Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shanah Tova, Super Jews!

I hate seeing summer fade to fall. The days grow shorter, the temperature drops and blockbuster superhero movies vanish from the Cineplex in a, ahem, Flash.

Many people developed Superhero fatigue this summer, what with Thor, the Green Lantern, the X-Men and Captain America all battling for our movie-going bucks. But I have a 6-year-old son and a geek for a husband; so in my household there can never be too many square-jawed men saving the world in skin-tight outfits.

The other day, I was feeling glum about the changing of the movie seasons – fall always brings Serious Grownup Movies to the theatres (yawn), but Zev reminded me that I need not say goodbye to the Superboys of Summer. Just because Ryan Reynolds isn’t on every magazine cover in a glowing green bodysuit, doesn’t mean that superheroes can’t be seen all over the place. It just takes a little imagination. And a tallit.

“Look, Eema!” Zev shouted loudly as we passed a group of black-hatted Orthodox Jews walking down the streets with their overlong tallits blowing in the wind like capes. “They look like Super Jews!”

The gaggle of Orthodox men inspired Zev to design the perfect Super Jew. Some would argue that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster already designed the perfect Super Jew when they came up with Superman in the 1930s. But Zev’s mind is faster than a speeding bullet, and I wasn’t about to slow him down:

“Their tallits are capes,” he began.

“Naturally,” I said.

“And those little curls,” he continued.

“You mean peyos?” I said.

“Yeah, the peyos can deflect lasers. Oh! And they can shoot lasers out of their tefillin!”

If the men in black hats could hear Zev, they certainly didn’t let on. What else would a Super Jew look like? I asked.

“He’d wear all Blue and White, like the Israeli flag, and he could have spikes on his head like Darth Maul. Except, the spikes would be in the shape of a Mogen David,” he said. (I know, I know. The world doesn’t need more horned-Jew imagery, and yes, Darth Maul is a Sith, not a Superhero. But I wasn’t going to quibble because, seriously, how cool is a Mogen David-headed Darth Maul?)

Eventually Zev moved on to some other pressing topic. But I ruminated on Super Jew for a while. If we distill our reasons for engaging in our religion (and, let’s face it, for most of us, this is the only time of year in which we do engage), it is to – kinda sorta – tap into our inner superheroes.

We may not don cod pieces for Yom Kippur, but for many of us this is the only time of year we put on a kippah – an article of clothing that draws as much attention as a facemask with bat ears. And why do we do it? Because it feels right. Because we want to do better and make the world a little better.

Taking the analogy further, it’s easy to see the Torah as headquarters, the thing we turn to to remind ourselves that we have a purpose on this planet. The minyan is our Justice League. And the shofar is, of course, our Bat-signal.

Every year we promise to be nicer to people. To worry less about the things that don’t matter and rail against the things that do. This year, with Zev’s brilliant imagery in mind, how great would it be if we got closer to attaining those goals?

No we can’t shoot lasers out of our tefillins. And, no, our tallits can’t help us fly. But imagine if we tried to model ourselves on the tights-clad saviors we watched all summer long. Imagine if we all vowed to spend less time acting as our mild-mannered alter egos and more time really being heroic, trying to do right in the world in whatever ways we could.

In the next few weeks, our communities will be teaming with suited men and women sporting billowing tallises and embarking on heroic quests to do good, seek justice and make amends with their fellow men.

What’s that, up in the sky? It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Actually, I have no idea what it is, but down here, at shul, I hope to see a legion of Super Jews.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Milk, Cookies and Osama bin Laden

If you want to feel like a jerk, explain Osama bin Laden’s defeat to a 5-year-old.

The morning after a band of brave Americans filled the face of evil with lead, I decided that I needed to explain the situation to Zev. Certainly, his entire school would be abuzz with the news; I wanted Zev to hear about it from me. You know, to mitigate the scariness of confusion.

“So, um,” I began, while Zev flipped through a comic book at the breakfast table. “There was a guy – like Haman from the Purim story, remember him? – who did some very bad things. He killed a lot of people. And last night, we got him. And now he’s dead. And we’re happy.”

Zev looked pained, as though wondering whether his Mommy was suddenly homicidal. We’re happy that someone is dead? Wow. I had better explain that.

“So, yeah. It’s bad when someone gets killed, but this guy was really, really evil. Like a Super Villain,” I said, pointing to his “Incredibles” comic book. “And we defeated him.”

“OK,” he said, sounding uncertain.

I was feeling judged, so I hastily tried to explain that I wasn’t the only person who was happy. I told him there were people dancing in the street in front of the White House, and that they were singing the national anthem and the President said it was an important moment for America and … and …

“Oh, yeah,” I said, suddenly remembering the email about heightened security I received from his Jewish day school that morning, “and also there’re might be police officers at your school.”


“Well, most people are happy, but some people aren’t happy. And the people who aren’t happy might try to attack us again,” I said because I’m an idiot, and that’s what idiots say to 5 year-olds. “But you know what, don’t worry about that. I’m sure they’re going to explain it all to you. I figured that you will be talking about Osama bin Laden in school today, and I just wanted you to be prepared. That’s all.”

There’s something in Proverbs, warning us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.” What it should say is, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, lest you have to explain your glee to a child.”

I sent my kid off to school confident in the knowledge that he had know idea what I was talking about. I must have sounded nuts. But all was not lost, I told myself. Though, I had flubbed the conversation about bin Laden with Zev, his teachers would not.

No doubt, Zev’s kindergarten teachers will know better than I how broach the topic, and when they did so, my explanation would suddenly make sense to him. He’d realize I had simply been giving him the heads up so that when the class discussed this historic event, he would be able to discuss it knowledgably. There is nothing Zev likes more than to discuss something knowledgably.

“So,” I said when I picked Zev up from school that afternoon. “What did your teachers tell you about Osama bin Laden?”

“Nothing,” he said. “They didn’t mention it.”

“Really?!” I said. I couldn’t believe it. “What did you talk about?”

“Well,” he thought hard. “It was Coby’s birthday. We had cake.”

It turns out Zev’s kindergarten teachers knew exactly how to handle the news of the day: Silently. Osama was a kind of evil that adults can’t fathom; it was foolish to think a kid could. Children shouldn’t have to confront evil, whether in their lives or in a discussion at the breakfast table.

Cake, on the other hand, is always welcomed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Big Pregnant Golem

Gwaaah blurrghh blahbhhh Eat! Gwaaah blurrghh blahhhh Eat! Eat! More eat! Gwaaah!

Forgive me, carbon-based beings. I used to be human. But now, now I am pregnant. I am no longer like you, free-willed creatures of the Earth. I am more like a golem, a life form mindlessly bent on doing whatever it is my taskmaster wants of me.

And right now, my tiny taskmaster wants me to eat.

In Jewish folklore, the golem was given life by having the word “emet,” or “truth” written on its forehead – with the letters “aleph,” “mem,” “tav.”

The letters that have turned me into an anthropomorphic human-like substance are “A” “T,” “C” and “G,” the four nucleic acid bases that make up DNA. Far from the poetic beauty and suggested danger of the word “Emet,” “Atcg” seems like an exclamation from a Cathy cartoon, as in, “Atcg! I’ve outgrown my maternity pants!” Or, “Atcg! I’m never going to lose this baby weight!” Or, more often than not, “Atcg! I’m out of chocolate!”

People talk about the beauty and mystery of pregnancy – and it’s true. It’s a joyous miracle to house the next generation of humanity inside your body. But it’s also just plain weird. Your body, moods and predilections are all hijacked. For the better part of a year, you are at the mercy of someone else. Someone, you haven’t even met.

The tiny evolving stranger who is now controlling my every mood, this morning, demanded that I drink a glass of milk. I don’t like milk. I haven’t touched the stuff since childhood. But not only did I down the entire glass, I then ate a cream cheese and olive sandwich and packed a lunch consisting of – among other things – a cheese burrito, a piece of string cheese and a container of yogurt.

I’m guessing someone is need of a femur because this menu was definitely not my idea. I’ve never been officially diagnosed as being lactose intolerant, but suffice to say if I keep up this baby-mandated diet, I will no longer be safe around aerosol cans or open flames.

And it’s not just my food consumption that is out my control. My tiny puppet master pulls my strings to do all sorts of things: Visit the restroom in the middle of the night, or in middle of my commute, or – increasingly and quite abruptly – in the middle of a sneeze.

I’ve also been made to wake up for no reason at all. I’m not hungry or thirsty. Don’t have to use the bathroom. I’m just … up. Awesome.

I’m also highly moody. I can be the patient Earth Mother with Zev through his 15-minute long explanation of how catapults work, but if he takes even one second longer putting his lunchbox into his backpack I am going to LOSE MY MIND.

I’m as lazy as a basset hound one minute and as listless and jittery as a meth addict the next. I’m sensitive, insensitive, achy, fast-walking, angry-for-no-reason and perfectly contented – all at the same time.

I’m also unfocused, or rather, I’m extremely focused – but just on robots. I spend my free time surfing the Web for robot wall decals, robot crib sheets, robot lamps, a robot mezuzah (no luck with that one, unfortunately).

I don’t own a Roomba. R2D2 is far from my favorite Star Wars character. I didn’t even read “The Iron Giant,” until Zev came into my life, but now I’m all about mechanical creatures whose fate is tied to the forces that control it. Hmm, maybe this is less about nesting and more about an existential crisis.

Maybe that could be the premise of a novel. Or of a parenting book. I will make a note of it. But first, I will make cookies. I have no choice.

Gwaaah blurrghh blahbhhh!