Sunday, February 11, 2018

Welcome Back, Hallway Kiddush

Dear Hallway Kiddush,

Back in January, our minyan was so sad when you abruptly stopped being part of our Shabbat minhag so we could instead go downstairs to the sanctuary at the end of our chapel service and greet Shaaray Tefila’s newest b’nai mitzvah and their families.

We missed the Manischewitz (yes, it’s true!), our schmoozing, and linking up to touch someone who was touching the challah before we recited haMotzi. Without these rituals that we all know and love, our Shabbat felt incomplete and…a little bit empty.

Thank goodness you’re back!

Now, we once again get to spend time with you each week and – if we want – also go downstairs to join the other part of the synagogue community. It helps to have a reserved row in the sanctuary, where we can sit until it’s time to ascend the bimah. And, it seems we’ve already started our own “downstairs minhag,” pointing out to each other young girls’ dresses whose hemlines are, as my grandmother would say, “up to her pupik,” and so tight around they can take only teeny-tiny steps. While we wait, it’s also interesting to see the families’ color choices for the yarmulkes. Having always enjoyed “assigning” names to particular hues, I dubbed yesterday’s yarmulkes “Shrek green,” with no malice intended. I call ’em like I see ’em -- and I love Shrek!

In any event, it’s nice to have you back and perhaps, with practice, we’ll get as comfortable with the downstairs part of our Shabbat as we are with the upstairs part.

Shavua tov…see you next week,
~ Jane.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Bible Has More Books Than I Read in 2017

Even though I’m a slow, careful reader of what might be considered “heavy” books, much to my disappointment, embarrassment, and chagrin, I read only four books in the year just ended:
  1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain: From the first page, the author was talking directly to me, and thanks to her wisdom, I try not to beat myself up for needing space and time to decompress, for despising video conference calls that force my brain to function in ways that it was not designed to work, and – now that I’m finally writing about the book – for not marking the many passages that resonated so powerfully with me.

  2. Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery: Somehow this book slipped through the cracks until I finally caught up with it in 2017. Pure escapism to a simpler time and a true joy to read, the book's brief review on my page on says: “Now I understand why fans want to visit Prince Edward Island. Count me in!”

  3. The Beautiful Possible, by Amy Gottlieb: Having learned from Amy Gottlieb, one of my instructors at “Beyond Walls,” the Kenyon Institute’s spiritual writing seminar, I was eager to read the personally inscribed copy of this book – and it did not disappoint. Her richly detailed characters came vividly to life and the intricate weavings of the tale have stayed with me in the months since I turned the last page.

  4. The Gene: An Intimate History, by Siddhartha Mukherjee: At more than 600 densely, but incredibly well-written pages, this book, more than the others, accounts for this list’s brevity. A detailed, attention-grabbing exploration of every possible facet of genetics, Mukherjee seamlessly blends his own family’s personal narrative with the history of the gene and genetics. At the heart of the volume, are the richly drawn profiles of the scientists and researchers whose hypotheses, persistence, and discoveries brought the field to life – and whose work continues to shape this critically important field today.
I’ve just signed up to participate in’s 2018 Reading Challenge and, given my dismal number for 2017, have set a modest goal of six books for the year. I’m nearly halfway through the first, The Weight of Ink, by Rachel Kadish, which I started over Thanksgiving weekend. Stay tuned for updates and happy reading to one and all.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Quo Vadis Will Tell Me Where I'm Going

A few years ago, I jumped on the Bullet Journal bandwagon, but the system never really worked for me. As much as I loved the idea, and the opportunity to purchase a brand new Leuchtturm notebook full of sleek fountain-pen friendly paper, I quickly learned that I work best with a paper calendar that shows a full week aa a time and in which I can mark meetings, one-time appointments, birthdays, holidays, and yahrzeits.

This year, back in October, I entered this giveaway and won a 2018 Quo Vadis Hebdo planner with a Rose Grenadine cover (in honor of breast cancer awareness month):
Thank you for entering the Quo Vadis Rose Grenadine planners giveaway:
Congratulations, you are one of the winners! Your new planner will be sent to you at the address you provided in your entry.
We’d love your feedback on your planner. Just a few sentences about what you like about the planner, and what you would change if you could, would be great. We would also love to know how you use your planner. Please email comments to Laurie (at) Exaclair (dot) com. We appreciate any feedback you can give us.
Thanks again for participating, and I hope you enjoy your new planner!
Have a great weekend,
Laurie Huff
Instagram @quovadisplanner
A brief exchange with Laurie Huff followed:
Hi, Laurie, made my day – not only because I was just starting to think about a new planner for 2018, but also because my family has been significantly affected by breast cancer. As a BRCA gene mutation carrier, I'm doing all I can not only to protect my own health, but also to raise awareness about these mutations and what they mean for families in which they are present.
Thanks again...have a great weekend!
~ Jane.
And, finally, this:
You are very welcome, Jane, and thank you for sharing how your family has been affected by breast cancer. I wish you good health and good luck.
I hope you enjoy your new planner and that you get to write lots of good things in it all year!
Laurie Huff
Instagram @quovadisplanner
Recently I started to fill my new Hebdo and discovered some terrific features I will appreciate throughout the year:
  • Fountain pen friendly paper, like all Quo Vadis planners
  • Monthly layouts for January to December 2018
  • A full week (starting with Monday) in each two-page spread
  • Plenty of room to record meetings, appointments, and the like, not only on weekdays, but also on Saturday and Sunday
  • Blank lines at the bottom of each page of the spread for miscellaneous information and what-nots
  • World maps, time zones, and 2017, 2018, and 2019 grid calendars
Thus far, there are only a few things that seem to be missing, but their addition would bump the Hebdo and its Rose Grenadine cover from really great to perfect:
  • An elastic closure to keep cards, notes, and miscellany from falling out 
  • A back pocket, which is where I currently keep postage stamps, a few special notes from friends, and the all-important school photo of my nephew. 
In the meantime, I’m hopeful that I can figure out a work-around for each one, and am looking forward to a year in which my Quo Vadis keeps me organized and, indeed, answers the question “Where are you going?”

Saturday, December 16, 2017

9 Things I Loved About Biennial 2017

I recently attended my eighth URJ Biennial and in many ways, it was a positive experience. Here are nine things I enjoyed while in Boston:
  1. Spending two long days answering questions – mostly about being a voting delegate – at the Solutions Center. The best collateral of this assignment was watching the crowds pass by, waving to people I know and getting up from behind the counter to hug others.
  2. Meeting Cooper Boyar, the young man representing J Street at the organization’s table in the exhibit hall. A winner among small Jewish world stories, his mother was my genetic counselor when she worked at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and I needed a genetic counselor; today, she is my friend.
  3. Breakfasting at a table for two in Dunkin’ Donuts, only to have George Markley, a longtime, long-ago URJ trustee, join me for some catching-up and a few laughs over coffee.
  4. Entering Thursday night’s plenary just in time to hear Rabbi David Stern, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, deliver his exquisitely crafted speech, “We Have Company.” If he didn’t get an A in homiletics in rabbinical school, he should have! 
  5. Chatting with Melissa Rosen, national outreach director for Sharsheret, at the group’s table in the exhibit hall about the possibility of doing some joint education programming with FORCE in the fall…and yes, a bit later winning an Amazon Echo Dot in a random drawing. Thanks, Sharsheret!
  6. Having a picture of me and a few folks from my home congregation, Temple Emanu-El in Edison, NJ, land on the Jumbotron during erev Shabbat services. Thanks, Debbi Sager, for taking the photo!
  7. Playing hooky on Shabbat morning for a first-time visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. It’s a gem! 
  8. Returning to the Hynes Convention Center in time to hear Rabbis Sally Priesand, Rebecca Einstein Schorr, and Leah Berkowitz talk about their varied experiences in the rabbinate, an outgrowth of the CCAR Press book, The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate.
  9. Enjoying several meals with friends and colleagues. The first was a delicious seafood dinner at Atlantic Seafood on Boylston Street with Deborah and Steve Rood Goldman. The second was a late Shabbat dinner at California Pizza Kitchen during which Elena Paull, Dan Lange, and I – all URJ colleagues – got to know each other better as individuals. (Shabbat dinner with my congregation, didn't pan out as I expected it would, but, thankfully, I get to see those folks more often than from one Biennial to the next!) Finally, on Saturday night, I had dinner with my mom’s longtime friends Debbie Stone and Sally Winter. For sure, The Mums was with us in spirit in every way.
I’m glad another Biennial is in the books, even as I am hopeful that the Biennial in Chicago in 2019 will bring me as many – if not more – wonderful encounters with friends and colleagues from all parts of my Jewish life.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Where in the World?...

Dear The Mums,

It recently occurred to me that if you’re looking for Daddy, he’s no longer at 12 Webster Road, but rather in a lovely two-bedroom apartment on Chesterwood Way in Somerset Run. (Alan Davidson refers to it and Canal Walk, where Mrs. Davidson, lives as Del Boca Vista, the fictional retirement community in Florida where Jerry Seinfeld’s parents live).

The move was hard for all of us – but we’re over that hurdle and doing OK. Daddy’s still a docent in Princeton, reads for the blind and dyslexic, and goes to temple on most Friday nights. He’s got a flat-screen television in his new apartment – thanks to LZ – and is finally using the Bose CD player you bought all those years ago. She and I are going out there next weekend to see how things are shaping up after a few weeks of unpacking and getting settled.

As for Amy, she still lives at Union Square, but travels the world teaching the Art of Perception. Using a pressurized wall, she converted her dining room into a small bedroom for Ian (a very NYC thing to do), but still has plenty of room in the living room for a table and chairs. Ian regularly travels back and forth between NYC and Long Island, where his dad lives and where he plays on a suburban baseball team. He’s a sophomore in high school, two heads taller than me, but as loving and sweet as ever (says his biased Aunt Jane). Sometimes when Amy’s traveling and due home late at night, he and I have dinner and hang out together.

I’m still living in Kips Bay, which was written up in the real estate section of today’s New York Times, and it still suits me well. Twice a week after work, you can find me in the gym, working out with a trainer – lifting free weights, running on the treadmill, rowing, using the weight machines, and even boxing. (I know you’re wondering who wrote that last sentence, but rest assured it’s me…and a more toned and fit me for sure!)

The exercise is a great antidote to work, where I often feel tethered to my desk -- curating and editing copy, selecting photos, and doing the back-end posting for Ten Minutes of Torah, the daily email that in your day, was managed and implemented by a team of rabbis and Jewish educators. Attending multiple video conference calls each week, writing and editing articles and posts for the URJ’s blogs, and dealing with miscellaneous “pop-up” assignments and tasks occupy what little time is left. Oh, and since this is a Biennial year – there are those random assignments, too, although “chicken, fish, and veggie” is not among them. In fact, I think the Shabbat dinner choices are now limited to chicken and veggie – no fish.

I’m still a regular at Shaaray Tefila’s Shabbat minyan and Torah study, and I also spend a good bit of time promoting awareness of BRCA mutations and advocating on behalf of the hereditary cancer community – mostly as a volunteer for FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered . I think you’d be proud of this work – and really like all the great people (lots of them are “cousins”) who are my peers in this endeavor. Tonight, I’m heading off to a worship committee meeting, so I know I got some of your good genes, too!

It seems your Torah study group in Olam haBa is growing. Keep an eye out for Mike Rankin and Bo O’Mansky. I know you were fond of both of them. Also, look for Shanike Chatman, the kitchen assistant from the URJ. She’s not joining your study group, but could use someone to watch out for her the way her grandmother and Roberta did in this world.

Miss you…xoxo,
~ Boo!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

These Memories are as Sweet as Butter

It’s true what the rabbi said this morning during the yizkor portion of the Simchat Torah/Sh’mini Atzeret service: We miss loved ones who are gone every day, but all the more on holidays and happy occasions.

His words reminded me of these pictures I took last Saturday.

It’s an elevator in a building on 91st Street in Manhattan, but it’s exactly the same as the one in my grandparents’ building in Sunnyside, Queens, in the 1970s and 80s (and probably long before then).

When I posted the photos on Facebook, I added this comment, tagging my sister and one of our cousins: Amy and Ted: Check out these photos from the elevator I rode in today. Do they take you back to your childhood??

And then this conversation ensued:
Ted: Nice!

Amy: I am afraid of that elevator even in a picture...

Ted: Who gets the New York toast? (A delicacy from childhood, it was toast spread with Breakstone’s unsalted whipped butter that was leftover from my grandparents’ breakfast. Aptly named – and quickly devoured – by their New Jersey grandchildren, nothing tasted quite like it!)
Me: Whoever gets there first! But beware the moldy leftovers in the margarine container in the Frigidare! (My grandmother called every refrigerator a Frigidare, even if it was a Westinghouse or a Kenmore.)
Memories truly are a blessing and these are as sweet as Breakstone’s unsalted whipped butter on New York toast.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

My Takeaway From This High Holiday Season

Many times, in recent weeks -- for a variety of reason -- I found myself thinking, “Ughhh, I’ve had it with the Jewish people,” and as the High Holidays drew closer, I found myself less and less inclined to attend the marathon of services I knew was around the corner.

Tonight, in an email, a friend asked, “I am curious if you eventually did sit out all the Holy Days. If so, how did that work for you? If not did you find worship satisfying?"

Here’s what I told him:
I sat out erev Rosh HaShanah and the first day. I did, however, attend the second day, the service at which I am honored each year with an opportunity to chant Torah. Usually my dad comes with me to that service, but with his imminent move (the packers are coming tomorrow, the movers on Tuesday) that wasn't feasible this year. However, he was able to watch the live stream, which he enjoyed quite a bit.

I did not attend any Yom Kippur services, but I did watch a bit of the live stream from Shaaray Tefila, including yesterday's sermon, as well as some of the Facebook live stream from my parents' congregation in New Jersey. I was OK not attending services and felt as though I was taking care of me, which is something I don't do very well or very often. Also, as a regular minyan-goer, I know that prayer is not easy and that it takes hard work. With everything else going on at the moment, I did not have the bandwidth necessary to make my worship truly meaningful.

I am looking forward to festival morning services on Sukkot and Simchat Torah, when it will be safe to go back into the sanctuary. I love Hallel -- and the switch to mashiv haruach umorid hagashem. After that, things will go back to "normal" in our weekly minyan -- and we'll start all over again with B'reishit in Torah study.

But first, our family will close the door for the last time at 12 Webster Road on Tuesday, after which I think I'll have a huge sense of relief that the stress, anxiety, and anticipation surrounding the move will finally be a thing of the past for all of us. I hope that we'll all enjoy wonderful new beginnings and many celebrations in 5778.
In his response, my friend shared a perspective I had not previously considered: “What a great reflection on skipping what many Jews do, and what joyful anticipation of doing what many Jews don't!” Regarding my dad’s move from our childhood home, he wrote, “In memory, 12 Webster Road will always be yours. It continues to shape the you who you are!”

Thanks to our email exchange (and the insights of my friend), I’ve arrived at my takeaway for this High Holiday season: I truly love Jewish living and learning 51 weeks of the year -- and I should revel in the joy they bring me, and not feel guilty about the rest.