Monday, December 28, 2009

The Screen is Alive...

Last night shortly after 8 p.m., Diane from Livingston updated her Facebook status with this: "The Sound of Music. Best movie ever!" I agree and grabbing my laptop, I went out to the living room to flip it on.

Settled on the couch with my computer, I updated my own Facebook status: Jane "is waiting for her favorite part of the Sound of Music -- when the nuns take the starter out of the Nazis' car. What's your favorite part?"

While I waited, the Von Trapp children, wearing play clothes that were curtains in a previous life, do-re-mi-ed around Salzburg while their father softened up enough to serenade everyone with Edelweiss, and after a few starts and stops, finally dispensed with the Baroness and ignited the sparks that had been smoldering between him and the erstwhile nun since the opening credits.

All the while, my friends were describing their favorite scenes in Facebook comments:
Like me, Peggy's son favors the nuns masquerading as mechanics.

Laurie and Leslie are partial to the Captain singing Edelweiss.

Jacquie can't decide on just one scene from her very favorite movie of all time.

Jane from Omaha loves the wedding scene.

Jane from Atlanta loves the whole thing...and has since she was seven and, sitting on pillows in the front row, saw Mary Martin play Maria on Broadway.

Sara's favorite part is Sixteen Going on Seventeen.

Rachel favors the kids singing So Long, Farewell at the party -- and when her mother sings along, too!

Kristin also likes the nuns and singing along.
Those last two reminded me of my "Sound of Music Sing-a-Long" adventure at the Hollywood Bowl during 2002. The outdoor amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills seats nearly 18,000 and on the summer night I was there, every seat was taken. Some filling those seats were sporting lederhosen while others had donned white dresses with blue satin sashes. Still others were schlepping brown paper packages tied up with string and, despite the pleasant Los Angeles weather, a few were wearing warm woolen mittens.

A juried costume parade preceded the subtitled screening (the better to truly sing along) and was won by two young kids dressed as "a needle pulling thread" and a guy dressed as a plumber--complete with a plunger--who told all 18,000 of us that he was "Christopher the Plumber" and that he'd been called in "because of a clog at the Hollywood Bowl." Big groan....

And then, before I knew it (both last night and at the Bowl), the Anschluss was on, the Von Trapps were singing in the music festival and then...they were gone.

Finally, my favorite scene: As the family high tails it out of the abbey to the Swiss border, the Nazis race to follow, but alas their cars won't start.

Divine intervention?

No, not quite. Just a pair of irreverent nuns with a little mechanical know-how doing their part to fight Nazism in 1938.

Way to go, sisters!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Israel

My parents’ first and only visit to Israel—as participants in an American Jewish Committee mission for academicians—was during the Christmas season in 1987, right at the beginning of the first intifada. It was the first time they left my sister, a college senior home on winter break, and me, a live-at-home young professional, “home alone.” All was well except for the State Department’s travel advisories and warnings about which we read every day in the New York Times.

When they finally called to wish us a happy new year, we were—in classic parent-child role reversal—nearly frantic with worry. They laughed, I recall. Giddy with delight in their whereabouts, my mother exclaimed, “We’re perfectly fine…we’ve nowhere near the violence and we've never felt safer. And, with all the menorahs in the windows, I forgot all about Christmas!”

I was reminded of this exchange this morning when, as I do each day, I perused Facebook to see what my friends are up to. This week, many of them are in Israel and here’s what they’ve got to say:
A young colleague from the Union: just arrived in Jerusalem and completely exhausted. Kotel for shabbat! Completely forgot it was Christmas . . .

A rabbi from the Midwest: We are going to Tel Aviv beach to meet Talia and Moti and Lihi. It will be Lihi's first visit to the beach.

A colleague visiting his newly engaged son: is looking forward to our big simcha today. The engagement party is in a few hours and we're really excited. Thanks to all for your kind words and congratulations. Shabbat shalom to everyone!

A rabbi from Westchester: Thursday was: Pioneers' Cemetery on the Galilee; Synagogue mosaic floor at Beit Alpha; lunch at Beit Shean; arrival into Jerusalem.

A first-year HUC student: had an AMAZING Christmas eve - midnight mass at the Church of Dormition right outside of the Old City, and a trip to Bethlehem with Amanda with an incredible taxi driver who was born and raised in Bethlehem - truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Merry Christmas!!

Another first-year HUC rabbinic student: Spending erev Christmas in Bethlehem. Merry X-Mas from Israel!

And finally this from a nearly finished rabbinic student: Thought I would avoid the American Christmas day shutdown by being in Israel. Forgot to factor in Shabbat in Jerusalem. Nothing open!
There've been no Facebook updates from Debbie Bravo and the Temple Emanu-El confirmation class, but no doubt they’re having such a fabulous time that they're just too busy to share their adventures in real time. No worries...I look forward to hearing about their trip once they’re back.

In the meantime, to all of you lucky enough to be in Israel at this season: eat a falafel for me.

Safe travels, my friends.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Simple Pleasures

This past weekend I had a chance to experience so many simple pleasures: good friends, good food, a crisp, snow-filled afternoon, this wonderful city and hope about what the future might hold.

Thank goodness for simple pleasures!

Monday, December 14, 2009

I'm No Julia Child...Part II

Back in August, I tried to convince you that I’m no Julia Child. And in fact, I’m not. Although my grandmother was a terrific cook and baker (as is my sister), I got kitchen genes from my mother who certainly can prepare a nice meal, but readily admits that when it comes to baking, if a recipe says “sift the flour,” she promptly turns the page.

A few months after the brownie baking adventure detailed here, a copy of Tina Wasserman’s new cookbook crossed my desk. It’s a beautiful volume and I was delighted to flip through the pages and admire the photos (and the people who I imagine actually pull off the recipes). When I do cook or bake from a recipe (which isn’t often), it’s usually from this cookbook or this one. If I’m really feeling ambitious, I might try an easy one from this volume, but even those push the outside of my envelope.

Needless to say, therefore, I was a little surprised at myself when, without really thinking about it, I responded affirmatively to the invitation to “share your cooking talents with your colleagues” at the Union’s upcoming Chanukah Party/Holiday Cook-Off being held tomorrow afternoon.

And so it was that earlier this evening, I came home and carefully – oh so carefully – followed the directions for slicing, dicing, chopping and seasoning to make this recipe for tomorrow's festivities.

And, lo and behold, just a few minutes ago, I took this pan out of the oven:

I must admit, if I do say so myself, that these zucchini squares do look (and smell) quite delicious. Let’s hope they’re a hit at the party.

Happy Chanukah, all!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Patience and Fortitude

Neither patience nor fortitude has ever been my forte – and even less so during the last few months. That’s why I was especially struck this morning by the tranquility of the aptly named lions that grace the entrance to the New York City Public Library at 42nd and Fifth. (That's Patience up there on the left and Fortitude down below on the right.)

This Shabbat, may some of their serenity and repose descend upon those of us who need it most.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Facebook Does It Again

You know how in the beginning of The Wizard of Oz the picture goes from black and white to color? I sort of had that experience today as my I-met-her-once Facebook friend Phyllis went from a teeny-tiny, two-dimensional photo to a three-dimensional, live-and-in-person person in New York City.

Here’s how the events unfolded:

You may recall that last month at Biennial, I met Phyllis, who I’d previously known only on Facebook. (You can read about that encounter here.) In our blink-of-an-eye conversation in Toronto, she said she’d be in New York in December and we quickly exchanged phone numbers in the hope that during that trip, there might be time for coffee.

This past Sunday night, Phyllis posted this on Facebook: Phyllis is getting very excited for her trip to NYC this week! I commented with this: Where will you be? What are you doing? Time for coffee?

Last night, she updated with this: Phyllis can't quite believe that she booked a SIX AM FLIGHT for tomorrow morning. It's off to bed I go...

And early this morning this: Phyllis is headed to NYC!!!!! See ya in the Eastern Time Zone:)

As I was settling into my desk at work, she had already flown in from Chicago, was poking around in the Village and posted this: Phyllis is feeling like the Country Mouse. Facebook friends quickly advised her to wear black, to keep her camera out of sight and to purchase a scarf—to be tied in just the right way—from a street vendor.

Hoping to offer some explanation for the clothing penchants of New Yorkers, I chimed in with this: New Yorkers wear black because our closets are so small that we don't have room for a hundred different color schemes. Everything has to match...and so we accessorize with scarves we buy on the street! (Today, in fact, I happen to be wearing one that I bought at 42nd and Third for $5) :)

A bit later, having visited Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake, the Country Mouse from Chicago posted this: Phyllis is putting her faith in Google maps.

Shortly thereafter, my cell phone rang and it was the Country Mouse herself, asking if I could meet her downtown for coffee. Unfortunately, I was at work in midtown and due in a meeting in a few minutes. She promised to call again in the afternoon—when she and Leslie, a mutual friend, would be a bit closer—and I promised to duck out for a while to meet them.

I then went back to writing tribute letters, researching my next article for Reform Judaism magazine and, as one colleague is fond of saying, “serving in HaShem’s Army.” Phyllis and I spoke again in the middle of the afternoon and the three of us arranged to meet for dinner on the west side, near the theater where she and Leslie had tickets for a show.

Just before I left the office for Times Square, I posted this: Jane is excited about dinner tonight -- a totally unexpected and pleasant surprise! And pleasant it was! Without missing a beat (and over yummy Italian fare), Leslie, Phyllis and I picked up our chat in person right where we’d left it off in cyberspace. In fact, had the two of them not had to race off to make a 7 p.m. curtain, I suspect we might still be schmoozing over cappuccino--smiling, chatting, laughing and marveling at the amazing power of Facebook to bring us all together.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Search: "Jewish"

I was interested to catch this article in today's edition of the Cleveland Jewish News. Ironically, it came to me by way of a daily Google Alert for “Reform Judaism” that I set up several months ago.

Equally ironic, at about the same time I set up that Google Alert, I also set up one for “Anti-Semitism” and, in light of my studies this semester—a course entitled “Anti-Semitism and Public Policy”—(and despite what the article says), I am grateful for the links to relevant news stories and blogs that land in my in box each day. Many are put to good use in class each week where a discussion of “What’s happening in the world?” begins each session.

As far as turning to the Web to find my beshert, I guess I’m still optimistic (and not quite sure why) about this seemingly outmoded venue. Sometimes, as a break from my studies and against my better judgment, I’ll visit the “men seeking women” section of Craigslist and search for “Jewish.” Invariably, my search returns the usual list of unsavory suspects—married men, those seeking friends with benefits, and a host of wack-jobs looking for things not suitable to mention on a “family blog.”

From time to time, I’ll even post my own ad in the “women seeking men” section of the site. In fact, on Wednesday night, I posted this ad (including the cute little turkey):
Don't be a turkey...answer this ad - 46 (New York City)

Real, down-to-earth and youthful 40-something Jewish woman with much to be thankful for seeks a mensch in the hope that compatibility and friendship might lead to something more.

Please be Jewish, kind, gentle, real, age-appropriate and not already married. If you fit these criteria, don't be a turkey...answer this ad. Happy Thanksgiving.
So, what’d my net pull in this time? Among others, I caught these turkeys:

Guy #1 sent his phone number with this note: “Hi! I am not a turkey nor Jewish but I would love to meet you...” Ummm, I don’t think so.

Guy #2 responded with this: “Gobble, gobble” and a picture of himself playing the guitar. We’ve exchanged a few emails previously, but my photo appears to be the deal breaker. Oh well…

Guy #3 isn’t really in the market for his beshert, but is testing a brand new “100% free Jewish dating site” he recently developed. His email asks that I register, but my experience tells me that these JDate wannabes aren’t worth much. Kudos to him for trying, but I’ll pass…

And finally this: You may remember Guy #4 from a previous post on this blog. In that post, he was Guy #8, but regardless of his place on my list, he’s still 50 years old (although he’s been answering my posts for a year and a half), he still claims to have brown hair, and he’s a pro at cutting and pasting—the exact same response every single time.

Hmmmm…is it any wonder that fewer Jews are turning to the web to find their beshert? Perhaps it's time for me to join the others in stepping away from the computer...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Guests with Issues...Biennial Style

“I have had enough with people who want to have it their way, and I am done catering to the quirks of food-obsessed numskulls,” says Susan Goldberg in a City Room piece in today’s New York Times.

Man, oh Manischewitz, can I ever relate to that statement. Two weeks ago, I hosted an intimate Shabbat dinner for 2800+ guests in Toronto. (OK, I didn’t exactly “host” the meal, but like Susan, it was my job to deal with those she aptly calls “food-obsessed numskulls,” and in a crowd that size, believe me, there are plenty.)

According to the medical journal American Family Physician, as many as 80 percent of Ashkenazi Jews are lactose intolerant. Luckily, my Shabbat dinner was kosher style and chicken was among the entrée choices (fish and vegetarian were the others) so no dairy was served, which neatly dispensed with that issue. However that still left me (and the chef) to deal with the diabetics, the low-fat, low-carb, high protein, low sodium dieters and those who have allergies or aversions to nuts, gluten, garlic, onions, peppers, strawberries, cinnamon, melons, pineapple, sage, black beans, cheese, mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, eggplant, avocado, rice and seafood. Did I forget anyone?

Like Susan’s guests, many of mine “presented me with a detailed list of their food requirements.” Among them were these:

Attendee #1 asked for plain grilled or roasted breast of chicken, plain sautéed vegetables and no stuffing or sauce. Fine, but beyond that, please leave the specific preparation to the chef. If, as you suggest, the chicken can be marinated in olive oil, lemon and red wine vinegar and seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs, it's not, strictly speaking, "plain."

Attendee #2 requested “No wheat, yeast, corn, rice, nightshades or vinegar.” Good thing Attendee #2 didn’t end up with Attendee #1’s vinegar marinated chicken breast, which was a real possibility when you consider that my Shabbat guests ate in 16 different dining rooms. And, in case you’re wondering (I know I was), according to The World's Healthiest Foods, “potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, cayenne, and Tabasco sauce are classified as nightshade foods…A particular group of substances in these foods, called alkaloids, can impact nerve-muscle function and digestive function in animals and humans, and may also be able to compromise joint function.” Who knew?!?...

Attendee #3 indicated that he doesn’t eat red meat. Good thing he selected chicken from among the choices. Did I mention that they were chicken, fish or vegetarian?

Attendee #4 also doesn’t eat red meat. She selected fish for Shabbat dinner. Wait, don’t tell me…the choices were chicken, fish or vegetarian, right?

Attendee #5 is a vegetarian. Fortunately, she selected the vegetarian option.

One more: Attendee #6 chose chicken for Shabbat dinner provided that it was seasoned only with salt and pepper and that the sauce contained neither mushrooms nor cheese. Hmmm…did I mention that my dinner was kosher style and thus no dairy would be served?

Thankfully, in his sermon the next morning, my boss eloquently reminded me of the spiritual side of Jewish eating with these words:
First, we know – as all Jews know – that meals are profoundly important in creating and sustaining purposeful community. When we eat alone, we are sorely tempted to focus on ourselves; we distance ourselves from the world, from the needs of others, and—most often—from the presence of God. And eating in loneliness, we drift away from the Jewish people.

But when we join together for a se’udah – a Jewish communal meal – we open our minds and our hearts to the concerns of others, and we draw God in, as a partner, to our sacred community.

For most of us, the Seder, the Yom Kippur break fast, and the Shabbat meal – each an experience of togetherness and solidarity – are among our most significant Jewish memories. For 3,000 years, the message of the Jewish tradition has been: invite others to join you in your festive meals and celebrations.
Unfortunately I wasn’t actually in the hall to hear him speak these words. I was preparing to serve Shabbat lunch to 2100+ guests.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Doctor Failed Me

I was interested to see the Cases column in yesterday’s New York Times, and especially glad to read the last line: “The answers are with the patients, and we must remember the unquantifiable value of asking the right questions.”

In fact, that article, coupled with my own recent up-close-and-personal experience in the medical world prompted me to write (although I probably will not send) this letter to my (soon to be former) internist:
Dear Dr. I-Used-to-Think-You-Were-a-Really-Good-Doc,

I’m writing to ask that you please forward my medical records to my new internist as I am leaving your practice effective immediately. Although we’ve been through a lot together in the last five or six years--ongoing control of essential hypertension, diagnosis and treatment of a lingering viral infection, antibody titres necessary for grad school enrollment, a Z-Pak or two for upper respiratory infections, and, just about two years ago, a four-day hospital stay via the emergency room that resulted in gallbladder surgery—it’s time for me to move on.

Why, you ask? Well, let me tell you.

Until now, we’ve had what I would consider to be a positive doctor-patient relationship and you’ve been, from my perspective, accessible, competent, compassionate and caring, qualities that are harder and harder to find in an internist. Back in January, however, during a routine visit in which you checked my cholesterol and blood pressure, I told you—with great difficulty—that I was increasingly stressed out and having trouble dealing with it.

Your response? Try to get more exercise and see if that helps. Anxious to feel better, I did start an early morning treadmill routine and found that, indeed, I was better able to handle the challenges of balancing work and school throughout the spring…until plantar fasciitis forced me off the exercise equipment for a few weeks during the summer.

By last month, with Biennial just days away and amidst mounting pressure from both work and school, I again told you during a routine visit that I was not handling stress well and that more and more I felt it was negatively affecting my ability to function effectively. Your response this time? An electrocardiogram (which was totally normal) and the suggestion that I “just need to get through this.” That day, I left your office more stressed than ever and, although I was unable even to envision life after Biennial, hoping that things somehow would be better once I returned from Toronto.

Unfortunately they were not, which only furthered my resolve to find an answer. Earlier this week, therefore, I saw my ob/gyn, a doctor I had previously seen only for routine care and with whom I do not have the longstanding relationship I have with you. And yet, to my great relief, she listened, asked good questions, answered mine, ordered a lot of blood work and (pending the results) offered a seemingly plausible diagnosis. In this particular instance, she also prescribed medication that, once it kicks in, will, she assured me, help me feel better.

Now that I’ve had a chance to read up on the diagnosis she provided, I’m compiling a new laundry list of questions for when I see her again in a few weeks. At the top of that list will be this one, very important question: Can you recommend a new internist?

I regret that our relationship has ended this way, but the bottom line is this: when I needed and asked for your help, you disregarded my concern, you blew me off, you just weren't there for me. I only hope that you’ll be there for the rest of your patients.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Biennial Redux: Make New Friends But Keep the Old

Rather than bore you with details about food and beverage fiascos at the Union’s recent Biennial convention in Toronto, let me tell you about the other side -- the hugs, the smiles, the reconnects and the new friends who previously existed only on Facebook and in cyberspace.

A few in particular come to mind:

Early on, I met Rachel Turry Roth, managing director of the American Conference of Cantors in Chicago. We’d had numerous email and Facebook exchanges in recent months, but hadn’t ever met face-to-face. That happened on Sunday (or was it Monday?) night in the lobby of the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Lucky for both of us, we were able to steal away for a late-night cup of tea on Tuesday (or was it Wednesday?) in the hotel’s Gold Level lounge. How nice to have a new friend!

In the wee hours of Thursday morning, I posted this status update on Facebook: Saw lots of Facebook friends in person today. Especially looking forward to meeting Phyllis Sommer tomorrow! To that, Phyllis (aka Ima on (and off) the Bima) responded: Can't wait to meet you too! Hanging out at O’Hare waiting for my flight...

A few hours later, there she was – standing right next to me there in the staff office. And, although we chatted only briefly before she rushed off to present at a workshop and I returned to counting meals, Phyllis and I exchanged cell phone numbers and – if we’re lucky – will have more of a chance to get acquainted the next time she makes it to New York or, by some travel fluke, I make it to Chicago.

Marge Eiseman commented on that post as well: Find me tomorrow -- ok? I'm working at Reeva’s 'Ritings with Ruach in the exhibit hall...all afternoon/evening. Although we didn’t connect in the exhibit hall, we did catch a hug when we spotted each other just outside the plenary hall the next day…or was it Saturday? No matter…if I do ever make it to Chicago, a side trip to Milwaukee for a real visit with Marge will definitely be on my itinerary.

Like Phyllis, Andy Busch popped into the staff office, providing me yet another opportunity to meet someone who previously existed only as a signature block in our email exchanges. Andy and I share roots in central New Jersey, so it was an especially nice connection to make. Lastly, I chatted briefly on an up escalator with Billy Dreskin, with whom I’d previously emailed, but never met. In addition to talking about the use of technology in synagogues, which was the context of our initial emails, he told me that he reads my blog.

“The Union’s blog?” I asked.

“No,” he said, “your JanetheWriter blog.”

Hmmm…Who’d a thunk?!

One more note about Biennial connections: On Sunday, I received this Facebook message from Alan Mason (Alan and I “met” a while back when I wrote about his cantorial concert for the Union’s blog):

Dear Jane,

I was looking forward to meeting you at the Biennial, but a serious injury prevented me from traveling and playing the piano for the Shabbat service. I loved reading the posts and updates, and seeing the photos, but it made me even sadder to not be there. I am in a cast from my elbow to my fingers, with a broken wrist and lower arm, but I am doing amazingly well, will have a full recovery, and will be playing the piano very, very soon.

I always enjoy your posts, updates, and news from the Union.


I responded and we went on to have a brief exchange of messages over the last several days. At Alan’s request, I will, once again, plan to write a piece for his 2010 cantorial concert, which is scheduled for January 23, 2010 in Miami. Stay tuned for details.

Of course, not all my Biennial connections were new ones. I was lucky to cross paths with Peter Schaktman, Michelle Pearlman, Antoinette and Stuart Matlins from Jewish Lights Publishing, Sally Neff, Ilene Bogosian, the LAs from the RAC and countless others on my endless treks through the Metro Toronto Convention Centre during the course of the week.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t that what Biennial’s all about?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Time Well Spent

Like many people, my inbox gets cluttered with plenty of bad jokes, most of which I delete soon after they arrive. This one, though, a list of practice exercises women can do to prepare for a mammogram, always brings me a chuckle:

Exercise #1: Freeze two metal bookends overnight. Strip to the waist. Invite a stranger into the room. Press the bookends against one of your breasts. Smash the bookends together as hard as you can. Repeat with the other breast. Set an appointment with the stranger to meet next year and do it again.

Exercise #2 Open your refrigerator door and insert one breast between the door and the main box. Have one of your strongest friends slam the door shut as hard as possible and lean on the door for good measure. Hold that position for five seconds. Do this again in case the last time wasn't effective enough. Then repeat with the other breast.

Exercise #3 Visit your garage at 3 a.m. when the temperature of the concrete floor is just perfect. Take off all your warm clothes and lay comfortably on the floor with one breast wedged under the rear tire of the car. Ask a friend to slowly back the car up until the breast is sufficiently flattened and chilled. Turn over and repeat for the other breast.

This morning, I went for the real thing and, as usual, it was no big deal. My appointment at the radiology center was for 7:30 a.m. and by 8 a.m., I was finished and headed to the office. Sure, it’s uncomfortable for a few seconds, while you get squished between those cold metal plates, but when you consider the life-saving potential of those plates and the images they capture, it’s really time well spent.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Jeffs: Lucky or Schmucky?

In response to my Rosh Hashana personal ad, which you can read here, I received a number of responses including from Guy #1, who initially wrote to me on September 21. For a few days we had a nice back-and-forth on email, including an exchange of photos. Then nothing until this email on October 1:

Hi Jane.

I hope you enjoyed the holidays. Sorry for the delay in my reply. I ran into someone from my past during the week and we are going to see what might develop, again. I expect being a NYer that you will understand. Thank you.

Best wishes,
Based on my experience, such a note is fairly par for the course in the online dating world and I probably wouldn’t have given it much thought (although I did wonder what being a New Yorker had to do with my level of understanding) except that it was déjà vu all over again.

Back in June, in response to a different personal ad, I had an equally nice exchange with Guy #2. It started on June 25, included a photo swap and then, like with Guy #1, ended thusly on July 1:

Hi Jane,

I thought I had mentioned I was in real estate. Seven days a week is not uncommon! I ran into a girl I was seeing a few months ago and we decided to give it another try.... So at this point in time, I am off the market! There is only enough of me to go around for one at a time.

Take care.

So, do you think these two Jeffs really got lucky and reconnected with old flames or were they just trying to be polite in their own shmucky sort of way?

You decide.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Day in DC: A Double Duty Blog Post

It’s four weeks into the semester and five weeks until I leave for Biennial and guess what? That’s right – I barely have time to breathe, let alone write cutesy posts for my blog.

For the time being, therefore, my most recent post on will have to do double duty here. Of course, the topic is an important one so sharing my slice-of-life day in DC in more than one place shouldn’t be a problem, should it?

As always, thanks for reading. I’ll get back to writing here again as soon as I can.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shana Tova: A Craigslist Sampler

For all the obvious reasons, I really should give up posting personal ads on Craigslist. However, like Rev. Christine Shiber, a newly divorced 50-something profiled in a story in last week’s New York Times, I’ve found it’s the venue that brings the most responses. As she says, “While it’s glorious to have the freedom to divorce and create a better life, we’re not in college anymore with an unlimited supply of men our age.” Also like Rev. Shiber, experience has made me somewhat adept at discerning the good from the bad in this crazy cyber-marketplace, and so it is that on Friday, I posted this ad:

Shana tova - 46 (New York City)

Will you be eating chicken soup and brisket at a holiday table tonight, grateful to have friends and family close by with whom to celebrate?

Perhaps tomorrow morning you’ll park your tush in a pew at a synagogue in the tri-state area? After services you’ll be glad to loosen your tie and get home, optimistic that good things are in store for you in 5770. Am I right?

If one of the good things you’re hoping for is to meet someone special, I’d like to hear from you. I’m 46, youthful, Jewish, attractive (although ultimately you have to decide that for yourself), and have lots to offer the right guy. You should be age appropriate, Jewish, not already married, and, most important, real.

Shana tova.

Here’s a sampling of the more than 20 replies caught in my net:

Guy #1, bless his heart, wrote: “For various reasons (including age), I don't think you'd be interested in me, but I just wanted to wish you a shana tova, and I hope this year brings you happiness in every area of your life!”

Guy #2 has answered previous ads of mine with a photo and a brief note worthy of a reply. When I've reciprocated with a note and my photo (yes, the same one that’s up at the top of this page over there on the right), he hasn't written back. Apparently the photo is a deal breaker for him. Oh well…

Guy #3 is really Guy #3 and Gal #1. They claim to be Jewish and “seeking to develop an ongoing friendship with an exceptional woman!” Oy…par for the course on Craigslist, though, and the raison d'être for the delete key!

Guy #4 is named Tony Porcelli. (No, not really… I changed it to protect his innocence, but, trust me, the real one is equally Italian.) And, although I know that it’s dangerous to make assumptions based solely on names and the appearance of things – marit ayin, I think, is the expression in Hebrew – when I Googled his actual name, he came up as the owner of a general contracting company on Long Island. Jewish? No, despite his correct use of spilkes and tsuris, not so much.

Guy #5 wrote this:

I don't know if your [sic] Conservative or Orthodox...
Is it that hard to meet a nice guy in shul????
I'm married, Jewish & you don't want me..
However.... You seem nice.. so I am trying to help...
My only advice for you... don't settle...
If you look hard, you'll find a nice Jewish guy...

Thanks, Guy #5. Yes, it is that hard to meet a nice guy in shul (or anywhere, it seems), but I’m trying. I’m definitely trying…

Monday, September 14, 2009

Letter to My Blog

Dear Blog,

I haven’t forgotten about you. And, although I know this is no excuse, I’ve been sooooooo busy that I haven’t had time to “percolate” any posts. If it’s any consolation, I haven’t written for in the last few weeks either.

Interestingly, shortly after one of my recent posts appeared there, I received a letter from the rabbi at my new congregation inviting me to bless the candles in the downstairs service (where new members sit) on Kol Nidre. Although I’m sure that the blog post and the invitation are unrelated (the letter from the rabbi was written before the blog post), I’m still feeling a bit chagrined at having written it in the first place. But, it’s a done deal now…and still an accurate reflection of my experience in the synagogue that night.

In a nutshell, here’s what else is going on with me:

  • School started right before Labor Day and I’ve got a great class on anti-Semitism as it relates to civil rights public policy. There are only about eight students in the class but in a true, it’s-a-small-world story, one of them left SCA (where I worked from 1991 to 1997) in June, moved to New York to go to school and, lo and behold, sits right next to me! The specifics of how we made that incredible connection is a story for another time. Right now, suffice it to say that the class readings at the moment focus on the history of anti-Semitism (in medieval times, in the Middle Ages, within the Catholic Church, etc.) and although there’s a lot of it and it’s not exactly page-turning stuff, it’s not bad either. A week from this Thursday, Abraham Foxman, head of the ADL, will deliver the Ackerman Lecture at Baruch, so of course we’re required to go. Should be very interesting.
  • On the work scene, Biennial food has definitely kicked in and the early mornings and late nights are soon to be the norm. At the moment, it’s all box lunches all the time. In addition, I’m doing my regular job, lots of Biennial miscellany that crosses my desk, and tracking RSVPs from invitees to one of 15 different Shabbat dinners, from rabbis who have been invited to be Shabbat morning Torah study leaders, and from lay and professional leaders invited to sit on the bema at services. Whew! If you want to know more about Biennial, click here.
  • Yes, the Schmuck Parade marches on. Nothing terribly new or exciting to report here, just the same old cadre of game players, endless emailers and guys who don’t – for one reason or another -- fit the parameters I’ve set for myself. These include: Jewish, 40-something, and divorced or equally seasoned. That’s it. What’s so hard about that?! I wish I knew because the pickings are oh-so slim. Oh-so slim…
  • I seem to be losing the battle against plantar fasciitis so tomorrow after work it's back to the podiatrist where perhaps more cortisone is in the cards. After that, a trip to Westchester for a shiva call to a colleague who just lost her mother. Another long day on tap…

So, that’s about all the news from here, Blog. Again, I apologize for not being a better correspondent. I’ll try to improve in the future. In the meantime, l’shana tova…see you in 5770!


Friday, September 4, 2009

The Moon of Elul

September 3, 2009...15 Elul 5769...New York City

(or click here to see a slide show of these photos)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I'm No Julia Child...

Last week, when my sister and I met in the East Village to see Julie and Julia, she was toting her copy of Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor and had turned down the corner on page 405, where the recipe for Raspberry Swirl Brownies is printed. She—who prepared Julia’s boeuf bourguignon a while back when her book group met to ponder the book on which the movie is based—had carefully selected this particular recipe as one that I, her culinary-challenged sister, could, indeed, prepare and bring to a gathering of longtime friends (we’ve known each other since the mid-1970s) scheduled for tomorrow in the New Jersey suburbs.

In all fairness, it’s not that I’m exceptionally challenged when it comes to the ways of the kitchen, but rather that I don’t derive the same pleasure or relaxation as she does from the chopping, boiling, arranging, mixing and general potchkeying around in that room with the stove, sink and refrigerator. So, it’s no surprise that when my parents visit at her house for lunch or dinner on a Sunday, they’re frequently treated to homemade hummus as an appetizer, tasty pasta combinations using such ingredients as kale, pine nuts and yellow tomatoes, and delectable desserts. An Italian plum tart with a lattice crust and a blueberry cobbler are two recent examples. (In fact, while my friends and I are enjoying Raspberry Swirl Brownies tomorrow, my sister, my parents and a few of her friends will be delighting in this Fresh Fig and Almond Crostata.) In my house, on the other hand, salsa and chips, tuna sandwiches with sliced avocado and fresh fruit are more the norm.

For me, therefore, this brownie bake-off was a chore. But, having purchased all the necessary ingredients for both the Raspberry Swirl Brownies and a batch of regular brownies (likely to be more appealing to the kids), I set out to prepare the first of the two recipes:

Raspberry Swirl Brownies

Vegetable oil spray for misting the pan
1 package (19.8 ounces) brownie mix
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/3 cup water
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup seedless raspberry jam
¼ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup finely chopped pecans (optional)

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350◦F. Lightly mist the bottom of a 13- by 9-inch pan with vegetable oil spray. Set the pan aside.
  2. Place the brownie mix, melted butter, water, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients are incorporated and the batter lightens in texture, 50 strokes. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it out with a rubber spatula. Drop the raspberry jam by teaspoonfuls onto the batter, and with a dinner knife swirl the jam into the batter. Scatter the chocolate chips and the pecans evenly over the top. Place the pan in the oven.
  3. Bake the brownies until the outer 2 inches have formed a crust and feel firm, 23 to 27 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool completely, 30 minutes.
  4. Slice and serve the brownies.

I was totally okay with Step #1 and made it halfway through Step #2 with no problem. I don’t own a rubber spatula, however, and had to use a wooden spoon instead. Recognizing that this is not a huge culinary gaffe, I pushed on. I left off the pecans, but finally, gingerly, I placed the pan in the oven and set the timer for 24 minutes.

With recipe #1 out of the way, I got cracking on recipe #2, using the same mixing bowl I’d used for the first batch, and following the recipe on the back of the box:

Regular Ol' Box Brownies

1 package (19.8 ounces) brownie mix
½ cup oil
¼ cup water
2 eggs

  1. Preheat oven to 350◦F. Grease bottom of pan or spray with nonstick cooking spray. We recommend using Crisco Oil and No-Stick Cooking Spray.

  2. Combine brownie mix, oil, water and eggs in a large bowl; stir 50 strokes with a spoon. Spread in a greased pan.

  3. Bake as directed below. If using dark or nonstick pan, bake time may be shortened. (A chart, indicating that brownies in an 8"x8" pan should be baked at 350◦F for 45-50 minutes was printed on the back of the box.)
Again, I was good with Step #1, but ran into trouble with Step #2. The only oil I have is olive oil and something told me that just wouldn’t work. Unable to reach my sister to confirm my suspicion, I melted a stick of butter, which, when fully liquid was exactly a ½ cup (whew!) and poured it in. Fat’s fat, I reasoned…what could be bad?

When it was thoroughly mixed, I poured the batter into my 8”x8” pan and put the pan into the oven with the bigger one, which, according to the timer, still had 10 minutes to go.

When the timer sounded, the Recipe #1 brownies appeared to need a few more minutes so I put them back in and added four minutes to the timer. When it rang again, I took them out. They looked great, but lacking a wire rack (another culinary gaffe?), I had to let them cool directly on the counter.

With nearly 40 minutes still to go in the oven for Recipe #2, I set the timer, cranked the AC and stretched out on the couch. I needed a rest! ;-)

The ding of the timer, signaling that Recipe #2 was done, woke me from my cat nap. I took them out of the oven and, like those in Recipe #1, they looked great—and smelled quite yummy, too!

Of course, the proof is in the tasting and that won’t happen until sometime tomorrow afternoon. So, stay tuned for a full taste report soon.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Vocabulary Building with dcc

It started back on April 16th when my friend dcc, as he’s known in the blogosphere, forwarded to me Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day: biannual. By May 21st, when the word was plenary (another Biennial favorite!), I’d already signed up to receive the daily emails myself and before too long, one or the other of us was using the word in a sentence – often reflecting the goings-on in our own lives -- and sending it along to the other.

On June 5th I sent dcc this sentence: When there are five mah jongg players, the fifth plays the role of kibitzer.

On June 8th, I sent him this sentence: My new blank journal has a lovely vignette border on each page...and the movie I saw yesterday was filled with wonderful vignettes about the two now-famous art collectors.

On June 10th, when I was at 100 Centre Street for jury duty, I emailed this: Lots of colorful New Yorkers in the jury waiting room, but nobody who's too flamboyant. Let's hope everyone here can follow directions. Yeah, right...

On June 12th, dcc sent me this: Let us hit the links after we finish eating our links, joked the golfer as he scarfed his sausages at the diner.

In the meantime, I continued to receive an additional word a day email from and in July, I upped the ante – attempting to use both words of the day in the same sentence. Talk about putting a square peg into a round hole…some of the sentences are quite hilarious:

On July 21st dcc and I had the following exchange:

JanetheWriter: Despite my assiduous efforts, the lighting in the sanctuary at Shaaray Tefila makes reading the prayer book a challenge. Perhaps it is a touch of nyctalopia? Or maybe the lighting is just bad?!

dcc: Darn...I was going to do the same thing. I need to get up pretty early in the morning to beat you to the punch. Granted I am doing clips at 7 a.m. every day and should be able to get there, but with the darkness in my apartment, my assiduous exhaustion and my heavy eyelids leading to nyctalopia, it is a wonder I get my work done, let alone have a witty conversation with a friend.

JanetheWriter: Well done.

And this, just last week on August 17th:

dcc, whose head is shaved, sent me this sentence: Perhaps it would be considered ironic if I chose to be a trichologist.

My reply: Let's hope that when the trichologist (whether it's you or someone else) trims one's hair, it comes out smooth and silky, without the rough edges created by diastrophism.

And finally, this from dcc: That would be bad...but an earth-moving hair cut is sometimes just what the doctor ordered.

As you can see, we two logophiles are sharing wonderful daily adventures with words...and a few laughs along the way. Care to join us? Sign up here for Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day and here for's A Word A Day.

See you in the dictionary!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hey Verizon, Get Back to Work!

This afternoon I returned from a wonderfully restful and relaxing family vacation in Point Pleasant, New Jersey. Camped out in a three bedroom, two bathroom house just a short walk from the beach, we (my parents, sister and seven-year-old nephew) spent lazy days reading on the sand, building sand castles, and frolicking in the warm, wonderful waves of Risden’s Beach. Our evenings were filled with arcade games, ice cream and mah jongg with some friends staying in nearby Ocean Grove. It couldn’t have been a better week.

For some reason, while I was away, Verizon decided to take a vacation too. I returned to my apartment to find no dial tone on my phone and no internet access on my computer. Suddenly, unpacking, opening the snail mail and checking email all took a back seat to calling Verizon and, while the customer service representative on the other end of my cell phone waited, plugging a phone into the jack in the back of the closet near the bathroom, where the phone line comes into my apartment. When there was no dial tone there, she astutely told me, “It’s a problem with the network.” Duh.

Long story short: I’m currently paying for internet access at Starbucks, answering email, and writing this blog post. I'm preparing to return to work on Monday and I think Verizon needs to do the same -- now!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dinner, Dansk, Delicious

Earlier this week, I read Theodore Nierenberg’s obituary in the New York Times. He was the founder of Dansk International Designs, maker of cookware and pottery with a modern Scandinavian flair. The bowl over there on the left was made by Dansk. I received it as a wedding gift more than 20 years ago from Ruth and Steve, z.l., Bennett, friends of my parents. Today it remains among my favorites and even though I don’t do a lot of entertaining (and am no longer married), I sometimes use it just for fruit because it’s too pretty to keep tucked away in a cabinet.

Ironically enough, just today I invited a colleague for dinner in a few weeks when I will, I’m sure, use that Dansk bowl.

Here’s how it happened…

A few days ago, I learned that this colleague, who lost his job in the Union’s March madness that restructured the entire organization and reduced the staff by 25 percent has been appointed as the director of ARZA, the Association of Reform Zionists of America. Beginning in about 10 days, he’ll be spending Monday to Thursday in New York although his home and family are in the Washington, DC area.

And so I sent him the following note on Facebook:
This message entitles the bearer to a home cooked meal in New York City (a mere 10 blocks from 633) and is redeemable between August 17th and whenever “Biennial Jane” gets too busy with everyone else's chicken, fish and veggie to worry about yours! :)

Mazel tov on your new job!!
By coincidence, later in the day, I saw him briefly in the office (scroll down a bit and you can see him here, eating a falafel and chips). In a hasty hallway conversation, he told me he’d gotten my message and that he’d bring the produce (he’s an avid gardener) and cook for me.

“Oh, is that how it works?” I inquired, pleasantly surprised that even though I’d done the inviting, he’s going to do the cooking.

“Yes,” he replied, before rushing off to his next meeting.

So, in the next few weeks, keep an eye out here for that Dansk bowl and the fresh-from-the-garden fare that will fill it. What'll it be? Ratatouille over couscous? Cucumber and tomato salad? Sautéed green beans and garlic?

Doesn’t matter to me…they all sound delicious!

Stay tuned to find out…

Update: To see what deliciousness ended up on the Dansk bowl, click here.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Parade Marches On

Tomorrow night marks the beginning of Tu B’Av, a minor Jewish festival that is best described as the “Jewish Valentine’s Day.” Earlier today, in an attempt to help a colleague locate congregations that do creative programming for the 40+ singles set, I wrote a short post for the Union’s blog that incorporates information about this holiday. In it, I said, “…in this instance I'm actually not looking.”

As readers of this blog know, however, I’m always looking -- and so it was that over the weekend I posted this online personal ad:

Share and share alike - 46

Bright, sincere, attractive, fun, funny and down-to-earth (but certainly not perfect) 40-something happily DJF with no kids, manageable baggage, and a rich and balanced life seeks age appropriate, honest, gentle, kind, liberal Jewish guy for sharing long strolls, silly jokes, dessert, smiles and laughter, knowing glances, romantic dinners, time at home, bumps in the road, playful banter, meaningful conversations, walks in the woods, Scrabble games, hugs and kisses, lazy weekends, secrets, movie popcorn, time away, new adventures, favorite places, ice cream sundaes, books and music, ideas, Ferris wheel and subway rides, dim sum, the Sunday Times, hopes, dreams, wishes, and more.

Tu B’Av not withstanding I received the usual, predictable replies:

Guy #1 is 32 years old.

Guy #2 is Indian.

Guy #3 responded (for the seventh time to one of my posts) with the exact same text and photo he’s been using for the last year and a half. And, although he’s a perfectly nice enough guy (I know because we met for coffee after one of his first replies), he’s not the right one for me.

Guy #4 also has answered previous posts of mine (four to be exact) and, yes, like Guy #3, he’s done so with the exact same verbiage every time. Early on (more than two years ago), we traded a few emails and in that exchange he said, “Just wanted to know if you were specifically looking for a Jewish male as I’m not.” I replied thusly: “Alas, I am seeking a Jewish guy.”

Guy #5 is 62 years old and, although he, too, may be a perfectly nice guy, in my mind, he’s too old for me. My loss? Perhaps, but at 46 (and a youthful 46 at that), it’s a loss I’m willing to bear.

Guys #6 and #7 are modern Orthodox. One of them came to Orthodoxy by way of NFTY and Eisner. (All of this I learned from earlier exchanges with each of them following replies to previous posts of mine.) Again, my loss? No, I don’t think so. Like so many of the others, these two may be perfectly nice guys…just not right for me.

Guy #8 described himself as “50 years old, 5'6, slim, with brown hair and green eyes.” Having met this guy a little over a year ago, I can tell you that he’s been 50 for a mighty long time. And, although he may see brown when he looks in the mirror, I definitely saw gray. Don’t get me wrong…there’s nothing wrong with gray, but there is something wrong with his not being honest with himself or with others.

I could go on (and on and on), but I'm sure that by now you get the picture.

And yet, I'm not willing to give up entirely on the personal ads. I am, however, ready to add some new approaches to the mix.

Lucky for me, this coming weekend, I’ll be attending a wedding. A note on the carpool page of the couple’s website (yes, it appears they thought of everything!) says, “Putting compatible people together is, of course, one of the purposes of a wedding.”

Hmmmm….perhaps in addition to uniting the bride and groom as husband and wife, this event will indeed put other compatible people together?

You never know; you just never know…

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Birthday Bowling...and Cupcakes to Spare

This is Ian, my nephew, in all his almost-seven-year-old glory. Next Friday, August 7th, he and a bunch of his friends will celebrate his seventh birthday (what my father always refers to as “the anniversary of his natal day”) at Bowlmor near Union Square, which is where he lives.

These are the cupcakes (what my father always refers to as “sweetmeats”) that my sister is planning to make to mark the occasion.

How cool is that?!

Stay tuned for photos of the treats straight from Amy’s kitchen!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The State of the Fleet

Tonight marks the beginning of my grandmother’s yahrzeit. Eighteen years….hard to believe it’s been that long. I thought of her last night– as I so often do – while waiting in a damp drizzle for the 57th Street crosstown bus.

“Never run after a man or a streetcar,” she told me repeatedly. “There’s always another one coming.”

Run, schmun, I thought, as the cold drops chilled me and the endless traffic streamed past with no bus in sight. If my recent (and not so recent) experiences in the Schmuck Parade reflect the state of the fleet, I’m riding around in gypsy cabs and jalopies. No, I’m not looking for a Hummer or a stretch limo with a driver -- just a clean, well maintained bus that runs on time, makes all scheduled stops, gets decent gas mileage and drops me safely near my destination.

MTA, can you help me out here?!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Phil Seidman: A Facebook Memoir

When I was growing up in Somerset, New Jersey, we never called Somerset Park Pharmacy by name. “The Pharmacy” or just “Phil’s” was enough for everyone in town to know exactly what you were talking about. The tiny, cramped store in the row of four set back from Easton Avenue near Foxwood Drive was an institution. In the 1970s, before K-Mart, Target and Staples (and even after they showed up on the retail scene), it’s where we went for school supplies, cosmetics, birthday cards, gift wrap, band-aids, bubble gum, baseball cards, small gifts and, of course, prescriptions – antibiotics, cough syrup, inhalers, acne creams and the like – all filled by Phil himself. A handwritten sign in the front window gave a phone number – probably Phil’s home number – in case a medical emergency made it necessary for a prescription to be filled after hours. Thankfully, my family never had to use that number.

Sadly, I was reminded of Phil’s yesterday when I saw my high school classmate, Bruce Weinstein’s status update on Facebook, which said: “Loving the stock market rally today so much, I’m going golfing! Fore!!! RIP Phil Seidman!”

Bruce Schwartz (who I assume also grew up in Franklin, but I don’t know personally or on Facebook), seemed as incredulous as I was upon seeing the news, and commented thusly: “Phil Seidman passed away?”

When there was no reply, I repeated the question: “Did he?”

“Yes,” said Daniel Morris, another Franklinite who was a few years ahead of me in school and worked for Phil as a delivery guy.

“Very sad…” I said, trying to internalize that yet another piece of my childhood was no more.

“Wow, sad indeed,” commented Bruce Schwartz. “I have such great memories of him in the store.”

We all do.

Bonny McClain from around the corner on Summerall Road chimed in with this: “I remember Phil as he was the only place to buy batteries on Christmas morning when Santa forgot them.......he was also very nice to my parents in their elder years. Thanks for posting, Bruce.”

By then, I’d emailed the news to my sister who, although she has neither the time nor the inclination to play around with Facebook, replied with this: “I'll always remember the image of that very cramped store with the claustrophobic aisles and John Harsell (her friend and the eternal pharmacy assistant) and Phil at the back watching everyone who came in...”

Amy’s reply reminded me of the very same thing…and so I continued the conversation: “The store always seemed especially cramped to me at back-to-school time when the spiral notebooks and pens were piled in boxes in the aisles between the cosmetics and the gift wrap. A bygone era...”

Then came Stuart Rosenthal from Tripplet Road who recalled, “Baseball card buying memories at Phil’s (THE Drug Store) for me.”

Next was Joanne Silverstein-Bacon (I can’t remember exactly where she lived, but I think it was over near Appleman Road. Am I right, Franklinties?) who said, “The best thing about the first day of school was going there for supplies.”

Last was Pam Boullé Gunter (I recognize the name, but can’t put a face with it…it’s been a lot of years), who said: “Phil from the Pharmacy? How sad. Marcy and what was the son?”

“Mitch,” I said.

In the same way that we all have remembered Phil and his store, may Mitch and Marcy’s memories of their father and his pharmacy sustain them and their families during these difficult days and be a blessing to them always. And, as Bruce Weinstein, who started this entire conversation said, “Rest in peace, Phil Seidman.”