the institution of marriage?

Let’s hope so.

A few months ago the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly voted to approve two ceremonies for same-sex marriage that removes sexist language from the wedding liturgy, allows both parties to pursue divorce and lays out egalitarian rights and customs to both spouses.

Before we go any further, let’s get one thing straight. This is a column about heterosexual women in the context of marriage, not about whether gay marriage is right or wrong.

I understand that many readers may be opposed to allowing two adults to consecrate their love and declare themselves a family before their community and before God. Everyone has a right to be against whatever they want. I, for instance, am against blood oranges. Blood oranges creep me out. If there were a statewide proposition to ban blood oranges, I’d totally vote for that ban. Blood oranges are an abomination. Wait. Where was I?

Oh yeah. Women.

So, for something like 5 millennia (give or take), women have been treated as property. Even today, in the Conservative and Orthodox movements, men “acquire” their brides in the kiddushin, that part of the wedding where the man puts the ring on the woman’s finger and says, “You are consecrated to me according to the laws of Moses and Israel.”

What the Conservative rabbis did in creating a new liturgy for gay marriage is do away with the kiddushin. Instead of one party acquiring the other, both parties declare that they are acquiring the partnership itself. It’s a lovely image, and one that really, really should be offered to straight couples. Particularly straight couples that do not consider brides to be property, chattel or slaves.

Unfortunately, the ruling on the new liturgy includes an urging for straight couples to avoid using the ceremonies for themselves. The rabbis concede that it might be tempting to ditch centuries of sexist language, unequal footing and unfair divorce practices that leave women chained to jerks who refuse to grant them a divorce, or get.

But, they beg us women to respect the ancient traditions. Respect. Respect… the word rings a bell, but I can’t quite place it. Oh, yeah! Respect is that thing where people treat each other as equals and in no way try to dominate or control the other, right?

Yes, I agree! The ancient rituals of marriage could use a healthy dose of respect. Great idea. So today I raise my champagne flute in a toast to the new ruling on gay wedding liturgy and the hope that it can bring about real and lasting change for women’s rights in heterosexual marriage, too.

As for blood oranges, they can rot for all I care. If God wanted oranges to bleed, he wouldn’t have hit the Eastern Seaboard with all those storms.