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?