Monday, December 30, 2013

Football Tutor Wanted

Although it's nearly a year away, my college roommate and I already are talking about getting tickets for the 2014 Lafayette-Lehigh game, which will be the 150th meeting of the two teams, and is the most played college rivalry in the country.  The game is slated for Yankee Stadium, which is, compared to either Lafayette or Lehigh, right in my backyard, and, best of all, easily accessible by public transportation.

Yesterday when I checked the Lafayette Leopards' official athletic site, however, I found this message:

The initial allotment of tickets for the 150th Lafayette-Lehigh football game, hosted by Lafayette at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014 at 3:30pm, have been exhausted.  Additional tickets have been requested from the Yankees.
Class of 2014 will be considered students for the 150th -You will be able to purchase when the student allotment goes on sale in April.

Aside from the fact that we can't yet get tickets (never mind that there's a grammatical error in the text of the message), I have another problem:  despite possessing a fine liberal arts education from one of the aforementioned schools, I don't understand the first thing about how football is played.

When I attended football games in high school--generally only on Thanksgiving, when Franklin played Piscataway, its arch rival, in a homecoming match-up--friends repeatedly would attempt to explain the basics to me, but as I told them each year after the game, "By the time I figured out which way Franklin was supposed to be running, they were supposed to be running the other way."  Despite my best efforts and exceedingly competent tutoring, I just never seemed to catch on.

Sadly, I'm not overly optimistic that the NFL's Beginner's Guide to Football, Football Rules and Basics for Dummies, or Football 101 - The Basics of Football will be of much help.

My best hope when it comes to learning about football between now and next November is that a few friends and acquaintances who are fans of this crazy, confusing game, and also happen to hold the title "rav," (which, in its purest sense, means "teacher"), might be willing to step up to the plate (I know, I know, that's baseball terminology) to teach me the basics of football as though it was the aleph bet.

What do you say, rabbinic football fans?  Are you up for the challenge?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Letter to Chicago

Dear Chicago,

As I noted in a recent post, "I've visited Barrow, AK, but never Chicago, IL, except to change planes at O'Hare."  I think it's time that we finally meet IRL, and I'd like to check your calendar to see if there are some dates later this winter or in the spring that might be good for a visit.
There are lots of things I'd like to build into my itinerary, but it certainly will come as no surprise that at the top of my list will be seeing Phyllis and her family.  Even if there's nothing to say but "Hinneni" (as thousands of us have been doing--from near and far--for the last 18 months), I can hold her hand, hug her close, share her pain. If the weather's OK, maybe she, Michael and the kids will be willing to show me some sights--the zoo, a museum, or the skaters at Millennium Park. Or, maybe we'll spend an afternoon just hanging out in the kitchen that her pictures always portray as so very warm and inviting.

I'm hopeful that the timing also will allow me to visit with Rachel Roth, Stacey Zisook Robinson, Janine Mileaf, Stephanie Fink, Barb Leibson Shimansky, and Kate Heilman--as well as include tourist stops at the Art Institute of Chicago, the John Hancock Observatory, Wrigley Field, and an authentic Chicago deep dish pizza spot, the specifics of which I'll leave to the locals. (When my parents visited Chicago in the mid-1980s for a cousin's wedding, my mom brought home a pretty bangle bracelet for me from Marshall Field's.  Too bad that's not still a tourist spot...)

So what do you say, Chicago?  Please check your calendar and let me know what might work for you.  I'll set up a fare alert for LGA to ORD, pull out a hat, warm boots, and my mittens (even though I'm at that stage of life that makes it totally unnecessary for me even to button my coat in New York City), and hope we can make this visit a reality.

I look forward to an opportunity to follow the "Ground Transportation/Exit" signs at ORD and to seeing you (and my friends who live near you) sometime in the next few months.

~ Jane.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Teachable Moment

I don't fancy myself a Jewish educator, but earlier today, I had a great opportunity to participate in a teachable moment

It started last night when Richard, a friend from way back in middle school, left me a voice mail message seeking my thoughts on an appropriate gift for a bat mitzvah.  He noted that he most often "defaults" to money, but thought I might have a better handle on the topic.

This coming Saturday, he and his wife will pick me up at the Metuchen train station so I can ride with them to Temple Har Shalom, where the eldest daughter of a third friend will become bat mitzvah.

By the time I listened to his message, it was too late to call back, so I responded with a text, and the conversation took off from there:

My Jewish educator friends need not worry.  I'm not giving up my day job!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Blogging Love

While attending a family bat mitzvah in Sylvania, OH, this past weekend, I received an email message that I'd been mentioned in a tweet:

I nominate for #SunshineAward (…) @mom2mikey @bgiourme @rabbiisa @JanetheWriter @BarbMitzvah @CoffeeShopRabbi @ollibean

Many thanks to Lisa Friedman, who not only mentioned me in her tweet, but also nominated me for a #SunshineAward.  I'm honored that Lisa has provided an opportunity for her readers to learn more about me, and that she believes my writing makes a significant contribution to the blogging community.

As Lisa has already done, I am about to pay it forward by nominating other bloggers for a #Sunshine Award  based on the "rules" detailed in Lisa's post: 
  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger (Thanks again, Lisa).
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers. They should be bloggers you believe deserve some recognition and a little blogging love!
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. (You cannot nominate the blogger who nominated you.)
Ready?  Here we go with 11 random facts about me:
  1. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a writer.  As part of a second grade book binding project, I insisted that the last page of my book be entitled "About the Author," which was a short (I was, after all, only seven) bio about me.
  2. Likewise, in The Homecoming, the movie that launched The Waltons television series, I was insanely envious of John-Boy, who received a stack of yellow writing pads as a Christmas gift from his Daddy near the end of the movie.
  3. I have two of the same tattoo, a fact that comes as no surprise to regular readers of this blog.
  4. In high school, I took a career assessment test.  The results suggested I'd be a good nun.  Hmmm...
  5. I studied Russian and Latin in high school.
  6. I'm a big fan of Jewish music and listen to it often.
  7. I'm not a big fan of television and have never seen a full episode of either Friends or Seinfeld.
  8. I'm incredibly out of touch with pop culture and couldn't identify Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe or Natalie Portman if my life depended on it.
  9. I could live on carbs--french fries, mac and cheese, and pasta (any shape or size) are my all-time favorites.
  10. I've visited Barrow, AK, but never Chicago, IL, except to change planes at O'Hare.
  11. I'm still in regular contact with Mrs. Chromczak, my fourth grade teacher
 Here are my answers to Lisa's 11 questions:
  1. If you could cast yourself in any reality TV show, which would it be and why? I have no idea...see #7 above!
  2. Crunchy or smooth peanut butter?  Crunchy
  3. Favorite place to vacation? Someplace I've never been before...perhaps Chicago.  See #10 above!
  4. What animal most describes your personality? A canine mutt...happy to go out to explore and play during the day, but also wants to be snug and cozy at home each night.
  5. Favorite ice cream flavor?  Rocky road
  6. Cookie or cake?  Cookie, but only when it's a black and white, which, when it's done right, has the consistency of a moist cake.
  7. Describe your ideal day.  Sleeping in, breakfast out, writing in a cafe and then back home to read, relax and nap.
  8. What is your favorite season? Winter
  9. What is your favorite thing about blogging?  Love the writing...and the feedback!
  10. How do you relax? If I was better at it, maybe I wouldn't have high blood pressure?
  11. What did you have for breakfast? Yoplait Greek yogurt (vanilla flavor) over a cubed Ginger Gold apple.
Here are six blogs that I'm nominating for a #Sunshine Award. Although I wish it was 11, with limited time and energy, these are the blogs I read with the greatest frequency: 
  1. Ima on (and off) the Bima
  2. Superman Sam
  3. This Messy Life
  4. Greatest Escapist
  5. Stumbling towards meaning  
  6. Elevated Risk
The first five, like my own, are slice-of-life blogs while number six focuses on one woman's journey as a BRCA gene mutation carrier.  I hope you'll check out the works of these bloggers and that their words and experiences will move you as they so often move me.  Most of all, I hope you'll give these writers the blogging love that they so richly deserve for regularly and with tremendous grace and generosity putting themselves and their families "out there" in the blogosphere.

Finally, for the bloggers I've just nominated for a #Sunshine Award, here are my 11 random questions for you:
  1. What's your favorite book from childhood?
  2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  3. Coffee or tea?
  4. Favorite food?
  5. What was the make and model of the first car you owned?
  6.  Do you have a library card for the town in which you live?  
  7. When was the last time you used that library card?
  8. What's the most exotic or offbeat place to which you've traveled?
  9. Are you hosting Thanksgiving or being hosted?
  10. Did you pass your drivers test the first time you took it?
  11. What mode of transportation do you use most often to get to work?
May this nomination widen your readership and help your readers learn a bit more about you and what makes you tick.

Happy blogging!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Happy Birthday, The Mums

Dear The Mums,

It's a yucky day -- unseasonably warm and rainy -- in New York City so I hope there's good weather wherever you are and that you're enjoying your birthday.  If you see Larry Kaufman today, don't forget to wish him a happy birthday, too.  In addition to a love of Torah and the URJ, a November 17th birthday was something else the two of you shared.

There's lots to tell to bring you up to speed, so let's go.

Last night I had dinner with Karen and Phil Ott, who were visiting in New York for the weekend.  It was, as always, great to see them and, except for a few more gray hairs, they haven't changed at all!  Over dinner, Karen told me that you'd hung a bunch of different post cards over my crib, including Van Gogh's Starry Night.  She also told me that you often referred to me as Madame Nhu. Hmmm...based on what I read about her on Wikipedia, I can't quite figure that one out, but perhaps Daddy can shed some light on that particular nickname. 

Two weeks ago, I spent the day at Lafayette, where I was the November 6th speaker in the annual Madame de Lafayette series, which "seeks to recognize what it means to be a woman in the 21st century."  As I have done several times in the past, I spoke candidly about my BRCA journey, noting that had I heard a talk like my own when I was a student, the trajectory of our family's history had the potential to be different than it actually played out.  If my remarks help change the course of just one other family's history as it relates to hereditary cancer, you and I together will have added some good to the world.  (I'm not sure why the online publicity refers to me as Rev. Herman, but spending the day in Easton -- reconnecting with Bob and Sandy Weiner, meeting current students, many of whom are active in Hillel and/or members of Alpha Gam, and seeing Terry and Tom's Matthew, a Laf Coll freshman this year -- was, indeed, good for my soul!)

I'll have a chance to do more awareness raising about BRCA mutations at two upcoming events.  The first is  a Biennial learning session, where I'll be a panelist together with Rabbi Marci Zimmerman from Temple Israel in Minneapolis and Dr. Susan Domchek, Executive Director, Basser Research Center for BRCA.  In early February, I'm scheduled to speak at the Sisterhood Shabbat at Congregation Beth Or in Ambler, PA.  Terry's planning to come with me, and she and I are already planning to make a weekend of it!

As tough as the whole BRCA mutation journey has been, it is, at least, a harbinger -- something my friend Phyllis didn't have when leukemia struck her son, Sam.  He just turned eight and, despite a bone marrow transplant from SuperMensch at the end of August, the family's huge community learned this past week that the cancer has returned and, as she wrote on Sam's blog, "There is no cure.  There is no treatment."  The six of them -- Phyllis and Michael, Sammy and his sibs -- will be off to Israel shortly, where they'll be packing a lifetime of memories into the time they've got left.  We are so sad for all of them.  There are no words and, as I noted on Facebook yesterday, "Jacob isn't the only one wrestling with God this week."

I don't want to end on such a sad note so I'll tell you that Daddy and I are going to Detroit next weekend for Carolyn's bat mitzvah.  Amy and Ian, unfortunately, can't go, not only because of Amy's crazy travel schedule, but also because she recently signed a book deal (!) and her writer is going to be in New York at the same time she would be at the bat mitzvah.

One last thing:  It's certainly not a book deal, but I recently took on an interesting freelance project with the Mellon Foundation, thanks to my connection to Scott from New Hampshire, and I need to go do some work on it.  I'll write again soon.

Happy birthday, The Mums...miss you...xoxo,

~ Boo!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ten Things Y'all Can Learn During a Visit to Jackson, Mississippi

Number 10:  It isn't food unless it's fried.

Number 9:  A sentence is not complete unless there's at least one "y'all" in it.

Number 8:  Southern hospitality is alive and well.

Number 7:  Few things are as important as college football.

Number 6:  The Mississippi Craftsman Center displays work of artisans who create gorgeous quilts, pottery, jewelry, sculpture, paintings, wood carvings, and other hand crafted items.

Number 5:  Jackson is home to Tougaloo College, an historically black college founded in 1869 to educate freed slaves and their children.  According to the National Science Foundation, it has graduated more students who have completed PhD degrees through the UNCF-Mellon Doctoral Fellowship Program than any other institution in the nation.

Number 4:  Historic Canton, Mississippi, a few miles up the road from Jackson, is home to the beautiful Greek Revival Courthouse featured in A Time to Kill, which was filmed entirely in Canton.

Number 3:  Eudora Welty, a native Jacksonian, lived and wrote in the same house for nearly 80 years.

Number 2:  Jewish geography works especially well in the south.

Number 1:  Nothing beats celebrating the marriage of two terrific friends -- destined to find each other in Utica, Mississippi -- in the place where they met...and gaining a few new "cousins" along the way!

Mazel tov, Anna and Nadav!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vote for a Winner: The Art of Perception

As you know from yesterday's post, there are many things I just don't "get."

At the same time, there's lots I do understand, including the value of my sister's business, The Art of Perception, which uses the paintings and photographs in museums and galleries as data to train medical, law enforcement, security, military, and education professionals, as well as a host of others, including college dorm resident advisors, social workers, and prosecutors, to cite just a few examples.With enhanced observation, perception, and communication skills, these hardworking and dedicated professionals are better able to make diagnoses, solve crimes, and promote justice, as well as protect our borders, our children and our lives.

This one-woman, exceedingly creative enterprise currently is in the running for a $250,000 grant from Chase through the bank's Mission Main Street Grant Program.  Twelve small businesses will receive grants through this initiative, but to remain in the running for the grant, The Art of Perception must receive 250 votes before November 15th.

Therefore, I would be grateful if you could visit this page to cast your vote for The Art of Perception.  (You will have to log into your Facebook account on that page, but Chase will not store or share your information.)

On behalf of Amy and The Art of Perception, thanks so much for your support.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Hmmm...I Just Don't Get It

Although I've been on this earth for its last 50 trips around the sun, it seems that almost daily, there are more and more things I don't quite understand.  In no particular order, they include: 
  1. Buzzfeed
  2. Four-inch heels
  3. The joy of shopping
  4. Why iced coffee costs more than hot coffee
  5. Tattoos
  6. Skinny jeans
  7. Why you'd talk to someone on a cell phone instead of the someone sitting across the table from you
  8. Rude people
  9. Mean people
  10. Candy crush
 What things most often leave you scratching your head?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ashkenazi Hair

Before a communications team meeting yesterday, a copy of Margalit Fox's newest book was making its way around the table in anticipation of her visit today as our "Lunch and Learn" speaker.

After thumbing through the book, I flipped to her bio on the inside back cover of the dust jacket.  Seeing the picture that accompanies the bio, I quipped to a colleague, "Gee, I wonder where she gets her hair cut."

Imagine my delight, then, when, in her opening sentence this afternoon, Ms. Fox noted how nice it was to be at the URJ, together with so many others with "Ashkenazi hair."

From that moment on, she held me--and plenty of others--spellbound as she eloquently and engagingly discussed the business of obituary writing, criteria for inclusion of an individual in the Times' obituary pages, and a few of the unsung heroes whose obituaries she and her colleagues have been privileged to write:  Ruth M. Siems, Ruth Benerito and Edward Lowe.

Sticking with the theme of unsung heroes and heroines, Ms. Fox introduced us to Alice Kober, the unsung heroine in her latest book, The Riddle of the Labyrinth:  The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code.  Along the way, we learned, too, about the archeologist Arthur Evans and the architect Michael Ventris, the two men whose lives, together with that of Ms. Kober, give the book its triptych structure.

All too soon, the lunch hour was over and people reluctantly returned to their desks.  I hung back, waiting in line to have my new book inscribed. As I stood facing the author, I told her of the previous day's quip to my colleague. While she inscribed my book, Ms. Fox and I spoke briefly about our Ashkenazi hair, agreeing, as so many other "curly girls" have noted, "It's all about the product."

Only when I returned to my desk did I read her truly personal and treasured inscription:
To Jane,
With all best tonsorial wishes.
Margalit Fox

Friday, October 4, 2013

Where in the World is JanetheWriter?

This week, I did a bit of "blog-trotting."

On Tuesday, I was over at "Focus on Cancer," the blog of the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn Medicine as part of Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC) Week.

Today, my Ten Minutes of Torah essay about Torah study was on the blog at, the URJ's site that's all about Jewish Life in Your Life.

Stay never know where I might turn up next!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Guess What? We're One of Those Families

Dear The Mums,

I can't believe that I haven't written to you since June, when Ian graduated from P.S. 41.  He's already been at Lab Middle School for nearly a month and even though it's going to be close to 80 degrees tomorrow in New York City, today is October 1.  Breast cancer awareness month is upon us, the world suddenly is awash in pink, and with the color adorning everything from yogurt lids to coffee cups, tee-shirts, and football helmets comes an emotional roller coaster of memory, and yes, many "what ifs," a few of which nagged at me last night.

Barbara Walters moderated a BRCA awareness symposium at Central Synagogue that was geared specifically for the Jewish community, where the incidence of BRCA gene mutations is 10 times greater than in the general population.  (Too much in-breeding in the shtetl, I always say.)  The event was the outgrowth of a High Holiday awareness campaign during which posters with BRCA information were sent to every Reform and Conservative congregation in the country in the hopes that they'd be displayed in lobbies and restrooms where they could be seen and read by worshipers throughout the High Holiday season.

Last night's panel featured four physician-researchers from top-notch institutions, each of whom has devoted his or her studies and clinical practice to breast and/or ovarian cancer and thus is an expert in the ins and outs of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, which often results because of a BRCA mutation within a family:
  • Carmel Cohen, M.D., Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine
  • Susan Domchek, M.D., Basser Professor in Oncology, Abramson Cancer Center, University of Pennsylvania and Executive Director, Basser Research Center
  • Noah Kauff, M.D., Director, Ovarian Cancer Screening and Prevention, Gynecology Service, Department of Surgery, Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
  • Julia Smith, M.D., Ph.D., Director, NYU Cancer Institute's Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention Program and and Director of the Lynne Cohen breast cancer preventive care program at NYU Langone Medical Center
Guess what, The Mums?  We're one of those families.  But, because Aunt Claire was diagnosed with breast cancer at about the same time that Mary-Claire King was discovering the BRCA1 gene and the havoc it can wreak in families where a mutation in the gene is passed from one generation to the next, it was too soon for her to be tested.  By the time a mammogram uncovered your triple negative breast cancer in 2008, you certainly should have been tested for the BRCA2 mutation we now know you carried.  Why your oncologist didn't suggest it, we'll never know...

In any event, there was a terrific turnout, and it looked as though most of the sanctuary was filled.  A classical rendition of Hinei Ma Tov opened the program, sung by a woman with a lovely voice, accompanied by violin and piano.  Peter Rubinstein, who's going to retire at the end of this year, I think, followed with a few remarks.  Two congregants from Central, Mindy Gray, who with her husband provided funding to establish the Basser Center in memory of her sister, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer at 44, and Stacey Sager, a WABC-NY reporter who had both breast and ovarian cancer and isn't yet 50, also spoke briefly after which the panel discussion began.  Barbara Walters was a wonderful moderator, and there was even time at the end for two or three questions from the audience -- which we submitted on index cards.

From my perspective, the evening's most important take-aways were these:
  • If you're Jewish and have relatives with breast and/or ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about genetic counseling and testing.
  • Don't be afraid to pursue genetic counseling and testing.  In most cases, insurance will cover the cost for individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.  Knowledge is power and this power, as I know from my own experience with HBOC syndrome, saves lives.
  • If you experience any of these symptoms for a period of a week or more, go see your doctor and ask him or her to prove that you don't have ovarian cancer: bloating, abdominal pain, a full feeling after eating, or urinary symptoms that include increased urgency or frequency.
  • If you find yourself in need of medical professionals who are experts in the world of hereditary cancer syndrome, they're most often located at large medical facilities in urban settings. Go after them.
I do have one criticism of the event and it is this:  Although we heard from two women whose lives have been touched (albeit in different ways) by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, this was an awareness event and there was no previvor voice among the speakers.  Such a voice, I believe, would have illustrated the perspective of someone who was able to use the knowledge gained through genetic counseling and testing to change intentionally the course of her own life or those of others in her family.  Just think about the possibilities had you or Amy or I attended an event like this six or eight or 10 years ago.  Who knows how having knowledge about BRCA mutations back then might have changed our family's experience...

So that's the latest from here, The Mums. It's late and I'm tired so I'm going to close for now, but I won't wait so long to write again.

Miss you...xoxo,
~ Boo!

P.S.  As a volunteer outreach coordinator for FORCE, which was one of  several participating organizations last night, I did a good bit of work to publicize the symposium, mostly on social media.  In doing so, I had a lot of email correspondence with Becca Mueller, a genetic counselor from the Basser Center, and it was great to meet her in person last night.  What's more, she put me in touch with the blogger for the Abramson Cancer Center blog, and I was able to write this post for them, which went live today.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Persnickety About Punctuation

Last night, I sent this text to my nephew Ian on the phone he got as a gift in June, when he graduated from elementary school:

He responded with this:

I hope they teach punctuation in middle school.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fruit and Books: High Holiday Traditions

When I blogged about the first time my dad and I went browsing in Barnes and Noble on Yom Kippur afternoon, a friend commented on the post, telling me about her father's custom of buying fruit on Rosh Hashanah and how her whole family would then enjoy it in the kitchen following services.  It's a custom she continues today with her own family.

Reading up on the Rosh Hashanah fruit tradition, I learned from that "[o]n the second night of Rosh Hashanah, it is common to eat a "new fruit"--a fruit that participants have not tasted for a long time. This tradition has become a way literally to taste the newness of the year, by enjoying an unfamiliar food....(Interestingly, the custom developed as a technical solution to a legal difficulty surrounding the recitation of the shehehiyanu blessing on the second day of the holiday. The blessing, usually recited to commemorate a new situation, is said on the second day of Rosh Hashanah both in honor of the day and the new fruit.)"

I thought about the fruit story this afternoon when, needing a break from my desk, I went down to the "fruit guy" on the northeast corner of 40th Street and Third Avenue. Perusing the selection, I asked him about what looked like mini limes on a vine. The handwritten cardboard sign in front of them said "Ginipes," which he told me are South American lychees.  Familiar with lychees from many a local Chinese restaurant, I nodded and gave him an "ahhh" of recognition.  He then broke one off the vine and handed it to me. I bit tentatively through the leathery green skin (which I now know is not for eating!), but found the flesh underneath too slimy for my taste.

Even though I ended up with more traditional fruits--bananas, grapes and plums--and even though it's been more than a week since the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I offer this shehecheyanu in honor of the ginipe, which was a new fruit to me this afternoon:
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam,
shehechehyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higianu laz'man hazeh.
We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this time of joy.
(In case you're wondering, yes, my dad and I did go to Barnes and Noble again this year, and in a break with tradition, his friend Bobbi joined us.  Too unfocused to do any serious browsing, the three of us wandered through the store, looked at books without really seeing them, chatted, and just spent some holiday time together.  After about an hour, we returned to the temple for the rest of the afternoon.)

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Gotta Love That #jewishgeography

This past Friday afternoon, I took the train from New York to Metuchen to be with my father for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur at my home congregation, Temple Emanu-El in Edison, where he retains a membership that goes back more than 40 years.  Although I arrived at about lunchtime, our first stop was the cemetery, where my mother is buried near her own parents:

Cemetery in Woodbridge, NJ

Having lovingly placed our stones and a few flowers on the graves, we were drained.  Our next stop was a quick bite to eat, close to home:

Diner in Somerset, NJ

Following this check-in, I proceeded to have a conversation with @JewishSpecialEd, an online friend who was helpful to me a few years ago when I wrote this article, and more recently has written for the URJ's blog.  

Our conversation started when she tweeted this at me: 
You are around the corner from me! Where will you be for services, if going?
I tweeted this back at her:
Grew up in Somerset. 12 Webster Rd. off JFK Blvd. Temple Emanuel-El, Edison--home cong.
Because it was just a few hours before Kol Nidre, we resumed our conversation last night and it continued today:
Small world. I grew up in Scotch Plains. Temple Shalom in Plainfield my home cong. Hope your holiday was meaningful.
Smaller world...I was with Jody, Daniel and Rachel L******** at break-the-fast tonight -- at Jody's parents' house!

Holy moly! Was Matt home?? Loving

No...with a WRJ family in P'burgh. I also am loving !

So now we can plan to meet “in real life” at , right?

Absolutely! It's the only way to close the loop. Look forward to it!
By far the best addition to the conversation, though, came from , a mutual friend whom I knew online for a long time before we met in real life.  She chimed in a few minutes ago with this:
Yup...gotta love that #jewishgeography!

Monday, September 9, 2013

War is Not Healthy...: A #DaysofAwe Post

Although I spent most of my growing up years in New Jersey, my family did live in Silver Spring, MD, just outside Washington, DC, from 1968 to 1972.  It was a crazy time in a crazy place, and even though I told my mother I wanted to be a hippie for Halloween one year, I really didn't know what hippies were, and I knew even less about the war they were protesting.

In my memory, though, this image was everywhere during that era:

How sad that the world seems not to have learned much during the last four decades...or, in fact, during the many millennia that came before.

Inspired by Stacey Z. Robinson, this post is one in a series marking the Days of Awe, the 10 days of reflection, repentance and renewal between Rosh HaShana and Yom, Kippur.  Because Stacey graciously provided a list of writing prompts for this period, I'm going to play along...perhaps not as diligently as I did during Elul, but as time and inclination allow.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Making Time for the Whole Enchilada: A #DaysofAwe Post

Photo courtesy of
According to, the whole enchilada is the whole thing, everything.  In an ideal world, my whole enchilada would include more quality time and less hurry-up-and-get-this-done.  In such a world, I'd have ample time and inclination for these things, which currently take a backseat in my real, overcrowded life: 
  1. Finish a long-ago-begun classic novel -- and then move on to other unread books in my personal library.  (I just purchased the electronic edition of Les Miserables for the Kindle reader on my iPad, eliminating the need to schlep the 1200+ page book around with me.)
  2. Watch Ian play baseball, cheering for him and his teammates.
  3. Participate in a Mitzvah Inc. project from time to time.
  4. Visit with Daddy in New Jersey more often.
  5. Blog more regularly.
  6. Write just-because notes to friends -- and send them on their way not with the click of an "enter" or "send" key, but with a postage stamp and a long, dark descent down a mail slot. 
  7. Peruse cookbooks and actually shop for and prepare some of the these-look-good recipes.  
  8. Learn to chant another Torah portion -- using the regular Shabbat trope.  Although I know I muttered many times over the last few weeks that I'd never do it again, in hindsight, rising to the seemingly insurmountable challenge proved to be intensely satisfying.
  9. Write in a journal the old fashioned way -- not on a computer screen -- in a coffee shop.
  10. Relax, make eye contact, smile, and be open to new opportunities and experiences. Who knows where they'll come from, or where they'll lead...
Inspired by Stacey Z. Robinson, this post is one in a series marking the Days of Awe, the 10 days of reflection, repentance and renewal between Rosh HaShana and Yom, Kippur.  Because Stacey graciously provided a list of writing prompts for this period, I'm going to play along...perhaps not as diligently as I did during Elul, but as time and inclination allow.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thanks, Golda!

Dear Golda,

Thank you!  Your words of inspiration from nearly three weeks ago did help me to trust myself and made me more of the kind of self that I'll be happy to live with for the rest of my life.  Most of all, you helped me to fan tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement. 

No, those flames aren't yet strong enough to roast marshmallows, and no, I'm not going to cantorial school anytime soon, but I did chant the goings on from the fifth day of creation during today's Rosh HaShanah service.

You don't get all the credit here, though. 

It truly took a village to get me onto that bema and I owe a debt of gratitude, too, to Jesse Berger for inviting me to chant in the first place, to Cantor Maria Dubinsky for making the recording that I think I listened to 3,765 gazillion times, to Rabbi Victor Appell for listening to me read the Hebrew, to Cantor Caitlin Bromberg for talking me off the ledge and then for color coding my copy of the text to illustrate which melodies repeat themselves in the verses.  

Thanks, too, are due to my father, who sat next to me in the pew and to my mother, who was there, too.  Her tallit and love both, I know, were wrapped around me this morning.  Although I don't wear the former too often, today was the perfect day to do so, and the latter, without a doubt, is with me each and every day.

I'm not especially superstitious, but if this morning was a sign about the year to come, I think good things are in store.  Or, as some of my friends are fond of saying at this season, "shofar, so good."

Thanks again, Golda.  I appreciate your support...and that of the rest of my village!

Shana tova,

~ JanetheWriter.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Returning to Prayer: A #BlogElul Post

Graphic courtesy of
Last year, the #BlogElul writing prompt for the first day of Elul was "return."  This year, it's the final prompt, serving as a framework for the last #BlogElul post of 5773 -- and bringing this year's month of daily writing full circle, returning it to its starting point. 
I have no idea why I know this, except that my mind, my heart, and my prayers return every single day to my friends who were the subject of that post on 1 Elul 5772.

Today, as we stand on the brink of yet another new year, holding fast to the hope that it will be a good, sweet, and healthy one for us all, I return to these words from last year's post, and, once again, offer them in prayer:
Please take good care of all of them, especially Superman Sam, so he can return to his normal life with his sibs and his ‘rents in Chicago and stay there…except for treks across the border to camp or to visit his Bubbe and Zayde.
Ken yehi ratzon.
 L'shanah tovah u'metukah!

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Ziggy Sheets: A #BlogElul Post

When my sister and I were kids, we loved Ziggy, the fat, bald comic strip guy waving to you over there on the left. 

I'm especially indebted to him for teaching me the joy of giving.

The story goes something like this...

I don't know where my sister was at the time, but one summer day when I was about 10 or 11, my mom and I were out shopping.  I wasn't looking for a birthday gift for my sister's August birthday, and I didn't have a specific gift in mind. 

And then I saw the Ziggy sheets.  Adorned with a geometric pattern of wide stripes together with Ziggy and his dog, Fuzz, the set included a fitted sheet, a flat sheet and two pillow cases, all perfectly sized for her twin bed with the canopy.

They were the perfect gift, and I could hardly contain my excitement at having found them.  On the morning of her birthday, I nearly jumped out of my skin before she finally unwrapped the package--leaving us to squeal with little-girl delight at the wonderful find. 

Over the years, she often let me borrow the beloved sheets and even now, four decades later, they still are the (threadbare) linens of choice when one or the other of us spends the night at 12 Webster Road.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Der Mentsh Trakht un Got Lakht: A #BlogElul Post

Back in January, I started reading an unabridged edition of Les Miserables.  Under the best of circumstances, I figured it would take me about a year to read the whole book. As of today, eight months later, I’ve finished 285 of the book’s 1200+ pages. 

There’s no doubt that some of the time I might have devoted to Hugo’s tome I frittered away liking Facebook statuses, playing Words with Friends, and vegging out in front of the television with Alex Trebek, Mariska Hargitay, and Christopher Meloni as my sole companions.  And there also was the time I spent paying bills, shopping for food, cooking, washing dishes, changing linens and the like. 

It’s also true, though, that I spent other chunks of potential reading time attending Worship, Communications and Adult Ed committee meetings, being encouraged and encouraging others at Weight Watchers, and organizing and facilitating FORCE meetings for some of my local BRCA sisters.  I also talked to God at minyan, and on the phone nearly daily (sometimes more often) to my father, my sister, my Aunt Claire, and (not as often as I'd like) to friends in such places as Saratoga Springs, NY, Ventura, CA, and Hatboro, PA, among others.  Learning to chant Torah, blogging, and writing (and texting) condolence, mazel tov and refuah sh’leimah notes to friends around the country also pulled me from Jean Valjean and the rest of the book's characters.

Although I don’t have a lot of read pages to show for the eight months since I started on page 1, I do have a welcoming synagogue community, a supportive BRCA sisterhood, loving family and friends, and a rich, full life that, despite my best intentions, doesn’t leave me as much time as I think I would like for reading.

Is it any wonder that Got lakht?!

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Power of Hope: A #BlogElul Post

This is the mirror on the back of my bedroom door:

And this is what's printed on one of the many treasured notes and keepsakes that lives on the mirror:

"Of all the forces that make for a 
better world, none is so powerful as hope.
With hope, one can think, one can work,
one can dream.  If you have hope, 
you have everything." 

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year. 

Saturday, August 31, 2013

To Begin Anew: A #BlogElul Post

Recently, someone I know told me he greatly admires my tireless efforts at reinventing and re-imagining myself.  Although I didn't tell him so, it's something I learned from Jewish tradition, and I've been doing it for much of my life.

At one point during the summer after my college graduation, I received several different job offers at once.  None of them was the right one for me and, thankfully, my parents encouraged me not to accept any of them, and to begin my search anew.


More than a decade ago, after 13 years in a beige and boring marriage, I finally gathered enough courage to leave it all behind, moving home to the east coast to find a new job, a new home and a new life.  I've never looked back.


Each year, as we celebrate the birthday of the world, our tradition provides us with an opportunity to wipe the slate clean, to turn over a new leaf, and to make a fresh start.


Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha'olam who allows us to reinvent, recreate, and re-image ourselves and to begin anew, again and again. Amen.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Sad End and a New Beginning: A #BlogElul Post

Earlier this week, a good friend's mother reached the end of her life.  It was more than unexpected -- tragically sudden, in fact -- made all the more so because my friend is to be married in October.

Ever since, the Unetanah Tokef has been echoing in my head.

This version from the machzor:

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.
But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.
And this one by Leonard Cohen:
And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the night time,
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial,
Who in your merry merry month of may,
Who by very slow decay,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who in her lonely slip, who by barbiturate,
Who in these realms of love, who by something blunt,
And who by avalanche, who by powder,
Who for his greed, who for his hunger,
And who shall I say is calling?

And who by brave assent, who by accident,
Who in solitude, who in this mirror,
Who by his lady's command, who by his own hand,
Who in mortal chains, who in power,
And who shall I say is calling?
But more than just pondering the words of the liturgy, the circumstances have prompted me to tell people in my life how very much I appreciate their presence and their friendship.
To C, who offered to help plan a gathering when our friend returns to New York, I wrote this:  "Life turns on a dime...and so thanks for your offer and for being my friend."

To E, who was at the out-of-town funeral because he always steps up to the plate for his friends, I said: "And with this sad reminder that life turns on a dime, I want to tell  you how much your friendship means to me.  Travel safely."

To S, who sometimes drives me nuts (and knows when he's doing it!), I added this postscript at the end of an email:  "I was reminded this week that life truly turns on a dime and so I just want to say that I appreciate having you as my friend.  You're a good egg."
And to V, who called yesterday during a work-from-home day, I reiterated the message:  I value you as a friend and a colleague, and I'm glad to have you as part of my life."
And so it is that from this sad ending comes a new beginning, the focus of which is not only feeling gratitude and appreciation, but also telling of the gratitude and appreciation.  In the new year, may we be blessed with good friends...and may we tell them just how blessed they make us.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

A Match of My Own: A #BlogElul Post

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
catch me a catch
Matchmaker, Matchmaker
Look through your book,
And make me a perfect match

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
I'll bring the veil,
You bring the groom,
Slender and pale.
Bring me a ring for I'm longing to be,
The envy of all I see.

For Papa,
Make him a scholar.
For mama,
Make him rich as a king.
For me, well,
I wouldn't holler
If he were as handsome as anything.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
Catch me a catch,
Night after night in the dark I'm alone
So find me a match,
Of my own.

How did you meet your match?!

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dare to Dream: A #BlogElul Post

What will you dare to dream?

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Change for the Better: A #BlogElul Post

Dear Cantor Dubinsky,

Thanks for taking time during your busiest season of the year to meet with me this afternoon.  Most of all, thank you for helping me change my attitude about chanting Torah on the second day of Rosh HaShanah from mild panic to I-have-some-prep-to-do-but-I-can-handle-this.

With your calm, no-nonsense advice, I know that it's a matter of changing the way I look at and think about the text.  Rather than viewing it as one long paragraph, I now see that it's more important to focus on small pieces, to pay careful attention to the Hebrew, and to note the places where the melody repeats itself.

This change in perspective is a change for the better, and I expect to make some solid progress before we meet again on Friday.

Thank you again,
 ~ JanetheWriter.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Do Not Judge Us For Our Actions: A #BlogElul Post

Shortly after Angelina Jolie announced that she had undergone a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy because of the presence of a BRCA mutation, I wrote this opinion piece, which provides BRCA basics about the prevalence of the mutations, the risks of developing cancer, and signs that hereditary breast and ovarian cancer may be present in a family.

Among the many comments that were posted in response to the article were several that espoused this sentiment: 
I have no intention of even being tested, for reasons including many already mentioned above, despite knowing that at least one such mutation runs in my father's family, and having a strong family history of cancer, including both parents and three of four grandparents dying of one form of it or another (with my mother having also had breast cancer earlier on), and my mother's sister also a survivor of yet another form.
I think the idea of lopping off perfectly healthy body parts to "prevent" a problem that proper routine screening and attention to one's health should uncover early is insane, especially a potential problem that is in no way certain to develop without such surgery.

I won't have the testing because what else on earth could be done to try to avoid getting cancer that we're not already supposed to be doing, like eating right, generally taking care of our health, exercising, etc.? And why should I even open the door to the possibility of the kind of fatalism that can easily result from knowing that one has such a mutation? Especially knowing that such fatalism can lower one's immune system function - which in turn can open the door to a cancer that might not otherwise have developed.
I understand and respect that others might feel better knowing, and even taking such drastic, unproven steps, but I also find it appalling on many levels that anyone should be held up as a "hero" for making the choice to have this surgery.
 Just go live your lives, people. Take care of yourselves the way you know you should, get your regular mammograms, pap smears, prostate exams, etc. Know your body, and go see a doctor quickly if you notice a change; have regular exams. Heck, have *extra* exams, for that matter. But for heaven's sake, hold onto the body parts the good lord gave you until there's an actual *reason* (as in actual illness, or real proof that doing otherwise will actually matter) to part with them.
Although I could have responded otherwise or not at all, I chose to answer with this:
As I noted in my piece, women have many options with regard to dealing with BRCA mutations. Having watched such a mutation--that she didn't even know she had--kill my mother in seven weeks time, I saw reason enough to take action once I knew I carried the same genetic defect. I do not consider myself, Angelina Jolie or anyone else a hero for choosing prophylactic surgery. As you suggest, we are just trying to live our lives. Please do not judge us for our actions.
Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima,this post is one in a series marking the days of the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish High Holidays and traditionally serves as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation for the new year.