Friday, November 28, 2008

Hate to Write This

It breaks my heart to have to write a piece like this again, especially in the context of a fun holiday weekend at home with family and friends. However, hate and fear has once again shattered the act of hope and love, this time in India.

Terrorists launched multi-site attacks throughout Mumbai on Wednesday and now more than 150 people are dead. All these lives matter, but what has been particularly shocking and disturbing is the revelation that the Chabad House was targeted for violence and destruction. These are ultra-Orthodox Jewish emissaries whose task is to provide an oasis of Jewish observance around the world, and their locations are staffed by young couples eager to engage unaffiliated Jews, to offer basic Jewish amenities and to spread the word of the Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson).

Whether or not you agree with their politics, practices or observances is irrelevant at this juncture. The simple fact now is that at least 5 people - including the local rabbi and his wife - may be dead and their souls deserve the utmost respect. You can read about the whole story here.

One Chabad concept I find particularly powerful is the notion that the fulfillment of any mitzvah, or commandment, brings the whole world that much closer to spiritual redemption. That can be as extreme as adopting a strictly Orthodox lifestyle or as basic as being nice to those around you. Don't let these amazing people die in vain. Spend a few minutes today doing good. Help the elderly. Feed the hungry. Care for the sick. Hell, even stimulating the economy can be considered a noble deed in these times. Do anything you can to help prevent this from ever happening again.

May the memories of those who passed be for a blessing.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Let's Eat Turkey in My Big Brown Shoe

No doubt tomorrow afternoon's excursion to Newark Airport will inspire numerous blog topics for me, but for now I figured I'd rattle off a few items/people for which I am thankful at this moment in time.

Four hundred plus friends and counting on Facebook. Sure, it's a little trite and entirely too many people over 45 are joining, but there's something to be said for this cultural phenomenon. Since we all left our small villages and towns hundreds of years ago, we have lacked the ephemeral connections that near-daily contact provides. Now the mini-feed is our town crier and you can easily re-establish forsaken and lost friendships with just a few mouse clicks.

The Wii. It's been around for a few holiday seasons and it just keeps getting cooler. Now they have music, and as I learned tonight, guns! I still love the trampoline game and the balance exercises on the Wii Fit best but am willing to make some room in my Mii's life for more aggressive endeavors. Of course, owning a Wii might make that slightly more possible.

Chocolate. Indian food. Ethopian food. Chocolate-covered strawberries. Really good brisket. Turkey with stuffing and all the fixings. And honestly being thankful enough that I am in good enough financial shape to enjoy all these things. If you're looking for a great holiday gift PLEASE consider making a donation to your local food bank.
Garden Staters - click here for the Community Food Bank of New Jersey.
You don't have to be Jewish to give to Mazon, but it helps.
Or try the great folks at America's Second Harvest.

And finally I am thankful for the classic Adam Sandler Thanksgiving song. In case it's been a few years, relive the magic here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hola! Shalom! What?

In addition to my goal of completing the New York Times crossword puzzle without cheating or giving up and moving over to the Style Section, one of my life's ambitions is to be trilingual in Hebrew, English and Spanish.

Apparently, I'm not alone in making this resolution to shed my shameful American monolingualism - the good folks over at Stuff White People Like listed "Promising to Learn a New Language," at #115. While SWPL asserts this compulsion stems from some white man's burden or cultural imperialism, I think it's much more simple than that. Eavesdropping (OK, and maybe a little guilt).

Who hasn't been at Disneyland or the mall or a subway car and wished he/she could understand whatever the people across the way were saying? Or wanted to talk mad shit about those same people without being understood? It would be MUCH easier if you and a friend or two could mutually speak a non-English language.

So why the need to speak two additional languages? Again, very simple. Spanish is perfect for the first application. Many other people speak it and being fluent would give me greater entree in many of life's venues - restaurants, the entire South and Central American continents and literally my own backyard. Besides, it's pretty simple to learn and I'm from Arizona where Spanish is a first language for a growing number of people.

On the other hand, Hebrew is perfect for my second eavesdropping raison-d'etre. Outside of Israel, certain sections of Los Angeles and the Upper West Side, not too many people speak it. Compared to the millions fluent in Mandarin, Hindi or Spanish for that matter, Hebrew speakers are pretty sparse. Plus, it's way easier to learn than my ancestral language of Hungarian and it makes those Sunday school classes seem less wasteful.

Unfortunately, these dual aspirations don't come with an instruction manual, community college courses are time-consuming and despite Michael Phelps's endorsement, my fluency might have evolved beyond Rosetta Stone. So what's an aspiring woman of the world to do?

One option is to watch copious television or movies in said language. But telenovelas and depressing Israeli movies don't really help with verb conjugation and the past participle. Mostly, I try to talk to strangers or the near-strangers in my office who speak either Hebrew or Spanish (or in one case, both). Native speakers are the best teachers and I'm generally able to coerce them to forgive my mistakes using my natural charm. It's a great way to make friends, though I recommend a little caution.

It might take me a while to achieve my goal, but I subscribe to the belief that the longer the to-do list, the longer God lets you live. Actually, I'm counting on that axiom, in any language.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Borscht or Bloomingdales

Mary-Ann and Ginger. Betty and Veronica. Mary and Mary Magdelene. Popular culture and Christianity are rife with examples of the virgin-whore dichotomy. Women are relegated into two camps. One is pure and innocent, placed on a pedestal without the taint of human touch. The other embodies pulchritudinous temptation (or in plain English is the village bicycle). There isn't much gray area in between and frankly, it's a lousy choice.

Lucky for me, I'm a Jewish girl and we tend to shy away from the whole Original Sin thing and we view sex as a healthy aspect of human relationships. That said, I have noticed that representations and conceptualizations of Jewish women tend to fall into two categories, eerily similar to the good old fashioned virgin-whore construct. Look around in movies, books and even many of your friends. They'll fall into one of two categories - the JAP and the Balebusta.

We're all familiar with the Jewish American Princess. You'll most frequently find them in their natural habitat, the mall, using daddy's credit card and whining. Herman Wouk coined the rather pejorative term and back in the day, 2 Live Jews even made a song about these entitled ladies. Generally portrayed as being uninterested in anything domestic, JAPs also get a reputation for being sexually withholding. Of course, New Jersey and Long Island host and breed the largest concentrations of JAPs and Fran Drescher is pretty much the poster-woman.

Then there's her polar opposite, the Balebusta. Perhaps less easy to lampoon, she is the Jewish equivalent of Martha Stewart, and her name literally means "homemaker" in the best sense of the word. She is earthy and voluptous, and how could she not be with those killer latkes she makes?! Unlike the goyishe Donna Reeds, the Balebusta rules her home, rather than submitting to her husband, and her moniker implies loving care and pride in her roost.

Confused? Here's a little comparison to help you out. The Balebusta makes kugel and brisket. The JAP makes reservations.

Sure, it's a bit nicer than being called a virgin or a whore, but it's still pretty limited as choices go. But in thinking about my friends and my own daily behavior, I think the reality is that there is a little bit of both archetypes in all women. Some of us master home decor projects but also sing the praises of ready rice. Others soldier through strife with astounding dignity and wouldn't know how to frost a cake if their lives depended on it. My own mother diligently sewed every Halloween and Purim costume but I have never seen her use a mop.

As someone who takes great delight in scoring a bargain and who just bought her first kosher, all-natural, 9.5-pound turkey and prides herself on delicious matzah ball soup from scratch, I mostly fall into the Balebusta crew. Of course, when it comes time to wearing that bargain, I will gladly throw on the heels and pearls and strut with the best of 'em. Maybe I'm just a very down-to-earth princess.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Ringing Endorsement of Festivus

Now that Halloween and the momentous elections have passed, American society has sprung into full-force holiday mode. A bevy of celebratory invites, toy sales and an extra helping of guilt have no doubt inundated many of you, dear readers. And if they haven't yet, just give it another week or two.

Sure, there are only 43 days to go before the big C, but that is still no explanation for the three dozen emails that jammed my inbox today and proved that no matter what you celebrate, people take the holidays personally. A friend's suggestion to give a large public party a reindeer theme, sent the non-Christian faction off on a bit of a tirade how even seemingly secular symbols like Rudolph, stockings, mistle toe and trees still have a Christmas connotation for those outside the nativity scene fence.

Had this discussion surrounded a private party, at someone's house, it probably would not have bothered me at all. If my friend wants to invite me to a Christmas-themed holiday bash, that's cool with me. Pass the egg nog and but don't expect me to carol. Likewise, when I hosted a Shtetl Fabulous Hannukah soiree last year, the whole gang played dreidel and ate latkes, but only the Jews lit candles.

One friend in the group asserted that religiously-based holidays should remain religious, the whole keep the Christ in Christmas thing. And while I'm no fan of Hanukkah Harry myself, I believe that if you're going to make a place for one faith in a party that is open to the public, then there should be a place for all faiths.

This is why I advocate for broader observance of the grand holiday of Festivus in the public square (no disrepect to Chabad's menorah displays, those entertain me profusely). Somehow a holiday where the ritual observances include adoration of an unadorned metal pole, airing grievances against loved ones and wrestling in feats of strength speaks to me. Maybe it's because many family gatherings often devolve into shouting matches anyway and by sanctioning these from the start, there would be no hard feelings. Or maybe it's because covering a paper towel roll in aluminum foil would be so much cheaper than a menorah (or a kinara or a tree for that matter).

I had always thought checking out everyone's individual family or ethnocultural holiday traditions were pretty much the biggest perks of the holiday season. Even though I've never really celebrated Christmas, I always dug those Swedish girls with burning candles on their heads. And observing Kwanzaa has been one of the coolest experiences of my life. I can't wait to find out what Danish gluck is from my friend and maybe I will bust out some cheese to celebrate Judith's beheading of the evil Assyrian general Holofernes.

Until then, deck the halls for some peace on earth over eight days because a great miracle happened there. Then reflect on the principles of Nguzo Saba and pour a libation and do whatever it is people do for Diwali, Tet, Carnival and more until it's time to do it all again next year.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

President for the iPod Generation Indeed

What appears below is a guest post from my sister, the Magyar McGuyver, who was similarly inspired by the election, albeit in a musical way. Because who doesn't love a trilogy?

For those who don't know me well enough, I am not only a hardcore Democrat but also a fan of specialized and event specific playlists.
Inspired by this historical election season I have compiled my Election 2008/Obama Playlist.
Several selections were chosen purely by title but all relate to Tuesday night's event.
Please to enjoy...

1. Movin' On Up - theme to The Jeffersons (the initial inspiration for the list and what I think Obama should have made his acceptance speech entrance to)
2. This is How We Do It - Montell Jordan
3. Whose House? Run's House - Run DMC
4.Don't Stop Believing - Journey
5. Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
6. We Art the Champions - Queen - to the Democrats
7. The Art of Losing - American Hi Fi (a dedication to John McCain and Sarah Palin)
8. Sex Machine - James Brown - because Barack is a little foxxy
9. Bust A Move - Young MC
10. Invincible - Ok Go
11. California Love - even though Prop 8 passed they still made it happen
12. Changes - David Bowie or Deftones depending on your preference
13. Damn It Feels Good To Be A Gangsta - Geto Boys
14. Dirt Off Your Shoulder - Jay Z - because Obama is a little of a pimp now
15. Don't Stop Me Now - Queen
16. Faith - George Michael
17. The Fix Is In - OK Go
18. Forces of Victory - Gogol Bordello
19. Sweet Home Chicago - The Blues Brothers
20. Get Up And Boogie - Freddie James
21. Hallelujah - the badass EMF version
22. The House Wins - Ok Go - because the Dems dominate the House
23. I'm Not Crying - The Flight of The Conchords
24. It's a Long Way to the Top - AC/DC - because it was a long way there
25. Joy to the World - Three Dog Night
26. Let's Get Stoned - Joe Cocker - for the people of Massachusetts
27. Dance to the Music - Sly and the Family Stone
28. My Generation - The Who - because we Baracked the vote!
29. Politician - Cream
30. Play that Funky Music - KC and the Sunshine Band (he could have also made an entrance to this)
31. Ready or Not - The Fugees
32. So Sorry - Feist (my condolences to the Republicans)
33. Star Spangled Banner - Jimi Hendrix
34. Tuesdays Gone - Lynyrd Skynyrd - and isn't it a lovely Thursday
35. Volunteers - Jefferson Airplane - I feel for the poll workers
36. Shook Me All Night Long - AC/DC - I seriously thought I was going to have a heart attack Tuesday night
37. Heat of the Moment - Asia - the ultimate celebration song in my opinion
38. Cold Hard Bitch - JET - Sarah Palin anyone?
39. Don't Look Back In Anger - Oasis - get over it Republicans
And last but certainly not least...
40. Solid (Solid As Barack) - Maya Rudolf and Fred Armistes on Saturday Night Live

If you have any suggestions or additions for the Magyar McGuyer, just leave a comment and I'll make sure she gets it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The last two years have crystallized in an incredibly powerful way for me in the last 24 hours. The news of the country's decision to elect Barack Obama as our 44th President of the United States still sends shivers down my spine. It's hard to distill all my thoughts, feelings and ideas into a really coherent post and I know bloggers the world over have a tremendous amount to digest over the next few days. Here's my attempt at getting my head around this amazing time in our history.

1. For many of my peers born after 1979, this is the first election we have voted in where the candidate we voted for actually won!

2. Michelle Obama is not the new Jackie Kennedy. The woman has a Harvard Law Degree. I think she will be more of a Eleanor Roosevelt/Hillary Rodham Clinton hybrid with a much better wardrobe and haircut. To have a woman with a formidable mind, who raises two young children and is an equal partner to her husband, all while sporting a fabulous look - I'm inspired!

3. How dare people boo at the McCain rally! John McCain fought a really tough battle and while I recognize their sense of loss, they have no right to then push their candidate into a corner defending Obama (again). I have to say that McCain's speech was very touching and brought a tear to my eye. He sounded like he did back in 2000 - when he may have been a really fantastic president.

4. I recognize that Barack Obama is going to make a few mistakes and I hope the country as a whole will be able to say that too. But none of those mistakes merit calls for impeachment, censure or assassination.

5. I would be remiss if I didn't talk about race in this post. As a white woman who encountered minimal racism until her adult years, I feel inept in discussing the ramifications of this election for the African-American community. So rather than fumble through it, I'll leave that piece to Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and his essay this afternoon on NPR.
Here's an excerpt... "But there is one thing we can proclaim today without question: that the election of Sen. Barack Obama as president of the United States of America means that The Ultimate Color Line has, at long last, been crossed. It has been crossed by our very first postmodern Race Man, a man who embraces his African cultural and genetic heritage so securely that he can transcend it, becoming the candidate of choice to tens of millions of Americans who look nothing at all like him."

6. As we celebrate today the obstacles overcome in the frontier of race, I cannot ignore the disturbing, frustrating and saddening results of many state ballot measures regarding gay marriage, including the nefarious Prop 8. Outside California, Florida, Arkansas and my home state of Arizona shamefully passed dehumanizing legislation either amending their state constitutions to ban gay marriage or limiting the rights of homosexuals.

In 40 years from now, though maybe sooner, as our country elects its first openly-gay president, don't we want to be there - crying tears of joy at the battles we fought? We have had an MLK to a lesser degree in Harvey Milk (biopic due soon), and our Oprah in Ellen. But where will our Jesse Jackson come from? Our Shirley Chisholm? Are we going to march on Selma? On Washington? This is our civil rights battle and I hope that 40 years from now, I can talk to a young person and tell him/her what I did when the call came.
Will you answer the call?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Friending with the Enemy: An Election Day Meditation

As we prepare for one the most-anticipated elections of the modern era in America, I wanted to invoke a political conversation that goes a little beyond Obama vs. McCain. Besides, I figured everyone reading this blog already knows my political proclivities.

In the real world, friendships are built on shared interests, time spent together and mutual admiration or respect. Meanwhile, in the Facebook world, something as simple as a five-minutes chat at an acquaintance's party is enough to establish a "friendship." Having sat across from one another in a crowded lecture hall or being ninth grade lab partners also is enough for two otherwise estranged people to establish a solid friendship based on frequent status updates and mini-feed stories.

So what happens when you learn a Facebook friend has political opinions so diametrically opposed to your own that you cannot fathom maintaining a friendship with them in the real world? Delete him was my all-too simple solution this week when a guy I went to high school with expressed his stauch support of California's Prop 8 via his status and profile picture.

For those unfamiliar with this despicable piece of proposed legislation, Prop 8's proper title is "
Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry" and states that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. Charming, huh? This after the California Supreme Court ruled in May 2008 that such statues violate the California Constitution under the equal protection clause.

The debate over allowing two loving people of the same gender to legally enter the bonds and to enjoy the rights of marriage has raged in California for decades. Governor Schwarzenegger has twice vetoed acts to allow same-sex marriage but in the five months since the Supreme Court ruling went into effect 16,000 couples have celebrated their human right to marry.

Activists on both sides have come out in full force and according to US News and World Report, "The campaigns for and against Proposition 8 raised over $60 million with campaign contributions from over 64,000 people in all fifty states and more than twenty foreign countries, setting a new record nationally for a social policy initiative and trumping every other race in the country in spending except the presidential contest." John McCain has publicly supported Prop 8, joining the Mormon and Roman Catholic Churches, the Orthodox Union, Newt Gingrich, a San Diego school district and an Asian-American group.

On the side of human dignity and liberty is the group Equality Now, whose supporters include Bill Clinton, Dianne Feinstein, America Ferrera, Samuel L. Jackson, the LA Times, California Teachers Association, Google, ACLU, NAACP, ADL and numerous faith groups.

What has made the fight over Prop 8 so disturbing has been the advertisements on behalf of its proponents. They have alleged that teachers will be allowed to educate about same-sex marriage if it is not expressly illegal. Hmmm... my AP History teacher made us read about murder in the Civil War. I don't think that made me think it was suddenly legal to kill people. Further, the Supreme Court decision protects religious policies and practices so no officiant would be "required to solemnize a marriage in contravention of his or her religious beliefs.”

We won't know until Tuesday (or Wednesday if we go to sleep early), the results of the Prop 8 decision. If you're reading this from the great State of California (the land of my illustrious birth), I implore you to vote with equality instead of bigotry, justice instead of hate, compassion instead of fear. And tell your friends.