Thursday, January 28, 2010

Because You Are the Kind of Person That Wants to Know

Waiting in my mailbox when I arrived home tonight was a small white envelope addressed in my father’s distinctive hand. Folded to fit inside was the obituary of Jack T. Litman that he’d clipped from last Saturday’s New York Times. According to the piece, which both my father and I had read and discussed a few days after it appeared, Mr. Litman was "a lawyer known for his cerebral, cool and aggressive defense of notorious murder defendants and his uncanny ability to persuade juries to sympathize with crimes of passion....[His] most famous murder cases involved young men from humble origins who were charged with killing young women from more privileged backgrounds."

Before sending it to me, my father had attached a Post-it note on which he’d scribbled “Because you are the kind of person that wants to know” and also underlined the last sentence in the third paragraph—“Richard Herrin, who went to Yale on scholarship after growing up in a Los Angeles barrio, was accused of beating to death Bonnie Joan Garland, a fellow Yale student in 1977 after she broke up with him.” Robert Chambers, the "Preppy Killer" was perhaps Mr. Litman's most famous defendant and, according to the article, "After highly publicized trials and lurid headlines, Mr. Litman pulled off the unlikely feat of winning sympathy from the juries for both defendants."

To anyone but my sister or me, the content of that envelope would have been baffling, to say the least. To us, however, it made perfect sense.

Let me explain.

My father is a lover of many things. Among them are true crime and, as he likes to say, “directing my reading activities.” These two things came together perfectly when, sometime during my college years, he purchased a secondhand copy of The Killing of Bonnie Garland: A Question of Justice by Willard Gaylin, M.D. and, after reading it himself, urged both my sister and me to read it as well. Having followed the 1978 trial of Richard Herrin as reported in the New York Times, my father was familiar with the case and likely snagged the book at one or another garage sale or flea market where he and my mother could often be found poking around in those days. Indeed, it is a riveting tale of two star-crossed Yale students from vastly different worlds and a critical examination of the factors that came into play when, distraught by her rejection after a passionate three-year relationship, he bludgeoned her to death in her parents’ Westchester home.

Tonight I reread the obituary and now have carefully refolded the clipping, replaced it in the envelope, and tucked it inside the dust jacket of the very same flea market copy of the book that still sits on the bookshelf in my living room. I'm grateful anew to my father for making me "the kind of person that wants to know," for “directing my reading activities,” and for steering me toward this and so many other little known treasures just waiting to be discovered.

Monday, January 25, 2010

When I Was a First-Timer: Departure

Six years ago today, I was in the El Al terminal at JFK about to set off on my first trip to Israel as a participant in the Union for Reform Judaism’s Lech L’cha: Go Forth and Discover Mission led by Rabbis Lenny Thal and Elliott Kleinman.

Here’s what I scribbled in my travel journal as our group waited at the gate to board the overnight flight:
Twenty minutes from home to the entrance to JFK. Arrived very early at the airport and had coffee with Ma and Daddy before meeting up with Elliott and some of the group. Ma’s words to Elliott upon leaving me in his “care,” were something like, “Here she is. If anything happens to her, I’ll kill you.”

Security check-in was uneventful except for having to take my cell phone accessories from my suitcase for special x-ray. At the gate (B28) by 4:25 p.m., where I met and schmoozed with fellow travelers. A bit before 6 p.m. several men came through our group looking for minyan participants. Of course, they didn’t want me. Early on, Josh Goldstein earned my respect when he went to the minyan, but returned as soon as they had 10. Kudos to him for using his feet to vote for egalitarianism. Interesting to watch the others shuckle the ma’ariv service. More later…
Over the next few days I will, I know, read and re-read the entries from that journal a hundred times, remembering those incredible days and my whirlwind first visit to the center of the Jewish world. I’ve been back once since then, but I am, as always, trying to figure out how I might go again…this time for more than a handful of days.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dansk Does Dessert

Back in August, I wrote here about my beautiful Dansk bowl and what might turn up in it when I invited a colleague for dinner. The possibilities at that time included ratatouille over couscous, cucumber and tomato salad or sautéed green beans and garlic. Now, nearly six months later—having just tonight played “hostess with the mostess” to two colleagues who live elsewhere, but spend significant time in New York City—I finally have the answer.

Drum roll, please...

And the answer is: Moroccan-Spiced Oranges

These tangy, sweet delights (you can see them up above thanks to Scott's photographic skills) rounded out a dinner of romaine lettuce tossed with feta cheese, dried cranberries and toasted pecans in a vinaigrette dressing as a starter, followed by Mollie Katzen’s lentil chili. You can find her recipe here.

And here is the recipe for the oranges that finished off our meal:
2 1/2 cups orange sections, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 6)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped pitted dates (about 4)
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Ground cinnamon (optional)
Grated orange rind (optional)
Combine first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl, tossing to combine. Cover; chill 20 minutes. Garnish with cinnamon and rind, if desired.
It was, if I do say so myself, a lovely evening – filled with hearty fare, good company and for me, proof that I still know my way around in the kitchen.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Shomer Shabbos Dos and Don’ts: A Quick Guide for Reform Jews

Late yesterday afternoon, I posted this update on Facebook:
Gift-wrapped kosher wine: check; long skirt and boots: check; phone turned off: check; no talking between hand washing and motzi: check. I'm off on an adventure...Shabbat shalom!
Based on my own experience (and that of several colleagues with whom I consulted beforehand), here are the top 10 dos and don’ts to keep in mind when visiting an Orthodox home as a Shabbat dinner guest:

10. Do wear a long skirt, long sleeves and other modest clothing.

9. Don’t bring flowers to your hosts. They won’t be able to trim the stems to fit them in a vase. Stick with kosher wine.

8. Do turn off your phone.

7. Don’t ring the doorbell when you arrive; knock instead.

6. Don’t offer to shake hands when you’re introduced to the man of the house or male guests.

5. Do follow the lead of others when it comes to ritual hand washing. Once you’ve washed your hands, don’t converse until after the motzi has been recited and you’ve tasted the wonderful pull-apart challah dipped in salt.

4. Don’t turn the light off in the bathroom. It will then have to stay that way.

3. When you leave with other people, don’t even think about hitting the elevator button. Instead, follow them to the stairwell and carefully walk down nine flights to the lobby.

2. Don’t get in a cab or on a bus until after you’ve wished them Shabbat shalom and parted paths.

1. Most important of all: Do try to relax and enjoy the gracious hospitality, delicious food and wonderful company of the evening. I did!

Shabbat shalom!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Let's Raise Hell

A few weeks ago, I wrote on the Union's blog about the ongoing controversy involving women wearing tallitot and praying at the kotel in Jersusalem. Earlier this week, Anat Hoffman, excecutive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) was interrogated by police for her efforts to spearhead this sacred endeavor.

In this video, she talks with JTA's Ben Harris about the experience:

As she suggests, we can keep quiet or we can raise hell.

I'd vote for the latter. What about you?

Friday, January 1, 2010

To Lafayette, For Auld Lang Syne

At some point this weekend, I’m going with a friend to see It’s Complicated with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. I’ve been a Meryl Streep fan since she co-starred with Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer back in 1979.

Six years later, in the spring of 1985, 497 classmates and I followed her, her auburn curls cascading from under a black mortarboard, from Lafayette College’s Kirby Field House, up the hill, across a corner of the quad to the steps of Skillman Library, where our families and friends waited to celebrate our graduation with us.

We’d all traveled far—including Ms. Streep—to be there that day. A few days earlier, she’d flown from Kenya, where the filming of Out of Africa was in full swing, and to where she would return shortly after our commencement, the College’s 150th. She kicked off her remarks with a beautiful a cappella rendition of Que Sera Sera and before long the Class of 1985 was, indeed, off to see whatever would be. (In between she told us about the scene in the movie in which Robert Redford washes her hair and that although it had to be shot and re-shot many times, she didn't mind.)

This spring, many of us will return to Easton to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that day, our Lafayette experience, and what indeed has been. Twenty-five years is a long time. In fact, it’s a generation, although I’d never really thought about it that way before.

That is, until yesterday. That’s when I was schmoozing with two colleagues, who, like me, are graduates of other of Pennsylvania’s small, private liberal arts colleges. Madeline is a recent alumna of Muhlenberg College in Allentown and Ben is an even more recent graduate of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. Although my days on campus were much longer ago than either of theirs, we still shared common experiences and “take aways” about which we reminisced—small classes, professors who knew us personally, a high quality education (that gains value with each passing year), tour guiding (I know, it really isn’t a verb), dorm life and drinking. (Yes, before I ever set foot in a classroom on campus, I was introduced to “bug juice,” a sugary concoction of grain alcohol and Kool-Aid that most often was “eloquently” ladled from an industrial-sized garbage can lined with a plastic bag into plastic drinking cups in fraternities' basement bar rooms. Indeed, much of my Lafayette education occurred in settings other than classrooms.)

When Ben told us about how he often walked prospective students and their parents from the administration building where he had a work-study job to the one where the admissions office was housed, I was reminded of my own tour of the F&M campus during the summer of 1980. In January of 1981, my father and I returned to Lancaster, this time for my interview in the admissions office. It was inauguration day and throughout our westward trek, the car radio brought us the proceedings underway in Washington—and the associated release of 53 American hostages who had been held captive for 444 days in the American Embassy in Tehran, marking the end of the Iran hostage crisis.

As I concluded my reminiscence of that historic day, it occurred to me that these two colleagues were probably too young to remember it.
Me: You probably don’t even remember that, do you? Do you even know about the Iranian hostage crisis?

Ben: Yes, I know about it, but there was no Ben Fink.

Ben: There was no Miriam Fink.

Ben: There wasn’t even a Nathaniel Fink.

* * *
According to Wikipedia, the site to which every good academic turns for basic information about just about anything, “…auld lang syne literally means ‘old long since,’ but a more idiomatic English translation would be something like ‘long long ago,’ ‘days of long ago,’ or ‘olden days.’ ‘For old times' sake,’ or ‘to the (good) old days,’ or ‘To days (or times) gone by’ may be modern-day expressions, in common use as toasts, that capture the spirit of ‘for auld lang syne.’”

To F&M, for auld lang syne.

To Muhlenberg, for auld lang syne.

To Lafayette, for auld lang syne.