Monday, December 28, 2009

Women of the Wall

My dear friend Na'ama sent this article to me from the New York Times (funny since she lives in Portland, OR), about a group of women who have worshiped and fought for religious equality at the Kotel (Western Wall in Israel) for more than 20 years.

Despite tremendous opposition, threats of physical violence and the potential for fines and jail time, these women have come to the Kotel at the start of every Hebrew month (traditionally a time for women to pray together). They pray out loud when the custom is for women to be quiet so as not to tempt the nearby men with their voices. They read from the Torah when the custom is for only men to do so. They wear tallit (prayer shawls) when again the custom is only incumbent upon men. These practices are not strictly forbidden, rather they have evolved to have profound force since women are considered exempt from the commandments under Orthodox interpretation.

From the article, "The Kotel is defined in Israel as a national and holy site that is open to all. In practice, the women say, it operates like an Orthodox synagogue, with separate prayer sections for men and women and a modesty patrol to ensure that visitors are appropriately dressed."

I've been to the Kotel. I dressed in what I considered a demure outfit and still found myself pushed around by the so-called "modesty police" because a sliver of my collarbone peeked out, in Jerusalem, in August. It's unfortunate, but stories like this are part of what deters me from ever wanting to live in Israel on a permanent basis.

While I respect Orthodox interpretations with their strictly divided gender spheres, I don't think that gives anyone the right to exert their believes as the sole option. I wish the Women of the Wall nothing but hatzlacha (success) in their critical mission to bring greater religious pluralism to their society and I hope that with God's help, I can join them in joyful prayer on my next trip to Israel.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Repost: MLK National Day of Service with Jersey Cares

Spend MLK Day repairing the world with your Jersey Tribe friends and make President Obama proud on this National Day of Service.

There are several projects sponsored by Jersey Cares going on around the state, but in the interest of geography and convenience, the Jersey Tribe will be staking out a painting project at a camp for underpriviledged children in Edison. The first 20 people to RSVP will be guaranteed registration at our group spot. Additional people may have to register individually or may be shut out of the space-limited project.

If you'd prefer to do a different project in another location please visit the Jersey Cares site directly ( to complete your registration. We will coordinate a post-activity lunch for all Jersey Tribe participants.


And yes, it would appear that this new Jewish volunteer group endeavor of mine, aka JERSEY TRIBE, has somewhat co-opted this blog. What can I say, I only have so much creative juice in me and right now I'm finding the effort to bring young Jews together for philanthropic, social and charitable activities a bit more rewarding. Give me 6 months - I may change my mind.
In the meantime, comment here if you're interested in participating!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hannukah Care Packages for Jews in Uniform

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm starting a group for young Jewish adults in New Jersey to get together and do a little good in the world while making new friends and having fun. If you happen to be in North Jersey on Tuesday night, December 8, and you want to be a part of this event, just leave a comment and I will send you the information offline.

Show your support for Jewish men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces this Hanukkah season. We will be assembling care packages and signing cards for service members who are also Members of the Tribe.

Bring some (meatless
) food or drinks to share with your fellow volunteers and $5 to cover the cost of the supplies. I will provide the care package supplies and cards, a DVD of the Hebrew Hammer and a few dreidels.

PLEASE NOTE: If you can't make it to the event but would like to contribute money toward to the purchase of care package items, leave a comment with your email and I will be in touch offline.

Special Thanks to Sara Levenstein, Jonathan Hakakian and the Erwyn Group for their generous donations to this event. And don't forget - Hanukkah starts Friday, December 11.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Need a Name

After three and a half years of frustration at the lack of meaningful pathways into the New Jersey Jewish community, I have finally reached the point where I've both realized that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself AND I have the time and inclination to actually do it.

While it may mean I neglect this blog even more, I think starting a volunteer/activist group for young Jewish people (25-45) living in Northern and Central NJ will bring a tremendous amount of meaning to my life. I've conducted some informal conversations and have recently launched a survey to assess interest among my peers about volunteering - when, where, why, etc.

Now all I need is a name.

I'd like to avoid anything with too much Hebrew that might alienate less affiliated/Jewishly knowledgeable folks, and besides the Hebrew word for volunteer doesn't roll trippingly off the tongue. Likewise, I don't want anything too hokey or limited just to volunteering, just in case I ever want to expand into social activities or fundraising.

Leave any suggestions on the comment page here and if your name wins, I'll do my best to bestow upon you a worthy prize.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Today is Veterans Day and aside from enjoying a random mid-week day off from school when I was a kid, I can't truly recall any other celebration or commemoration of this day. Here in the Tri-State area, apparently Veterans Day means a day off from school AND a parade in the City. Good to know. Unfortunately, for most of us, not going to work or school means that any significance of the day is obliterated by the mundane details of our lives or a great White Sale at Macy's.

While Veterans Day began its life as Armistice Day when World War I ended and switched over to Veterans Day subsequent to WWII in the States. Everyone else in Europe stuck with the original and if Wikipedia is to be trusted, they celebrate it in much the same way we do - lots of official ceremonies and general pomp in honor of military fallen.

Meaning absolutely no disrespect to our honored veterans, but how is this different from Memorial Day? Memorial Day has been around since the end of the Civil War and all too many of us commemorate it in a similarly superficial fashion.

If we really want to honor veterans and make them special, maybe they should be the only ones to get Veterans Day off from work! I mean, really post office, bank and municipal government workers - you just got Columbus Day off and Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. Unless you held an M16 on the beaches of Normandy or the deserts of Fallujah - Get your ass back to work!

Of course, I'm also unclear as how we judge who qualifies as a veteran and therefore worthy of our adoration and respect. Friends of mine who have recently returned from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan get my vote. As do my rabbi who currently holds the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and all those National Guard members who helped everyone from victims of Katrina to racial line walkers in Little Rock.

But what about someone like my dad? He joined the Guard and trained to be a medic to avoid going to Vietnam. I never heard a single story of demanding basic training officers or heroic feats. Hell, he might have had it easier than Bill Murray in Stripes! Does he count as a veteran? What about ROTC members?

Lest anyone get offended, I absolutely admire the dedication, sacrifice and courage displayed by our men and women in the nations' armed forces. At times, I wish I could feel that sense of patriotism and belief in America's rightness enough to consider getting a paper cut in her defense, let alone dying.

So before you head out to buy that new percale sheet set or snooze a little longer because you don't have to work in the morning, take a minute to thank our veterans and be glad that because they still care - we don't have to.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Farewell to a Hometown Favorite

Yesterday, the East Valley Tribune, my hometown paper, announced it will be closing its doors and ceasing publication in December. I first learned of the Tribune's fate from the news source that appears to be leading the way in thoughful journalism across the Valley - Heat City. Despite winning a Pulitzer Prize just a few months ago, the Tribune could not sustain declining subscriptions and could no longer hold off the behemoth Arizona Republic from becoming the only newspaper in the Phoenix area.

The editorial staff of Arizona State University's State Press ran this thoughtful tribute. They make a very valid point that with two Arizona newspapers closing in the past year (in May the state's oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen shut down), jobs in journalism are even scarcer. Why should students explore degrees in a field that has all but failed to turn any kind of profit?

I remember going to the Trib as a kid for Take Our Daughters to Work Day and I had many friends in high school and college whose parents worked there. I was so proud of Ryan last year when he won the Polk and then the Pulitzer and it's just entirely too sad to see the paper fail now.

As an avid NPR listener and member, I always wonder what would happen if newspapers went in that direction and explored a not-for-profit model. NPR offers free content, always has, and they provide some of the best investigative and non-sensationalist journalism anywhere. Hang in there newspapers of America - be creative and think beyond your bottom line.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It's a Book. It's a Museum. It's...Both!

Generally, literature is a topic I don't delve into on this blog. It's not that I don't read. There's always a book on my nightstand and my tastes range from David Sedaris essays to Hemingway novels to Sandra Cisneros and a whole bunch of other stuff. I like to mix the high and lowbrow, but I'm not sure how I feel about the literary intersection I heard about yesterday.

Seems that Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk decided to promote his latest novel, The Museum of Innocence by opening an exhibit in a museum in his native Istanbul. According to an interview with Pamuk on NPR, visitors to the unnamed museum can experience a tableaux fashioned after the character's world starting in July 2010.

In a form of cross-promotional insanity bordering on the Jon Bon Jovi-esque, "Pamuk began collecting the objects that his protagonist Kemal would save before he even began writing the novel. And, in an unusual instance of literature melding into real life, he plans to display those objects in an actual 'Museum of Innocence.'

The idea for the museum came, in part, from the author's visits to small collections around the world. Pamuk says he's always been attracted to small museums and the 'melancholy' that seems to permeate them."

If I were Seth Meyer, I'd probably just give an eye roll and an exasperated, "really?!" But since I strive for a little something extra, I figured I'd tease this out a bit.

What does it say about our culture that a Nobel Prize winner has both the audacity and the sick genius to collect hypothetical objects his imaginary characters might have possessed had they actually existed? Is this what authors have to submit to in our post-Potter world?

One can only hope that this bizarre clash of literature, spectacle and obsession is an outlier and that we're not going to witness a flurry of Dominican chicken restaurants inspired by Junot Diaz's character Oscar Wao, or actual comic books related to the heroes of Michael Chabon's the Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay. Of course, if someone wants to organize a cross-country trek based on Jack Kerouac's On the Road - I'm all in.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cobbled Together

I know I've been pretty lousy at posting lately and I really don't have a solid excuse. The New Jersey governor's race while heated, hasn't exactly captured my political imagination and luckily no major catastrophes have struck too close to home. But, I know it's been a few weeks and my internal sense of blogless guilt has kicked in enough to throw up this piece of random bits.

First off - I do have to ask for some positive energy and prayers. My grandfather is having hip replacement surgery on Monday (Yehuda ben Rachel), a former coworker is undergoing cancer treatment (Chana Leah bat Esther) and a friend's son is awaiting heart surgery (Yehezkiel Chaim ben Chaya Rivka). Thanks.

Secondly, our latest International Culinary Staycation took us to the exotic Orient... or at least the Chinese enclave of Flushing, Queens. From kosher vegetarian dim sum halls to restaurants offering fried pig's blood and food stalls hallowed by the likes of Anthony Bourdain, we ate our way through Flushing with gusto.

As I stared at the thousands of Asian folks eating their native cuisine throughout the neighborhood, I couldn't help but think of the presence of that kosher spot. Why is it that Jews love Chinese food so thoroughly that they get their own rabbi-sanctioned restaurant? You don't see kosher joints in the Greek neighborhood of Astoria, and I know plenty of Yids who love spanikopita! And beyond that - do Chinese people love Jewish food? Does anyone but Jews love food like matzah ball soup, knishes, borscht, brisket and kugel BUT the Jews? I guess we'll see if we ever do a tour of the Lower East Side.

Third. Well, no third at the moment but I suppose anything is possible.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Last Last Touch

The October 2009 issue of Gourmet magazine sits on my coffee table, opened to page 126. I started reading last week and stopped when I realized it was a bad idea to read a food magazine on Yom Kippur. The article on the page in question is a preview of some recipes from the newly released Gourmet cookbook, and it reflects heavily on the profound changes in food culture and habits that have taken place in America during the past 10 years.

Of course, any good foodie will knows that this cookbook now serves as a bit of a swan song as publisher Conde Nast announced on Monday that Gourmet will cook up its last issue in November, despite having already begun photography production and recipe development into January, February and March 2010. Citing declined ad revenue and newsstand sales, CN is closing Modern Bride, Elegant Bride (someone please explain the difference) and Cookie along with Gourmet.

As the American culinary epicenter and home base for CN, the New York Times has extensively covered the story and tomorrow's weekly food section is sure to be full of eulogies, reminiscing and interviews with the fallen.

Though I've never met Ruth, Ian, Maggie or any other Gourmet contributors, I've gotten to know them, their families' food traditions, their own flavor preferences, their cooking snafus and triumphs in the pages of the magazine and I suppose I will miss them. It's like hearing your favorite NPR contributor was cut because not enough people pledged during the Fall Fundraiser (Save Bob Hennelly and Contribute to WNYC Today!).

Hearing about their summary expulsion that takes effect at the end of this week, I empathize with the 180 folks at Gourmet whose paltry circulation of 978,000 couldn't compete in the board room with the more recipe-driven, less expository Bon Appetit which moves 1.35 million a month. Again - here's the NYT link.

Melodramatic as it sounds, my heart aches a bit to know my favorite magazine will soon cease to exist. Guys, if you doubt my emotions, try thinking about them pulling Maxim from your mailbox when you were age 19. Countless meals in my kitchen truly began at my coffee table as I poured through the latest issue and the genesis for even more grew from perusals on my grandmother's couch where I first encountered Gourmet.

The macaroni and cheese, the spicy tzimmes, the pomegranate chicken, the chocolate tart and an ungodly number of fantasy dishes sprung forth from the pages of Gourmet and inspired me to take a chance on a new ingredient or to attempt a challenging technique. The food porn of these recipes and of pretty, young things chowing down on them are par excellence, so buy a newsstand copy quickly before they disappear.

But none of these things really capture what set Gourmet apart from any good cookbook or the myriad other cooking magazines out there. What made Gourmet iconoclastic (love when I can use that word) was where it took us as readers, as cooks and as eaters beyond our own kitchens and our comfort zones.

Pushing the envelope with daring exposes on the human cost of the food industry (The Price of Tomatoes, March 2009), Gourmet made the edible political and raised important, if cringe-worthy questions about the implications of what we eat. With poignant pieces on oft-forgotten tasks (Framing a Life, August 2008), Gourmet taught a little beekeeping biology and brought a tear to many an eye. Food-based escapades from as near as the Bronx and as far as Basque Country and Burma fueled wanderlust and helped to inspire my own culinary staycations.

More than its basic components, Gourmet represented something in food preparation and enjoyment as it evolved from its founding in 1914, and yet remained completely fresh and modern. Few other institutions have weathered profound cultural shifts, inundation of foreign influence, changing tastes and political correctness with such grace, wit and stamina.

It's difficult to close this post and I certainly do not envy Editor-in-Chief Ruth Reichl's task in bidding adieu to her bastions of loyal readers. But if I've learned anything from Gourmet's own back page, titled The Last Touch, it helps to have a food-based theme. A review of Gourmets stacked in my living room revealed a range of topics for this feature: zucchini, pudding, ham, ice pops, lime, dumplings, etc.

For my own Last Touch, I'd like to offer a few favorite recipes and stories from my own reading of Gourmet.
There you have it. My best ode to the best food magazine ever. Do yourself a favor, crack open an old issue, buy the new one or go online to Epicurious and whip up your own culinary tribute. Happy eating!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Spirit in the Sky

We've made it through the more ominous of the Jewish high holidays and as of Friday at sundown we start that week where Jews hang out in backyard huts and shake tree branches and lemons in every geographic direction. By the way, it's called Sukkot and it's a really great holiday but not the topic of tonight's post.

For now, I thought I would regress to one of the themes that dominates both Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). No, not repentance or how to survive a 25-hour fast. I'm gonna dig a little deeper in these next few paragraphs of random musings and try to get a conversation going about God.

I make absolutely zero claims here and have no intention but to describe how I sort of envision a higher power. More than anything, I'd love to spark a few ideas in your head, dear reader, and to read your own thoughts in the comments section. Oh and I'm uber-rebellious and spelling out the word God. A format like a blog is ephemeral enough for me to sport the ineffable. So there.

Like most good little Jewish kids, I learned about God creating the Universe in six days and then resting for a day before doing things like kicking out Adam and Eve, parting the Red Sea and rocking a few miracles. We got some vague lesson about God not being a man or a woman, but then all the prayers seemed to be addressed to a rather powerful and sometimes angry dude.

As an adult, I'd like to think my conception of the Almighty has evolved somewhat and here's what I've come up with that works for me. God or Yahweh or some higher power designed the world in a way that everything harmonizes together. Whether that took place in seven days as we conceive of them or in "God days" that actually take a few millennia, I'd like to think that certain things are just too perfect to be totally random. Flower petals, symbiotic animal relationships, etc.

After that initial breath of life so to speak, God set the ball in motion and left it to the created beings to take over. God may or may not know what we do on a daily basis and God may or may not care. God may have a jam-packed schedule or may be stuck in traffic on the 405.

I don't believe God is a He or a She. God is just God and our language is too damn limited to figure out how to talk about God without restrictive pronouns or gendered adjectives. God may be majestic, sheltering, compassionate, merciful, judging, infinite and 72 other things, but God isn't a man or a woman. That said, ask me again after a day in pantyhose and heels and I may denounce this whole paragraph and voice my frustration with God for making my ass and legs look so much better in such uncomfortable clothes.

Finally, I'm pretty convinced there isn't any difference between Yahweh, Ahura Mazda, Vishnu, Jesus, Allah, Zeus or Buddha. They're all manifestations or slightly varied conceptions on a Creator imbued with greater power and force than us mere mortals. Listen, the Universe is a complex place. People need a little cosmic organization and nothing says anal-retentive like an all-encompassing, all-knowing Supreme Being.

So there you have it. Nothing earth-shattering or academically sourced, but it's my honest view of a ridiculously ambiguous and challenging notion. Take from it what you will and then if you feel sufficiently brave, share. Thanks for being a part of this fun little group project and please be respectful of others before you post. Let the theology begin!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

End of an Era

As I write this, there are only 4 days left until I start my new job, thus ending what has been one of the most rewarding and simultaneously frustrating five months of my life. Most of the time, unemployment leads people to hide under the covers or to dive into a bottle of some alcoholic beverage. And while I certainly had utterly shit-tastic days that led me to believe I would never again find suitable employ, let alone my dream job, overall I managed to keep some semblance of a positive attitude and earn some extra cash.

Since May, I have traveled to two foreign countries, led my friends on three culinary excursions, attended four weddings, put thousands of miles on my car, spent time with family and launched a freaking business! At this point, I can't even imagine where I would be mentally had I worked at my old job these past several months. Just as everyone predicted - I am in a better place in terms of my sanity, happiness, harmony with the universe and general satisfaction. Hopefully, I will be able to say the same thing after 5 months on the job.

People have asked me how I came up with the idea for my business and how I maintained a positive attitude after going through some tough times. Really, I can't offer any sage wisdom beyond the notion of simply choosing to take lemons and make a mean Tom Collins (with a dose of irony since I don't drink gin).

As the end of this astounding era approaches, I find myself more occupied with figuring out how I will adjust to actually working again. When will I get my oil changed if I'm at work all-day and I can't hire my own concierge services? How will I wake up every morning at a responsible hour or get myself to bed at night before the end of the Colbert Report? I've totally forgotten, how do office politics work? Will having a job be more exhausting than letting myself run around like a crazy person all day or less?

I wish I was just being glib about some of these concerns, but I really do worry and wonder about what this new chapter of my life will bring. Though I'm geographically staying put and working in a similar field, I'll be learning a whole new skill set and coming back from my longest vacation EVER. Who knows what adventures will come my way in the future but whatever happens I'm sure it will bring good blog posts.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shana Tova 5770

After such a tough year for so many of us, when we were forced to re-examine our priorities and look at the world through a different lens, I hope we can all maintain our perspective and our senses of humor to face what lies ahead with strength and determination.

Wishing you, your families and all your loved ones a New Year filled with...
Health and Happiness
Peace and Prosperity
Blessing and Balance

Shana Tova U'Metuka!

Here's a little greetings from President Obama - he actually does a good job with the Hebrew!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Haveil Havalim Time

Here's a link to this week's Haveil Havalim, hosted by The Reform Shuckle. Check it out here and be sure to read some of the fantastic posts from across the Jewish spectrum.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Penny Saved is a Book Deal Earned

Back in my college days, I actually got paid to write about various topics ranging from escaped West African performance artists to Carl Reiner to the legalization of the abortion pill and interracial relationships. I also spent a semester serving as Arts Editor of the Arizona Daily Wildcat with a shyly brilliant observer of human habits named Phil Villarreal.

A few years ago, he asked me to edit his first book, Stormin’ Mormon, which he went on to self-publish. One of the only copies sold now sits proudly on my shelf and I was honored to be included in the acknowledgements.

More recently, Villarreal (here's a link to his blog) released Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel: 100 Dirty Little Money-Grubbing Secrets to broad publicity including book signings, stories in newspapers nationwide and coverage on morning shows in his current home of Tucson and in the bigger market of Phoenix. And since shameless self-promotion is a habit the author and I share, I was all too happy to add my own critical take on the book to his list of clips.

Many of the suggestions are utterly ridiculous and yet incredibly logical if you follow Villarreal’s central premise that saving money is a noble goal unto itself. Into this category falls #33 about the psychology behind the dealer and customer when buying a car. Similarly, #35, advises readers at the negotiation table to simply ask for another $20 or $50 off the deal in order to get your name on the dotted line. Audacious as it is, when you think about it, why shouldn’t you ask for an extra $50 off? It’s a free night out on the town or family time at the movies and you earned that money!

The section of the book that I would seriously consider implementing, societal judgment be damned, was the portion covering Finance. Villarreal offers such logical suggestions of avoiding ATM fees, paying down debt and taking advantage of rebates.

He even manages to challenge fiduciary stereotypes while bringing an element of humor to the art (or tedium) of coupon clipping, “It saddens me that coupon clipping is viewed as the pastime of the desperate housewife…Here and now I want to start an effort to reclaim coupon clipping for men everywhere. I want Harley riders to start keeping plastic, accordion-style coupon holders in the back of their hogs. I want UFC fighters to tout the benefits of $1 off Raisin Bran coupons after bouts. I want John Wayne to rise from the grave, visit a Circle K, and push a buy-one-get-one-free Thirstbuster card over the counter.” Classic.

Also in Finance is #44 which offers Villarreal’s personal story of shaving $1000 off the hospital bills that came with the birth of his second child earlier this year. How did he accomplish this feat? By simply calling the billing department and asking for a 25% discount in exchange for paying in full right away. Audacious, but I will admit I trimmed $600 off my rent for the year just by making a phone call to my management company.

But back to those utterly absurd suggestions that other critics of this book have been so eager to point out. There’s an entire section of them that Villarreal prefaces with the following disclaimer, “Let me make clear that the advice from here on out is strictly for laughs, and I’m not held responsible if you actually enact any of this insanity. Try any of these heinous tactics and you’ll be in need of a soul cleansing, but you’ll also have a bigger bank account and great stories to tell at parties.”

So what falls into this odious section that has raised the ire of humorless columnists and morning show hosts? Let’s just say some of the suggestions involve posing as an illegal immigrant, turning your pet in a foundling, scamming bartenders and the ever-popular Dumpster diving. The book advises against ever attempting these money-saving tactics for fear of incarceration, but my hunch is that many of us have pondered such schemes, generally under the influence of booze or various hallucinogens. Besides, as a Netflix user I’m a big fan of #76 and I’m pretty convinced my last two boyfriends used #82 on me.

Ultimately, anyone who’s been poor, merely felt poor, gone through unemployment, gone through college or who doesn’t mind losing a few points of social grace for the same of saving a few bucks will thoroughly enjoy Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel. If you loyally adhere to the tips contained therein, you will more than make up for the $9 price tag on Amazon. Avoid the shipping fees to make Scrooge and Villarreal proud.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

No Reservations Indeed

Blessed with approximately six weeks between accepting my new job and actually starting my job, I decided in classic Shtetl Fab style to keep busy by embarking on some spectacular adventures. Aside from the usual coffee dates with friends and catching up on my Netflix, I decided to take advantage of my close geographic proximity to some of the most diverse ethnic neighborhoods in America.

I conducted a little research on Wikipedia and made a list of six destinations representing a range of global cuisines and then began the recruitment process as I decided these dining and shopping destinations would be best enjoyed in the company of friends.

A group of nine intrepid souls embarked on our first excursion, which I've dubbed "International Culinary Staycations," this past Friday night in the Middle Eastern/Turkish neighborhood of Paterson, NJ. Some of the people were old friends, others were new acquaintances, but we all had a love of food and tremendous stomach capacity in common.

Our first rendezvous point was Toros Turkish Restaurant off Hazel Street. There we enjoyed a rousing course of appetizers, all of which were vegetarian-friendly and all of which proved quite tasty. I highly recommend the spinach and yogurt hot dish and the cheese-filled sigaria. Coming here with a big group was fantastic as we all shared the different items in tapas fashion. Just as we prepared to leave, a man began to play a sitar in a roped-off casbah area of the beautifully ornate restaurant. It felt really authentic and was just a great way to send us off to our next destination.

Just across the street is Taskin Bakery, which has been supplying traditional Turkish breads and bagels to the Paterson community since 1997. The aroma as you enter this modest bakery is worth the trip alone and our brigade of eaters quickly snapped up pitas, simit (bagels), acma (knish) and borek (savory or mildly sweet pies). Taskin's products can be found at many local restaurants, including Toros, and it's clearly a neighborhood favorite as we encountered many people stocking up for the imminent breaking of the daily Ramadan fast.

Next, we walked about half a mile to the main drag of the Paterson Middle Eastern community, appropriately enough called Main Street. We passed umpteen markets, restaurants, an Islamic fashion center where we all declined trying on the latest hijab styles and even a houkah store. We saw a small group of men praying in a grassy area on the side of the road, my first time encountering such a sight. Meanwhile, our ears were treated to a typically American melting pot of musical styles and we heard everything from an imam's chants to the Notorious B.I.G.

My personal highlight came in the Istanbul Market (931 Main St.) where we encountered an incredibly friendly man. He wanted to know why we had come to Paterson and then he freely gave out advice on the best products and even offered samples of delicious Turkish olives. I asked him how long he'd owned the market and he confessed that he was not the owner, but merely a very loyal customer. You have to love that.

Another market yielded succulent dates, a shuk's worth of spices, drippingly-sweet baklava, cheeses, jewelry and these bizarre candies that tasted like the miscegenated child of M&Ms and chickpeas. One girl balked at buying a water pipe in the aforementioned houkah store and we sallied forth to our final Paterson destination.

As we entered the AlBasha Palestinian/Lebanese restaurant, the nightly breaking of the Ramadan fast was in full force, but luck was on our side and the establishment had a ten-seat table ready and waiting for us. I suppose in these parts, you could call that kismet. Here, we were clearly outsiders as practically the only non-Middle Eastern diners, and while there was a bit of a language gap, it did not dampen the hospitality.

Everyone chose the buffet - apparently a common offering during Ramadan judging by the proliferation of posters advertising "Special Ramadan Buffets" along Main Street - and by some astonishing gastronomic feat, we crammed more food into our already full bellies. The buffet was less vegetarian-friendly, but after so much nibbling and feasting, it hardly mattered. While the food at Toros was more refined and clearly catered to more visitors from outside the neighborhood, but AlBasha offered a glimpse into a typical restaurant where local families go on a regular basis.

Throughout the evening, I marveled at the fortitude of my friends who like me really love food and who like me really love being adventurous in the process. In our all-too-often segregated world, where we allow stereotypes or fear of the unknown to keep us in a behavioral rut, it is amazing to see how food can breakdown barriers and build common ground. I could wax rhapsodic about the incredibly big smile this night put on my face, but the simple fact is that Anthony Bourdain (part of the inspiration for these adventures) has done it far better. There's also a segment on WNYC that similarly cajoled listeners to take their taste buds on a little trip.

If you live in the Tri-State area and want to join our next International Culinary Staycation, please comment with your email and I will add you to the Evite. If you live elsewhere, please start exploring the delicious options in your area today. You won't be disappointed and you probably won't need reservations.

Friday, August 28, 2009

To Your Health

I've hesitated to dip my toes into the wide-ranging and increasingly rancorous debate over health care reform in America for several reasons. One, I'm not so desperate for mail that I want to start getting hate mail. Two, while I have a master's in public policy, I didn't focus on health policy and am hardly an expert. Three, I've been a little busy.

But with the passing this week of Senator Edward Kennedy, one of health care reform's most ardent supporters, I could no longer resist jumping into the fray. Besides, it gave me something else to blog about this week .

As stated above, I am by no means an authority on health care or the detailed minutiae of government regulations. However, I have a pretty good idea of what I believe are basic human rights that a nation such as ours should endow to all its citizens. I know that totally outs me as a bleeding-heart liberal and I am completely comfortable with that label. Yes dear readers, I give a shit about my fellow citizens. Let the AK-47s fire!

Plus, I have entirely too many family members who have battled chronic illnesses and I know the incredible importance of quality health care. It is beyond my imagination how anyone deals with health problems in the absence of comprehensive coverage. So here is my essentially unresearched, deeply personal vision for what health care should look like in our country. President Obama, if you're reading this - hi there - I'm still available for a new job.


PART ONE - The Working (not-yet) Stiffs
If your employer offers a health care plan that fits your needs and is affordable, take it. I know HMOs aren't perfect, but they are a huge piece of the puzzle and it would probably cost so much to dismantle them, that we'd piss away all the allocations right from the start.

Within the employer-provided plans, I do have one new policy in which I strongly believe. If you're like me and you're reasonably healthy, you should have the option at the end of each year to reinvest a portion of your unused (but paid for) premiums into a personal health savings account. That way when your health goes through an inevitable rough spot, you will have some cash in the bank to cover your ass, or your pancreas, or your lungs. Whichever goes first.

If you use up all your premiums and have cash leftover, then you can designate some for a special health savings account too. Or you can take some of that cash and donate it to me.

PART TWO - The Old Folks
If you're already on Medicare, just stay there. You're old and probably resistant to change and like in Part One, it would cost too much to make all the modifications so you might as well stay where you're at.

For those on Medicaid, it's a little different. It would be best if you could just get a job that offers full coverage, but if that isn't in the cards, then I suggest you stay tuned for Part Three.

PART THREE - The 47 Million
If you fall into that egregious statistic of the 47 million uninsured Americans, this is for you. Clearly, you've been stuck between a rock and a hard place for a while. You either are self-employed and not wealthy enough to buy insurance for yourself, or you work for a small company that isn't mandated to provide coverage, or you have some freakish illness that makes you like the kid who pees in the pool and no insurance company wants to take you.

Luckily, there's a ton of you in this category, so all your health shit more or less balances out so that we can average the costs to the "system" and call it even. One year, Mr. Gonzalez will cost a lot because he has diabetes and in the next year Ms. Wilson will cost a lot because she needs a hysterectomy. You get the idea.

By creating a government-backed, perhaps independently-run (or gov't-run) insurance company, all these folks will have the option to sign up and get the same level of coverage as those lucky bastards in Part One and Two. Yeah, it's the PUBLIC OPTION and it's a good fucking idea so stop bitching about it.

Is it going to cost a lot? More than likely, it will. Is it socialism? No, it's simply ethically right. And Medicall (my new name for the program), will also allow everyone in Part Three to get the same preventative care as those in the other categories that will ultimately prevent them from needed obscenely expensive care when their illnesses and conditions become acute. Like a hybrid car, it will cost more on the front end but will save our nation money in the long run with healthier citizens and fewer unnecessary procedures.

Besides, Howard Dean had some good stuff to say about it in the New York Times last week, “There are too many people who understand, including the president himself, the public option is absolutely linked to reform,” he said. “You can’t have reform without a public option. If you really want to fix the health-care system, you’ve got to give the public the choice of having such an option.”

Just like in Part One, people choosing to get their health insurance through Medicall would have the ability to invest their unused premiums into a savings account.

PART FOUR - Peanut Butter Jelly-Time

PART FIVE - Medicall versus the HMO
Over on the Republican side of the aisle, legislators are freaking out that a government-backed insurance company would easily trounce the private sector since profit would not be their bottom line. And on the surface, I can understand their fears. Capitalism is certainly the American way and allowing the free market to solve various societal problems has often proven to be the best solution.

However, there are people's lives at stake and we all pay for ridiculous deadweight losses when we consider what it costs to provide emergency coverage for those 47 million people in Part Three.

Also, since both liberals and conservatives will play a role in drafting the legislation for the new program (or whatever reform passes), the policies can be drafted in a way that forces Medicall to be competitively priced, subject to market changes and ostensibly similar to employer-backed offerings. It can also require people to first go through their employers' insurance companies.

Sure, people may still choose Medicall over their job-based coverage and HMOs may still be at risk unless they take this opportunity to re-examine their own offerings and to make them better. Here's just a few ideas I have to make private-insurance companies better enough that people would choose them over government-sponsored Medicall.
Better doctor choices
Discounts for gym memberships & yoga
No referral requirements
Holistic care
Coverage of vitamins & supplements
Full mental health, dental and vision care
Non-ER emergency help
Better preventative care

There you have it. Senator Kennedy can rest in peace if only the powers that be will listen to the wisdom of the Shtetl. And let the comments begin!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Managing Expectations

For the convenience of those lazy readers out there, I will begin at the end. Last week, after nearly four months of tireless searching, I accepted a new job. The specifics of the position will allow me to have a manager-level position on my resume, will offer me a chance to learn new, marketable skills and will only occupy my time four days a week, thereby allowing me to keep up my concierge service business. It's also only a few miles from my apartment which means I don't have to move.

Since being laid off on May 1, I wrote 27 different versions of my resume, submitted nearly 100 cover letters, interviewed with 17 organizations, spent entirely too much money on NJ Transit, made umpteen phone calls and sent a litany of emails to friends, colleagues, classmates, advisers and sometimes even total strangers. I made a thorough accounting of my unique skills, did several self-assessment tests and humbly reached out to my contacts for informational meetings whenever possible.

As I wrote on Facebook, I absolutely could not have gotten through this test in my life without the amazing friends who called me to check in, who bought me a drink, who sent me job listings and who generally encouraged me along the way.

Yet, I've titled this post "Managing Expectations" for a very specific reason. I'm not taking my dream job. What I am taking is a 15% pay cut from my old job and the risk of working within the same community, albeit under the auspices of a different agency. I'm not working in the cutting-edge, innovative environment I had imagined, but rather am working for an organization that goes back almost 150 years and provides some of the most basic human services one can imagine.

Most critically, I'm not relocating which means I do get to keep my aforementioned awesome group of friends, but I also keep the challenges of living an involved Jewish life as a single girl in suburban New Jersey. Hopefully, my 4 day/week schedule will allow me some extra time to create new opportunities for Jewish young adults in my area to mingle and with Fridays off, I can travel a bit more too.

And I suppose this mental act of making vodka-spiked lemonade out of life's lemons is the biggest lesson that I have learned in this latest episode of my life. Many people of my generation were taught hard work guaranteed delivery of your heart's desire and that having it all was inherently possible.

I absolutely feel that I have identified myself (and my friends) based on the bags we carry, the vacations we take and the cocktails we drink. After two master's degrees and three years of post-grad work, I expected a certain earning power that simply has not translated in our society's new reality.

Now with this economic crisis particularly crippling the mid-level/pre-executive labor market, those of us on the Generation X/Y cusp have had to re-evaluate and learn serious new skills. We garden, trade food, cook for each other or eat in cheaper restaurants rather than dining in the newest hot spot. We barter and enlist each others' sweat equity. We give smaller gifts and give our time more than our money. We may not fear the label of "thrifty," the way we would have in college or lusher days. We go on walking dates instead of happy hours.

I cannot begin to wonder what the next several months will bring and I have also learned that long-term planning is an exercise best executed in terms of generalities. The next few weeks will be a true gift as I have until after Yom Kippur to start my new job. I am hoping to take a few cultural and culinary staycations around New York and New Jersey so please send your suggestions for your favorite ethnic neighborhood so I can get additional stamps in my virtual passport.

And yes, doing a better job keeping up with this blog will be on the agenda as well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pura Vida


Pura Vida is a motto in Costa Rica that captures the national zeitgeist in a way similar to that of Aloha in Hawaii and Hakuna Matata in singing/dancing duos of meerkats and warthogs. Literally translating to "pure life," Ticos (as Costa Ricans are familiarly called) dole out well-wishes of pura vida on all occasions. In practice, pura vida can be used to say "thank you," "you're welcome," "have a nice day," "I like drugs/anonymous sex," you name it. The only other word that comes to mind with such versatility is "fuck," which I rarely heard during my recent week in Costa Rica.

I did hear a lot of Spanish and I had much occasion to practice the language, allowing me to feel comfortable in checking #29 off my list. And aside from the frequest pura vidas sprinkling their speech, I didn't notice too many other lingual nuances of Tico Spanish the way that Cuban, Mexican or Castillian versions of the language instantly set themselves apart. And that blending into the surrounding Central American Latino culture characterized much more than the language.

Unlike so many of their neighbors, Costa Rica is a peaceful country with less political upheaval and no standing army. Here the tourist is king and the natural world is his kingdom. Within a few hours' drive of the airport, you can experience beaches (in August 2009, Jaco Beach hosted the World Surfing Championships), mountains, volcanoes, rain forests, cities and more. While you won't experience much high culture in the form of museums, symphonies or theaters, your camera will go crazy with all the amazing vistas and unusual animals.

More to come soon... heading out for the night. Check back early next week for a full report on my Costa Rican adventure!

OK, so it's taken me four days but I'm going to make my best effort to finish this post. In between contemplating my future, drinking with friends, embarking on a new exercise mission and lord knows what else - I put a bit more thought into what I got out of my Costa Rican adventure.

Normally, I find these travelogues easy to write. I love going to a new place, making various observations (or judgments) and then bringing those hopefully witty insights to you, dear readers.

However, I have had a tough time coming up with a way to frame my experience. At first, I thought it might be because my previously blogged journeys to Cancun and Portland were largely solo enterprises where I had plenty of time to opine, journal and explore. In contrast, I took this trip with three friends and had to make a real effort to carve out "me time," a commodity I value much more after three months of unemployment.

More than that, I think having trouble writing more than just a "If it's Monday then we must be open ocean kayaking," type record of this trip stems from there being minimal meat beyond the observations. Costa Rica is an absurdly beautiful country. The scenery is breathtaking - whether it's the beach, the mountains or even the synagogue sanctuary. The people are nice, they are patient with your middling Spanish and they generally go out of their way for tourists. The food is tasty and I ate my weight in black beans and rice and plantains (often in the same breakfast).

If you're looking for a relaxing vacation in a great natural setting that is generally affordable and safer than many other developing nations, go to Costa Rica. Hell, even take the kids. Plenty of other people did.

If you're looking for inspiration for anything literary or juicy, you might have to dig a little deeper and mingle with locals on topics other than the negative side effects of the rainy season or the tasty queso palmito. Or maybe that's all there is to it. Like that super-sweet cheerleader who is fun to be around but lousy when you want to dissect The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Costa Rica entices you with its looks but can disappoint when you want something a tad more real.

And in the end that may not be an entirely bad thing. After months of deep self-reflection and ridiculously laborious job hunting, a vacation with less effort and investigation may have been precisely what the Department of Labor bureaucrat ordered.

For those who do want to know about my first attempt at snorkeling, being stuck at the San Jose Chabad kids' Shabbos dinner table or how I managed to make 5 new Facebook friends while traveling in a foreign country, I'm happy to oblige. In the meantime, accept this humble reporting, hasta luego and of course, Pura Vida!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Adios Amigos

When I was first laid off, I pondered the idea of taking a month to travel around the world. Preferably mooching off of friends in Israel for a while, then maybe jetting over to Macedonia to hobnob with my cousin the ambassador. Then reality and the exhaustion of professionally job hunting set in and I scaled back my plans.

A friend sent me links for cheap flights to Ireland and another talked up skiing in South America. But since I've already visited the British Isles and I'm utterly useless on snow-bound modes of transportation.

Then one day, I decided to search for flights in Central America whilst sipping a latte at my favorite local coffee shop. I spotted a great deal to Costa Rica and posted the sensational find to my status. Instantly, my friend Jannah who I've known since our Hebrew School days back in Arizona, voiced her interest. Then my friend Florence who represents Brooklyn alerted me to her status of the previous day where she espoused interest in a similar jungle-bound vacation.

Another friend joined the pack and thus a girls' tropical adventure was born. Hard to believe that just a few weeks later, I've got a packed bag, a boarding pass, some quality beach reads and a lot of sunscreen. Befitting of my slightly-less controlling between-employment self, I have relinquished much of the planning to my travel buddies and wherever the winds take me.

I cannot express the full extent of my excitement in a week that involves kayaking, fresh off the tree pineapples, exploring volcanoes, swimming in hot springs/pools/the Pacific Ocean and lord knows what else in lieu of managing spreadsheets and reciting my resume for total strangers.

Though I cannot guarantee a travelogue as detailed as my trip to Cancun two years ago, I would hate to break a streak of summer vacation blog posts (last year was Portland) so be sure to check in later next week for a full accounting of all the awkward tan lines, the communication challenges and the exquisite scenery. And for all you Facebook fans of Shtetl Fab, there will be pictures to boot! Hasta luego everyone!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Whatever Works

No, I haven't seen Woody Allen's new mixed-review flick. Though I do have two AMC Theater passes languishing in my desk drawer if anyone wants to make a date of it. In this case, I've been pondering if taking the "whatever works" attitude should apply to all areas of our lives.

The other day, I asked an especially spiritual friend of mine to send out some positive energy to help me find my dream job. I've been working hard to harness the power of the law of attraction, so I too have been envisioning myself in my new office, working with my new colleagues, buying new Mad Men-inspired outfits, etc. I even petitioned the cashier at Trader Joe's with the septum piercing to help me out by focusing on those good vibes and helping me claim my fantastic job.

Though I've expressed some skepticism over The Secret in the past - I simply cannot believe that those poor people on the Taconic Parkway last Sunday manifested themselves into a head-on collision with a woman so out of it she didn't know she was driving the wrong way on a one-way highway. However, in this challenging job market, you've got to pull out all the stops. Allah, Buddha, Vishnu I love you all.

Or do I? When I asked my friend to help me out by thinking positively, she offered to guide me in a shamanistic journey. Now, I like to think of myself as being open-minded, but it truly gave me pause to consider the idea of participating in this ritual. Could I participate in it? Was it against my religion? Did I care if it was?

Ultimately, I decided to decline the offer and I didn't even have to ask my rabbi about it. Just as I wouldn't be comfortable going to Mass and taking communion in order to obtain grace in God's eyes, I don't think it's OK for me to do so in a more "New Age" context either. It's interesting how we look at non-Judeo Christian religions with a more tolerant eye. Why is that?

If my friend finds meaning in her shamanistic practice, or someone else finds comfort in lighting a candle and saying a novena and other says tehillim (psalms) - I think that's fantastic and I sincerely thank them for seeking Divine intervention on my behalf. I hope I can someday return the favor and under happy conditions.

Rarely am I presented with situations that truly force me to examine my beliefs, especially on issues of idol worship or monotheism. Usually, I'm just worried if I can eat the potato skins or if they have bacon on them. Maybe the plus side to all this is that I got a nice distraction from the immediate concerns of my job search and instead got to dwell on deep dogmatic issues for a change. In the meantime, I'm going to go burn some sage... that's still OK, right?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Of Kidneys, Politics and Shame

Mired so deeply in what I hope are the final stages of my job hunt, it's admittedly been difficult to gather my thoughts together on various events of my life and the world around me. Diligent readers will note I completely failed to describe my trip to Montreal at the beginning of July. It's not that it was a lousy trip - actually we had a pretty great time butchering the French language, exploring the sights, working on our tans and loving Jazz Fest.

I've got a few other blog-orific ideas up my sleeve that I'm hoping to tackle before I take off for Costa Rica in early August. For now, I just wanted to offer a few reflections on the staggering FBI round-up that went down in New Jersey yesterday.

The story is pretty much lead news on every major media outlet so I'll let you take your pick of the Star Ledger, New York Times, CNN, etc. What I do want to highlight is this fantastic story from WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show about medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes who tipped the FBI off to the despicable illegal organ trafficking perpetrated by Levy Itzhak Rosenbaum of Brooklyn. Listen here and be both proud of the power of journalism and shamed by the power of human greed.

I also can't possibly ignore the utterly shameful connection of the Jewish community, and the Orthodox enclaves of Brooklyn and Deal, NJ, to this story. As if the Jews needed worse press and the rumor mills needed further fodder for their hate-filled ideas that Jews run the international banking system.

Since its so repugnant, I'm just going to resort to an old Yid tactic and make a joke...If it's true that the Jews run the banks and ostensibly,the world, then why is it that I'm still job hunting after 3 1/2 months!?

For an angle on the story from those inside the Orthodox world, I'll recommend Vos iz Neias. Normally, I wouldn't direct people to a source pretty beyond my own frame of reference or politics, but in this story which such clear villians, I think it's safe.

I'm off to a much-needed Shabbat island of relaxation in the Outer Boroughs, but I'm eager to see how these stories pan out and how far-reaching the corruption will go. With any luck, the one silver lining will be quality reporting, interviewing and research that goes to the heart of high-caliber investigative journalism... and maybe a few friends' jobs saved.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I'm a Hustler, Baby

I just want you to know.

No for real. I have become quite the hustler in the past 2 1/2 months (and don't worry Mom, it's all legal unless you count circumventing the IRS). Just this month, I've earned enough money from my side business, Amalgamated Missel Concierge Services, to pay for my upcoming flight to Costa Rica. It's also helping take some of the pressure off my bills.

Beyond being sufficiently scrappy to launch a personal services business using former donors as my largest client base, I've also put my gumption to work on various forms of public transit. Last week, I introduced myself to someone whose career in Jewish communal service spans more than 50 years while riding home from the City on the Midtown Direct line. He told me about the trip to a post-World War II orphans' home in France where he met Elie Wiesel and was inspired to work for the Jewish community. I discretely passed him my business card and dropped a few key names. Though his organization doesn't have any current jobs, their HR director now has my name and resume.

And as some of my closest friends heard, the creme-de-la-creme of self-aggrandizement came on Tuesday when I met a NJ-based reporter for the local NPR affiliate, WNYC, on the train. I overheard him leaving a voice mail for someone on the platform and watched him take a seat a few rows ahead of me. As the train pulled into Penn Station, I stood up and when he did the same, I put out my hand and told him what a fan I am.

We talked and walked over to the 1 Train and rode together, chatting all the way. I clearly mentioned my unemployed status, my journalism degree, previously-submitted application for a development job at WNYC and thrust my business card into his hand. I jumped off at 14th Street and figured I would go on their website when I got home to dig up his email address.

No need. When I stepped off the train at 11 p.m. back in Morristown, I heard, "Hey!" and saw my new best friend there on the platform. He told me he'd already sent me a few emails, one of which detailed WNYC's purchase of a local classical music station and the possibility of an expanded workforce. The next morning, I sent him my resume and cover letter.

For now, I'm just asking for all the positive energy in the universe to help me out here... and for a little more moxie.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Haveil Havalim Courtesy of How to Be An Israeli

My friend Maya at How to Be Israeli took on the Herculean task of this week's Haveil Havalim. Be sure to check it out here.

There's great links to all kinds of blogs and some fantastic pictures including this one from Israel the Beautiful.

Enjoy and have a great week!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Halfway There

Hard to believe but today marks the halfway point in my 30 By 30 quest. You can read the original post here, but I figured now was as good a time as any to take a step back and do a little pontificating on being 29 1/2.

There's the obvious fear currently compounded by my joblessness, but there's also a tremendous sense for reflection. This may be because of the excessive free time alone with my thoughts that has come along as a sometimes malevolent side kick of unemployment, but I think it also comes with reaching a milestone that our society has elevated as a great marker of adulthood.

More on all that when January 8, 2010 actually arrives. For now, I'd just like to scribble (or type) a few notes on my various accomplishments or procrastinations of the past 6 months.

1. Travel to a new place below the Mason Dixon Line (March 14, 2009)
I wrote quite a bit about my trip to New Orleans before and after the experience. Going to the Crescent City made a considerable impact on me in ways that I probably am still discovering and it also crystallized everything from my relationship with an old roommate to an entire semester of graduate studies. All this while nursing a broken heart!

Who knows when I'll have another chance to visit either New Orleans or anywhere else in the South? For now, I'm really glad it was where I kicked off an incredibly busy year of travel since the city's raucous nature and laid back attitude were clearly what I needed to get out of a funk and to tackle my own challenges.

11. Find a synagogue I enjoy for the high holidays
This one's black which means I haven't begun to work on it and if you read my post from Monday you'll have a better understanding as to why. For now it's easy to delay finding a spiritual home in a house of worship because I've already found the local options unsatisfactory and I have no idea where I'm headed geographically. The scary truth is Rosh Hashanah is only 2 1/2 months away and my ability to cross this off my list largely depends on some elements that are out of my control for a little while longer.

14. Make coffee tasty enough for others to drink/enjoy (Feb. 15, 2009)
People who know me are instantly acquainted with my boundless energy and I often remind them that I eschew caffiene for fear of how wired I'd be. I'm fine in the mornings without anything but an orange juice spritzer and food, but others complained of the absence of stronger fuel.

Finally, I bought non-instant coffee and dedicated myself to mastering the French press that had been sitting neglected on the countertops of at least three apartments. It took a few experiments with the water to tablespoons of coffee ratio, but I eventually figured it out. Now I joyfully push down on the filter and even imbibe a cup or two when no one else is home.

19. Earn $100 from Google AdSense ($25 as of late May)
I just checked on my balance today and I'm up to $29.01. It means I need to do some more clicking and so do you! Come on, I'm unemployed. Help a hustler out!

27. Get a new job - back on like Donkey Kong because I got laid off.
30. Master the art of doing nothing (I'm pretty sure this will be the hardest item on the list)
I put these two together from their original "Life" category because the immediacy of one has unmistakably proven just how hard the other will be to ever accomplish. Most people get laid off and take a few weeks to relax, travel or at least sleep in. Not me. I launched a side business within days of getting notice and to date have earned nearly $800.

While I do manage to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, it's often preceeded by me running around like crazy for 15-16 hours between errands, job applications, coffee dates, blogging, networking events, project for my Concierge Service business, working out, gardening, dancing, cooking, get the picture.

There are times I toy with the idea of simply putting #30 out of my mind and just embracing my frenetic nature for what it is. Then I stop long enough to realize how tired I am and recommit. Out of all my endeavors, it is ironically the art of doing nothing that eludes me most and where I need the most help.

Unemployment has helped me learn to prioritize and to allow myself to periodically say no, but it has also given me a host of new responsibilities for which I am accountable to no one but myself. It's freeing and frightening all at the same time. Here's hoping I'm able to overcome both the fear and to eliminate the cause by the time I do turn 30.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Letter to the Editor

I know I've been terribly remiss about posting lately, and I really do want to write a thorough recounting of my recent adventures in Montreal and new plans to hit Costa Rica next month with some girlfriends. However, I have three job interviews this week and a few clients for my side business, so this will simply have to do.

Here's a letter I wrote to the editor of the New Jersey Jewish News that was actually published in their July 2 edition. Would love to get everyone's feedback on both the original article and my commentary. Cheers!

As I read Johanna Ginsberg's article this week, "Synagogues Make Do in Hard Times," I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps there is a silver lining for our houses of worship in this economic miasma. Just flip through the Community section of the New Jersey Jewish News and you'll see synagogues offering concerts, drumming circles, support groups (including one for overeaters which just strikes me as ironic to take place in a shul) and lectures of all varieties.

While I'm sure the congregations arrange these programs in order to attract potential and current members, one has to ask how it fits into their core missions to create Jewish spaces for the community when so many people in said communities cannot afford to participate. With the suburbanization of the American Jewish population in the 1950s, synagogues morphed from small places to pray with a minyan into seemingly holistic paragons of Jewish life. All your needs - literally from cradle to grave - could me met at the synagogue.

That model certainly worked for some, but the presense of the Havurah movement in the 1960s and today's proliferation of small congregations like Kehillat Hadar on the Upper West Side, indicate that a certain authenticity and closeness may have been missing all along.

Maybe the lesson for synagogues from this economic crisis is to not be afraid of small. To welcome intimacy, closeness and friendliness. Don't be afraid to scale back programs to a bare-bones, but high-caliber and high-touch community of worship. As someone who has shul hopped and has yet to find a spiritual home after three years in this community, I would much rather have an option to join a basic congregation for $100 than to pay $1000 for all the bells and whistles I will likely never use.

Much of the Jewish communal world has been caught up in competition with secular institutions and has forgotten the added value they can potentially bring when they stop trying to be something they are not. As the congregations in the article and others in MetroWest and around the country struggle with declining dues and swirling debts, I hope some will be bold and take this as an opportunity to reimagine what the American synagogue can and should be. Who knows, you may even attract some new members?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hitting the Snooze on Type A

The blogosphere is all atwitter with news of celebrity death matches, literally. Apparently, Michael Jackson trumps Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon, but he's the only one with a royalty-inspired moniker so it makes sense.

Rather than feeding into all the hype of a story that was actually broken by (even NPR used it as a source), I'm offering up this little reflection on my continuing life after being laid off from my job. It might not be as scintillating as revelations on child molestation or anal cancer or the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes, but it's honest.

For the past 25 years, I've created and thrived on routines. In elementary school, I consistently finished my homework by 4:45 and forced myself into a regular bedtime. In college, I developed a steady route between the local bars based on the spots with the best specials. For the past several years, I've carved out Wednesday nights for dance class, Saturday mornings for calling my grandmother and Sunday evenings for cooking.

So you can imagine how shocking it's been that I have made the transition into the vagaries of unemployment with little difficulty. Lest you think my Type A personality completely absent, I do still set an alarm clock every night, only now rather than sticking at 7:05, the dreaded time drifts wildly depending on the previous night's activities or lack thereof.

Whereas I once found tremendous comfort in routine, I now am finding ways to embrace the art of scheduling randomness. My ridiculously outdated PDA has become my constant savior (thanks Dad) and I am quickly becoming an expert on lunch menus and free in-town parking spots. No longer chained to a desk all day, I'm free to hit the grocery store at off-peak hours and I rarely stress being out late on a "school night."

The uncertainty of unemployment does always loom over one's head with its threats of mounting debt, loss of benefits, isolation and feeling like a drain on society. At the same time, it gives you enormous chunks of time to consider wild possibilites like launching a nonprofit consulting firm, writing a book, starting a concierge service business or creating a website devoted to burning Jewish questions.

In the past six weeks, I've given more serious thought to all these endeavors than I probably have for my entire adult life. Being cut off from the demands of a daily job and the soul-crushing frustrations of the daily office grind, absolutely frees your mind into the peaks and valleys of creativity, with all its commensurate pros and cons.

As much as I'm looking forward to getting a regular paycheck again, I'm also extremely curious to see which of my hustler brainstorms will carry over into the next phase. Who knows, maybe Amalgamated Missel Concierge Services will net me thousands or Ask a Heeb (Ask a Jew was taken) will become the Dear Abby of the 21st Century?

And yes, look for the launch of Ask a Heeb in the coming weeks. You can submit questions here or on the Shtetl Fabulous Facebook page.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ask A Jew

Originally, I was going to write a post today about my experience going to Monsey, NY for the first time on Wednesday for a friend's wedding. I had jotted down a few notes about how I couldn't decide if the employees in the grocery store stared at me because I had on a blue dress (normally, women wear very muted colors in that ultra-Orthodox enclave), or because my legs were bare below the knee or because I was wearing open-toed shoes with red polish common among harlots.

I also thought about opining on the women who power walked at 10 p.m. wearing snoods, dress skirts and sneakers while chatting in Yiddish. Or the yeshiva bochur (15-year-old kid) who claimed he'd never heard of I-287 when I tried to ask him for directions. Note: I later found a cop.

All these observations and culture clashes are certainly the stuff pithy blog posts are made for, but then I sat down to my computer this afternoon to find an email from someone I knew in college.
"Question: My husband's cousin is having his bar mitzvah and we can't go. What is the going
rate for $ as a gift. Also, would they have Bar mitzvah cards at Target? Thanks for the info.
Hope you're doing well!"

Or this one I got a few months ago from a high school friend getting married next year.
"I am looking for a little insight regarding Judaism and marriage and rabbis.We are trying to
research options, but could you recommend a rabbi in Phoenix? I would be interested in
learning more about him or her."

These are just the latest examples in a life's vocation I have decided to dub, "Ask a Jew." For better or worse, I seem to have absorbed more Judaic knowledge than many of my peers during my time in various Jewish educational settings. Plus, I tend to shoot from the hip, so people generally figure they're getitng straight-forward and honest information from me.

I'm always flattered when I get these questions, because it makes me feel good that others are comfortable enough to ask me everything from the deeply spiritual to the obscurely ritualistic to the blithely ignorant. It appeals to my inner know-it-all which I've certainly blogged about in the past and my sister has now suggested I pen a Dear Esther column here on Shtetl Fab or in another venue. Perhaps.

Of course, being a hustler as well as a maven, I also wonder how I can make money off this knowledge. One friend suggested (along with a Yiddish-language question) that I could set up a PayPal account and charge by the question. Interesting, but how do you set prices for that sort of thing? Higher cost for harder questions?

If I were smarter all along, I would have started to compile them in one place and then made a book. A nice book promotion tour would be the perfect way to scratch my itchy wanderlust feet. Wherefore art thou Simon and Schuster?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jack Asks, "Why Be Jewish?"

My blog-buddy Jack wrote to a bunch of us in his network asking the simple question, "Why Be Jewish?" I, like many others, answered the call and he's compiled our thoughts into this great meta-post.

Whether you're struggling with this quandry or your brain is wrapped around something else entirely, it's pretty interesting.

Check it out here:

And have fun trying to guess which one is mine!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Courting Sonic

A local friend of mine recently got a pet hedgehog as a birthday gift. And since having excessive amounts of free time during the day to do things like play with friends' hedgehogs, I cruised over to her house yesterday to check it out.

The animals have been around since ancient times when apparently hedgehogs were considered a source of food in Egypt. Luckily, my friend keeps her hedgehog as a companion rather than a meal so I had a chance to play with him a bit sans fork and knife. (More hedgehog factoids here.)

First impression - he's smaller than I'd expected, fitting neatly in one hand, and his spikes really are sharp if they get you at the right angle. While he does have some personality, he's not quite as spunky as a cat or dog. Put it somewhere in the duller hamster category. I passed on feeding him an earthworm, though I learned hedgehogs can also be fed cat food. Duly noted.

While this particular hedgehog doesn't have any toys, I wondered how he would do in one of those balls we gave to our gerbil back home. Clearly his spikes and overall roundness precluded any of those neat tubes and cage accoutrement available to other small rodents, but he does seem to enjoy climbing in and out of cups and my friend's shirt. Of course, the fact that he rolls up into a little ball with a cute nose barely sticking out is kind of awesome.

After about 10 minutes, I have to admit that the hedgehog's novelty wore off me a bit. Even the fact that he's hypo-allergenic couldn't persuade me to fall in love. He doesn't play catch or do too many tricks like dog, and it's hard to just sit and pet him like you could with a cat or rabbit. Besides, my nurturing level is still at the plant stage and while my tomatoes don't do tricks, they're much easier to eat.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Everybody Dance Now

This past weekend, I got to celebrate at the wedding of a friend from grad school. We've stayed in touch these past three years and I've met both her fiance and her family on a few occasions. It was a beautiful ceremony and reception, complete with tasty food, lovely flowers and excellent people.

The wedding also included a band instead of the DJ that many people opt for in the interest of savings and variety. It was a great band and included a singer whose Rick Astley-like vocal stylings did justice to Barry White. But there's just something that a band - even those that include horns, drums and multiple singers - can't do. They can't take so many requests and obscure tunes just fall by the wayside.

Since I've been invited to a total of four weddings (and counting) this summer, I think my guest expertise is on the rise. Therefore, I'd like to offer my Top Five wedding tunes in a few select categories - mainly based on their danceability as I believe the goofiness of people dancing at a wedding is worth the cost of the dress, gift, valet parking and everything else combined.

Oldies but Goodies for the Parentals & Family Friends
1. Build Me Up Buttercup - The Foundations
2. Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
3. Joy to the World - 3 Dog Night (it's my mom's favorite song)
4. Everybody Needs Somebody to Love - Blues Brothers
5. Shout - Otis Day and the Nights (classic to end all classics)

Rap - New and Old School
1. Bust a Move - Young MC (if you were a teen in the 90s, this is a requirement)
2. Rump Shaker - Wrexx-n-Effex (hey, it's MY wedding!)
3. Hey Ya - OutKast (because most of my guest can't crump with me to Bombs over Baghdad)
4. California Love - 2Pac
5. Yeah - Usher

Dance Music for the Rhythmically Challenged
1. Shook Me All Night Long - AC/DC
2. Don't Stop Believing - Journey
3. Boom - Bloodhound Gang (dedicated to all my Mtn. View Toros!)
4. Tribal Connection - Gogol Bordello
5. Get Up Offa That Thing - James Brown (everyone can dance to him)

Slow Songs - It IS a wedding after all
1. Glycerine - Bush
2. Thank You - Led Zepplin
3. Mivtachat HaShamaim - David Broza
4. In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel
5. All I Want is You - U2

What's your Top Five? Submit your picks in any range of categories on the comments page.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Passes for a Vacation

In my new jobless reality, a road trip to DC and Baltimore for a professional development conference and wedding passes for a big vacation. True, the networking opportunities at the conference make it seem a touch like a business trip, but since there's no one to reimburse me (unless I can deduct it from my taxes), it's a vacation.

On the much brighter side, I get a six-day break from the isolation that comes with unemployment. The next several days promise to be jam-packed with coffee and lunch dates, with schmoozing and chatting, and hopefully with ample fun.

Unlike most vacations, I am bringing my laptop this time, so I may even get a chance to blog about my adventures. If not, I will do my best to publish a recap or witty commentary on current events for your reading pleasure.

Have a great week!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jon and Kate Plus Hate

Full disclosure: I've never watched the show, but I get the whole premise of an otherwise sane couple mired in a litter of children and the poignant hilarity that follows. It's a prime example of that delicious subgenre of television that makes us all happy to live our lives and not the ones of these pseudo-celebrities. And the latest tabloid escapade to emerge from J&KP8 is that one or both spouses have been unfaithful.

While it should come as little surprise that the overexposure and unearned celebrity a family-based reality show would wreak havoc on said family, I still pity these people for having to endure all this on TV.

I firmly believe that signing up your loved ones for trial by network ratings involves some kind of "you get what you deserve" scrutiny. Making your lack of uterine and fertility drug judgment fodder for pop culture commentary seems especially fit for our desperate need to achieve 15 minutes of fame. But to drag your children into it as well? That's just cruel.

When Jon, Kate and their counterparts on other shows signed up, they were consenting adults. They might not have fully comprehended what they were getting themselves into, but at least they made an informed choice. At the same time, they'd be literally NO WHERE without their oh-so adorable multitude of children who had absolutely no ability to make their own decisions.

Their parents decided for the sake of publicity to exploit the fact they took the birthing option that didn't include selective reduction. Perhaps the failure of their marriage is just an inevitable side effect?

Meanwhile, these children will be thrust into an even greater level of public examination and dissection. If one so much as shoplifts a pack of gum, we will all have to hear about it on Oprah, the Today Show, et. al., ad nauseum.

I don't know the sextuplets' (and I think there's a set of twins) names, but I sincerely hope they are all able to rise about their parents' equally numerous set of bad decisions. You may say I'm a hater or simply an uncaring broad. I say, think about the damn kids before you expose them to the harsh limelight simply by existing, or before you sign a bunch of book deals, oh and before you go and sleep with someone who isn't your spouse. That might be a good idea too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Digging in the Dirt

For a while now, I've lamented the one thing lacking in my apartment complex besides central air-conditioning and washer/dryers in each unit. Even though they're "garden" apartments, there aren't places for tenants to grow anything and my window sills are either exposed to ridiculous amounts of sunshine or completely shaded by shrubery.

Ergo, when I saw a flyer at the local yoga studio advertising plots in a community garden for $35 a pop, I literally jumped up and down with excitement. Not only was it affordable, but the garden was located just a mile or two away from my place - super convenient for walks.

I secured a half-size plot and even after being laid off decided to forge ahead, writing off the garden project as a healthy distraction and good for a few blog posts. I dutifully hit Home Depot for a bag of dirt, seeds and a few potted veggies and flowers. I wasn't even deterred by an incredibly shitty neighbor who inexplicably stole my dirt right off my doorstep.

Last Saturday, I made my way over to the garden with my best earth mother frame of mind. With the exception of the guy in the neighboring plot who rudely told me I didn't belong there because I didn't realize the bright pink beans with blue speckles in his garden were NOT jelly beans - everyone else was incredibly nice. The three women organizing the project were very friendly and someone else helped me plant my seeds and design my mulch path. Another woman clearly knew what she was doing and she graciously offered to share her bounty when the time comes. Still another happily admitted her own inexperience and we enjoyed a mutual laugh.

Since my future living situation is completely in question after my extended lease expires at the end of August, I have no idea what the longevity of this foray into gardening will be. I will admit the daily watering trips are a tad annoying. And I'm a little nervous the basil and mint seeds will never sprout.

But in the meantime, I've got two kinds of peppers, squash, marigolds and yellow tomatoes doing their thing and tomorrow I'm planting eggplant and more tomatoes - thanks to leftovers from my aunt and uncle.

Beyond the cheap organic food coming my way, I do have a rewarding distraction from my job hunt and at least one daily obligation/routine in the topsy-turvy world of the unemployed I've recently joined. And I have no doubt my friends will enjoy the panoply of zucchini dishes and pesto that will spew forth from my kitchen come harvest time. Send recipes now!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Life After Lay Off

Thursday was my last day at work. Though I'd never use a word as strong as "love" to describe my time there, it was my first job after grad school and the job that brought me to New Jersey. Lots of things happened in my life during these past three years, from the death of a grandparent to my brother's college graduation, my father's remarriage and the coming and going of umpteen friends/boyfriends.

Most relevant, I realized that perhaps this job, a position I'd been groomed for during two years of school, internships and informal training, was not a good fit for me and I was often frustrated and unhappy. Now, just two weeks and two days after that fateful day of reckoning, I've learned a few things about life after lay off.

1. I seem to inspire confidence in people. Various colleagues and friends have commented, "Oh, I don't worry about you. You'll be fine and will have a great new job in no time." While it's nice to know they find me capable and more importantly, employable, I do want their concern if for no other reason than the fact that I'm scared shitless.

2. Being unemployed is a little like being pregnant (I imagine). Everyone has an opinion on what you should do and horror stories about their own similar experiences. And no one has any problem telling you exactly what they think about your situation. From the delicately sympathetic, "How are you?" to the audaciously rude, "Ever find a job?" the unemployed have to field a startling number of questions.

3. Brains and ambition do not necessarily confer certainty in one's path in life. Yeah, there are a million jobs I could do, but ask me what I want to do and I'm really not sure. After I finish writing this post, the next item on my to do list is tackling a values clarification exercise that will hopefully help me out.

Somehow, my dream job still hasn't evolved beyond the New York Times Styles Section correspondent position I fantasized about in college journalism classes. When interested parties inquire about what I'd like to do next with my career, I don't truly have a good answer.

It's almost embarrassing for someone who's always prided herself on being unafraid on ambition to suddenly find herself without clear goals in sight. When I moved to Baltimore after college, I knew I'd go to grad school, get a fellowship with a three-year work commitment and continue on the path of professional achievement within the Jewish communal workworld. Seven years later, I am need of a Life-GPS that soothingly utters, "recalculating."

Who knows what this values clarification program will suggest and what the next few months of job hunting will bring my way. Though I am not so lost that I will blindly follow the suggestions of my blog readers, I'm happy to hear what you have to say... as long as it doesn't involve law school.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Washington DC Jewish Music Festival - 6/4-6/11

Generally, I only use this blog for shameless self-promotion, but since the intern at the Washington DC Jewish Music Fest asked so nicely and her boss is a fellow BHU alumna, I just couldn't say no. Besides, since most of my writing energies have been dedicated to resume revisions of late, it's nice to have an built-in post.

If you're in the DC area in early June, which coincidentally I will be, then be sure to check this out. There are concerts at a range of price points including free!

The 10th Anniversary Washington Jewish Music Festival brings an exciting mix of sound and energy to DC June 4-11. The Festival kicks off with a Pre-Fest Event with Israel’s Ivri Lider on June 2, followed by the official Opening Night on June 4 with the award-winning Andy Statman Trio.

The Festival closes with a bang with Grammy Award winner Miri Ben-Ari: The Hip Hop Violinist. Ben-Ari was listed as one of Jewish Women International's "Ten Women to Watch of 2007."

Other performers include: Pitom, The Sway Machinery, Feinsmith Quartet, Electro Morocco, ShirLaLa and The Kinsey Sicks. There's something for everyone during this festival of live performances, hands-on workshops and cross-cultural dialogues.

Tickets range from free to $35. For tickets: For information: 202-777-3251 or or

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Haveil Havalim Shout Out Redux

In case you're feeling deprived of bloggy goodness, here's a link to this week's Haveil Havalim. Thanks to Jack for hosting this week and happy birthday!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Possible Haitus

One of my main goals for this blog has been to keep it from devolving into a diary or simple retelling of the events in my life. Periodically, I make an exception to that rule, like when I have a colossally bad date or fantastically exciting news.

Last week, being laid off from my job of three years in the midst of one of the worst economic crises to hit the globe seemed like a damn good reason to break my own rules again. Now, five days later my quest to find a new job (which, you'll recall from my 30 By 30 list was something I'd put on hold until the economy improved) has completely consumed my life.

Swine flu has come and started to go, we finally got a good HHS Secretary, Bea Arthur and Dom deLuise died and I'm sure someone won some sort of reality show competition without meriting a mere blip on this blog.

Much as I hate the idea of taking an extended break that doesn't involve an airport and a vacation, I think I'm putting enough pressure on myself to network, make phone calls, set up informational interviews, revise my resume, scan the websites, write cover letters, send my resume, re-read my management textbook and periodically break for crying jags about my utter uselessness and failure to have either a man or a job at the age of 29.

Needless to say, I don't need the additional stress of churning out impossibly thoughtful and witty posts at this juncture. I'm not sure what the next few months will bring in any aspect of my life, but I do hope this blog will be a part of it. I may not write a 500 word piece every week, but please keep on checking just in case I come up with something brilliant. And if I go on a colossally bad date, you can definitely count on me to faithfully report it.