Friday, June 16, 2017

Shechinah at #FORCE17

Last Friday afternoon, as I do each week, I texted a few friends a Shabbat shalom message: “Shabbat shalom from Orlando and #FORCE17 – annual hereditary cancer conference. 🌞”

One of them responded with this: “Shabbat shalom to you, too, in sunny Florida. Will there be a Shabbat service?”

Our conversation continued.

Me: “The place is crawling with M.O.T.s, but Friday night is reserved for “show and tell,” a different kind of ‘service’ for those facing tough decisions.”

My friend: “HaShem is found in many places and in many ways.”

Me: “She (Shechinah, the feminine divine presence of God) definitely is here. There’s something that feels very sacred about empowered women and pikuach nefesh (saving a life).”

My friend: “It will be a wonderful Shabbat, even if you are not in temple."

Me. “Indeed.”

#FORCE17 was this year’s annual hereditary cancer conference organized by FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered , a grass-roots, non-profit organization devoted to providing support, research, resources, and advocacy to those affected by hereditary cancer. Approximately one in 400 people in the general population carries a BRCA mutation, significantly increasing their lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer (in women) and male breast cancer and prostate cancer (in men), as well as raising the likelihood for others, including pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Hereditary mutations can be transmitted from either parent to both sons and daughters. Among Ashkenazi Jews, the prevalence of BRCA mutations is 10 times greater than in the general population; approximately one in 40 individuals carries a mutation, and most are unaware of their status as carriers.

Sunday, June 4, 2017


After my Shabbos nap yesterday, I unintentionally cleaned a closet because I needed to get to a suitcase that was buried within it. In the process, I came across my wedding’s “old” and “blue” in the form of a pair of my grandmother’s garters – on the erev of what would have been my 28th wedding anniversary.

Many would call this coincidence; my friend, Rebecca, would call it #bashert. So, I snapped a photo of the garters and texted it to her with a message that began, “Here’s #bashert for you…”

She replied with this: “28 = כח = strength.” (Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value and it happens that the two letters that equal 28 –  kaf, which equals 20 and chet, which equals 8 – spell the Hebrew word koach, which means strength.)

Indeed, I am grateful that 15 years ago, I mustered enough emotional strength to see (finally) where I was, to change course, and to steer my life in the direction I wanted it to go. Yasher koach to me -- and to everyone since then who's helped me get (and keep) my life on track.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

No Good Tweet Goes Unpunished

Today’s  Shavuot. As I have done every year for the past few, I’m participating in a collective social media effort to post enough tweets that include “#Torah” – pronounced “hashtag Torah” – that we “ tweet #Torah to the top ,” meaning it appears on the Twitter home page as a trending topic.

As far as I know, we have not ever achieved the goal. And this year, I’ve encountered a few stumbling blocks of my own…

Everything started out smoothly. Using  Hootsuite, a social media tool, I scheduled 80-some tweets to go live between 9 p.m. last night and midnight tonight. Because they appear as both tweets on Twitter and posts on my Facebook feed, I put this message on Facebook last night after two or three tweets had appeared:
It appears that all my #Torah tweets scheduled for the next 27 hours or so are going to show up in my FB feed.
For my FB friends who aren't familiar with Shavuot, it's a Jewish festival (The Festival of Weeks) that occurs seven weeks -- 49 days -- after the first day of Passover and commemorates the giving of the #Torah atop Mt. Sinai. According to legend, every Jewish person from every generation was there to witness the pivotal event in the life of the Jewish people. Today, the holiday is celebrated with late-into-the-night #Torah study sessions and dairy foods -- cheesecake and blitzes, most notably -- which serve as reminders of the Promised Land, which flows with milk and honey. It's also the season for confirmation, when young Jews (generally 16- and 17-year olds) who have continued their studies for several years after b'nai mitzvah commit to lead a Jewish life and help ensure a bright Jewish future.
OK, rabbi, cantor, and educator friends, did I leave anything out?
And then I went to sleep.

I awoke to this message from my sister, which she’d sent at 7:09 a.m.: “Why a million Torah posts?” It was followed quickly by this: “I just saw your explanation. You need to delete them. They filled everyone’s feed…message after message after message…”

Um, yes, that’s precisely the point.

Two hours later, when I hadn’t responded (because I slept in and then went to services), she sent another, less contemptuous message: “You look like a Jewish scholar who drank too much slivovitz and pressed ‘Post.’”

Meanwhile, in response to a tweet that appeared in my feed at about 1 a.m., a friend, who thought I was live-tweeting, commented with this: “Jane, I love you. I’m awake with you for at least an hour…” (I set her straight in the morning, sending a link to Hootsuite by way of explanation.)

When I returned from temple, I spoke to my sister and, concerned that I might indeed be looking like a schicker (Yiddish for drunkard), I reposted the explanatory message from last night.

Convinced all was then well, I was dismayed to receive another message late this afternoon – this one from a friend who, although not Jewish, is well-versed in Jewish holidays and traditions. She wrote: “I think you have been hacked… Twitter keeps giving the same status update over and over again…”

Yes, at that point, all the scheduled tweets had the same beginning – Blessed are You, Adonai, Sovereign of the universe who has… -- but ended differently. I responded to her with this: “LOL! They’re different. It’s Shavuot and I’m one of the people who is posting things with the #Torah hashtag to see if we can get Torah to trend in Twitter. Hope all’s well and you’re enjoying Ramadan.”

Thank goodness for Caroline, a high school friend, whose gracious response to one of my many tweets today made it all worthwhile: “I have enjoyed reading these posts.”

Monday, April 17, 2017

That Time I Did Hagbah at Minyan

Dear WilliamtheTrainer,

Since I don’t speak Spanish and as an immigrant from Ecuador, you probably don’t speak much in the way of “Jewish worship,” I’ll do my best to explain this thing that happened on Saturday morning that you helped make possible.

In the middle of Jewish worship services on the Sabbath and festivals -- and on Mondays and Thursdays in more traditional congregations – Jews read from a Torah scroll, which contains the Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The text is handwritten in Hebrew by a specially trained scribe on animal skin parchment and considering its contents, the scroll is treated with the utmost respect.

After the Torah reading has been completed, it’s customary for one person to come forward to “do hagbah,” which entails lifting the open scroll overhead so the congregation can see the text that was just read. This custom derives from a verse in the Book of Nehemiah that says: “And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people.”

So, back to last Saturday…

We were all standing around the lectern where the Torah had just been read and my friend Roz had finished her first-ever aliyah (reciting the blessings before and after the Torah reading itself), which she’d done in honor of her husband’s 93rd birthday, coming up in a few days. Then, the rabbi invited me to help with hagbah, an honor usually reserved for a strong man because some scrolls are extremely heavy – and the last thing anyone wants is for a Torah scroll to fall or be dropped.

Thinking about those Hoist weight machines, the free weights, the rowing machine, the treadmill, the crunches, the running, the jumping, and all the other hard work I’ve been doing with your help throughout the last six weeks, I hoped I was up for the challenge. With guidance from the rabbi, I took hold of the bottom handles of the scroll, bent my knees to get some leverage, and to my incredible delight, lifted it and turned so everyone could see the text, although it wasn’t open very wide at all (and the rabbi was “spotting me” to ensure nothing bad would happen).

Returning the Torah to the lectern, I helped tie the two parts of the scroll together, replace its velvet cover, silver breastplate, and  yad (literally “hand”), the pointer that the Torah reader uses to keep his or her place while reading. Once it was safely on the shelf where it would remain for nearly the rest of the service, I returned to my seat in the pews, but not before the rabbi said that the expression on my face during hagbah was “worth the price of admission.”

Indeed, it was an incredibly exhilarating and powerful moment-- not only for the chance to give honor to the Torah in a way I never had done before, but also as a reminder that hard work, commitment, and pushing yourself in new and different directions often have unexpected, wonderful rewards.

Thanks for the reminder…see you in the gym!

~ JanetheWriter

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

#BlogExodus: Join

Back in January, I started working with my fellow FORCE group leader to plan a spring fundraising event for the organization that means so much to us because it was there when we needed information and support in dealing with our hereditary cancer mutations.

Although we volunteer, giving generously and caringly of our own time and knowledge to those following in our footsteps – planning and facilitating group meetings and providing one-on-one support to members – it still takes money to run a non-profit organization. There are brochures and business cards to print, conference calls to connect volunteers, salaries to pay, an annual conference to organize, and so much more that goes into making sure no one travels the hereditary cancer journey alone.

With that in mind, I invite you (or your friends and family in New York City) to join us for a terrific evening to support FORCE and its work on behalf of the hereditary cancer community:

Monday, May 1, 2017 
6-8 p.m.
118 East 15th Street and Irving Place
New York City

$65 per person includes appetizers, two drinks, and your chance to be chosen as the evening's model for a make-up or guy brow demo, done by celebrity make-up artist and brow expert Ramy Gafni. 

The best-selling author of How to Fake Real Beauty: Tricks of the Trade to Master Your Makeup, Ramy will inspire you with his personal story, professional experiences, “minimum make-up, maximum impact” application techniques, and the guy brow, his trademarked eyebrow sculpting for men.

There also will be chance drawings for fabulous prizes, including samples of Ramy's cosmetics, lots of great books, a professional massage, an acupuncture session, two tickets to Broadway's Phantom of the Opera, including a signed Playbill, and guided backstage tour....and more!

We look forward to seeing you (or your NYC friends and family) on May 1! 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

#BlogExodus: Read

Sadly, in 2016, I read only six books. What's more, it seems that I purchase books at a faster rate than I read them.

The new year is off to a slightly better start -- I've finished two books and am getting into a third. But, I've also already purchased or been gifted these three books:
If only there was more time to read...

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 10, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts

Friday, March 31, 2017

#BlogExodus: Rise

Does this Lego matzah get a rise out of you?

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 10, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts

Thursday, March 30, 2017

#BlogExodus: Cleanse

There's lots of Passover prepping to be done: vacuuming between the couch cushions, shaking the crumbs out of the toaster oven, getting fresh dish towels for the kitchen, and of course finishing off the chametz.

These days, though, the cleansing I'm enjoying most involves shaking away the "sedentaries" (I know that's not a real word!) with crunches, treadmill time, the rowing machine, and weigh lifting, among other gym activities. Together, they're clearing my mind, cleaning up my body, and giving me a feeling of both freedom and control.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 10, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

#BlogExodus: Exalt

In addition to a celebration of the Exodus from Egypt, Passover is roughly the halfway point between one High Holiday season and the next. This timing makes it a good place to check-in for a quick spiritual accounting. To paraphrase an expression from my father (who has one for every occasion!), Passover is a good time to be sure we're not "in love with the upright pronoun" and only exalt those things that truly deserve exalting.

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 10, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

#BlogExodus: Launch

Yikes! It's #BlogExodus again...already?! 

I suppose it's fitting that this year, 1 Nisan falls on the same day, March 28, that since 2010 has marked (and will ever more mark) for me the launch of the Pesach season. 

Here's how I described today's anniversary on Facebook:
Seven years ago today, I went out to the 'burbs to finish the cooking for "the Passover that wasn't." What happened during the seven weeks that followed fills me with memories bitter and sweet.
In response to an inquiry from Harriet, a friend whom I only met afterward, I wrote this: "My mom went into the hospital on the day of the first seder and into hospice on Shavuot." To which Harriet replied, "That must have been unbearable. Every year must be difficult. Some sorrows we never get over, we just learn to live with them."

It is true. I know I will not get over this sorrow, but I have learned to live with it...and to find the silver linings within it. 

Inspired by Ima on (and off) the Bima, this post is one in a series marking the days of the Jewish month of Nisan leading up to Passover, which begins at sundown on Monday, April 10, corresponding to 15 Nisan. If you want to play along, check out this year's #BlogExodus and #ExodusGram prompts

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Fine Line Between Memory and Lore

This yahrzeit candle is for Tante Laura, who died when I was only seven (yes, 47 years ago). Nonetheless, I have many sweet memories -- although some are more lore than memory.
  1. Tante Laura and my grandmother and their brother, Uncle Max, came to this country from Vienna in the early 1920s, and worked in the garment industry, saving to bring their parents here as well.
  2. When my mom was a little girl in the Bronx, Tante Laura and Uncle Max – neither of whom ever married – rented an apartment from the Provenzanos that was right next door to Provenzano Lanza Funeral Home on Second Avenue between Second and Third streets. Directly across the street was the Church of the Nativity, and on Saturdays in the spring, my mother would watch from Tante Laura’s window as the wedding parties assembled on the steps of the church for photographs. She always described the bride and groom in the middle, flanked by taffeta-clad bridesmaids – two in blue, two in yellow, two in pink, two in green, and so on. Oh, how those young women must have captured her imagination. To this day, whenever I ride the bus down Second Avenue, I take a long glance at those windows, wondering at that early 1940s scene.
  3. When my cousin, Ted, was in college, he told his mom about a kid in his fraternity – Joe Cernigliaro – who had some connection to the Provenzano Lanza Funeral Home. Don’t ask me why or how the two guys figured this out, but on a whim, my Aunt Claire told Ted to ask Joe if his mother’s name is Adrienne. Sure enough, that’s his mom. I’m not sure if she knew my mom and Aunt Claire when Tante Laura and Uncle Max were her family’s tenants, but it’s a small world nonetheless.
  4. To say that Tante Laura was generous would be an understatement. When she made sandwiches, my mom would ask her to make hers with just one slice of bread. She did, of course, but she used the biggest, thickest one from right in the middle of the rye bread! Years later, when my parents were married and living with two young kids a few hours from New York, my mom always found a $10 bill tucked in the pocket of her coat or purse upon returning from a visit.
  5. When I was born (or maybe it was Amy?), Tante Laura made a dress from Swiss dot fabric (the dots were red) that still hangs in the closet in what had been my sister’s room at 12 Webster Road.
  6. In my mind’s eye, Tante Laura was always zaftig (and I am convinced I got those genes). She wore combs in her hair and black orthopedic shoes on her feet. To me, she resembled Golda Meir, which accounts, I think, for my fondness for the zaftig Israeli politician with the black orthopedic shoes.
  7. This memory isn’t necessarily sweet and it’s not even a memory because I didn’t learn about it, let alone understand what it meant, until long after it happened. When Tante Laura died in 1970, the gravediggers were on strike in New York and my parents traveled hastily from Maryland to New York for her funeral, returning there for her burial when the strike ended three months later. To this day, I think about this sad circumstance – and Tante Laura – whenever the gravediggers lower a casket into the ground before the rest of us cover it with shovels full of dirt. 
Rest in peace, Tante Laura, now and always.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

"Never Again" Means Never Again for Anybody

Some days I get so annoyed with our people – especially when we  kvetch, we groan, we complain.

Today wasn’t one of those days.

Today, I was proud to stand in the sleet and freezing rain, alongside thousands of others at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, the very spot through which many of our parents and grandparents passed on their way to the American dream: a better life for themselves and their families.

As the hail pelted us, we stood in solidarity with immigrants and refugees who seek that same American dream today.

In the cold, we stood to oppose the administration’s efforts to extinguish Lady Liberty’s lamp by slamming shut our country’s golden door. Our people has a long memory and we remember all too well the fate of the passengers aboard the MS St. Louis, turned away from our shores during another dark time in our history.

Soaked to the skin, we listened to words and music from elected officials, community and religious leaders, and recent immigrants – ever cognizant that once upon a time, we were refugees, too.

Today we stood on the shoulders of those who came before us, unwavering in our commitment that “never again” means never again for anybody.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

I Know You Were Marching Right Beside Me

Dear The Mums,

Although I don’t know what kind of news coverage there is where you are, I hope you know that Donald Trump is this country’s new president – and that from the perspective of many Americans, he’s wreaking havoc on our democracy.

As the National Organization for Women has reported, immediately following his inauguration, he:
The new president also is having a field day with executive orders, and within 72 hours of taking office, signed executive orders to:
Even as we’re bracing for a Supreme Court nominee and other actions that will attempt to erode women’s rights and civil rights of countless Americans, an unprecedented grassroots movement is gaining momentum. Last Saturday – one day after the president’s inauguration – millions of women (and plenty of men, too) took to the streets in cities across this country and around the world, peacefully marching to demonstrate, again in the words of NOW, “that women’s rights and civil rights will not be rolled back.”

For the first time in many decades, we’re proving that we know what democracy looks like, we’re exercising our right to speak truth to power, and we’re standing up for what is right and just – for women and men, immigrants, people of color, gays, lesbians, transgender people, Muslims, and anyone who calls this country home.

I’m quite sure last week’s march was only the beginning of our work to protect the freedoms and opportunities this country offers us – and that we, unfortunately, can no longer take for granted. Secure in my own beliefs as a feminist, an American, a liberal Jew, and a human being, I am prepared to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty in an effort to make America think again. In the meantime, I was beyond proud to join with hundreds of thousands of other sign-toting New Yorkers in the march up Fifth Avenue – and I know you were there too, marching right beside me.

Miss you…xoxo.
~ Boo!

Monday, January 2, 2017

One More Terrible Thing About 2016

As though the year just ended wasn’t horrible enough – annus horribilis as Queen Elizabeth would say – I was appalled to discover, thanks to, that in the entire 12 months I read a meager five books.

Five books?! High school students do better than that in a single semester.

Appalling, dreadful, upsetting, dismaying, and inexcusable don’t begin to describe my disappointment, but for what it’s worth, here are the volumes that captured my attention in 2016:
  1. Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol
  2. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  3. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
  4. Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons
  5. The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean
Having finished Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking before the new year was even 12 hours old, I guess I’d count this one as well.

Although I’m not generally the resolution-making type, determined, dogged, firm, unwavering, and single-minded barely scratch the surface of my tenacity to do better this year.  

With that in mind, I’m off to my reading chair, Anne of Green Gables in hand.