Thursday, December 31, 2020

Even on the Reading Front, 2020 Was a Crappy Year

I set out to read 12 books during the year, but never clicked the “Start Challenge” button on Talk about foreshadowing…

No excuses here but that the year sucked us dry in so many ways.

I started myriad books, but these three I actually finished. Interesting that all of them are fiction, not generally my genre of choice. Whatever….chalk it up to 2020!

May 2021 be a better year in every way.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

What Will They Have to Fight for in the Future?


“She changed the way the law sees gender."

Abbe Gluck, Yale Law School professor and former clerk of RBG

never turn on the television during the day, but this morning, when my sister called and said, “Turn on MSNBC,” I complied.
I cried as RBG’s flag-draped casket, her clerks as honorary pallbearers, made its way, ever so slowly, from the street, up the steps, and into the large entryway of the United States Supreme Court, coming to rest on Lincoln’s catafalque. Her own family and her Supreme Court family awaited her.
I watched and listened as Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt chanted the 23rd Psalm, spoke movingly about the justice, drawing parallels between the Torah and the U.S. Constitution, and then chanted the El Malei Rachamim—an only-in-America moment that RBG, no doubt, would have appreciated.
As the coverage continued outside, an MSNBC reporter queried people in line as they waited to pay their respects. Among them was a woman who had driven from Philadelphia with her 12-year-old daughter and the daughter’s friend. Hearing the masked girls talk (in their 12-year-old way) about RBG and her legacy and what it means for them was... right and precious and sad and wonderful, all at once. They reminded me of a battle I fought for gender equality when I was not much older than 12, a battle I now realize RBG, though not yet a household name, was fighting right alongside me.
Tonight, I told my sister about the girls with these bittersweet words: “They didn’t ever have to fight to join the Key Club, but God only knows what they’ll have to fight for in the future.”





Saturday, July 18, 2020

Music and Memories: Where Do They Take You?

Recently, I started the New York Times 30-Day Challenge, and this past week, one of the non-exercise day challenges was this:
Choose a song you love that you want to share with another person and ask them to do the same. Tell them why you are sharing it — does it make you think of them? Does it explain how you feel? Or does it bring back a great memory? Don’t just listen and forget it. Take time to talk about it. This is a great challenge to help you connect with children, but you also can share it with a romantic partner or best friend.
My first thought was this Facebook post from March of 2019:
The power of music: This morning Hall and Oates' "Kiss on My List" was playing in Dunkin Donuts while I waited on line. Without missing a beat, I was back at Lafayette College, it was 1983...a Saturday night and Zete was spinning disks. My shoes were sticking to the dance floor, friends were nearby, and all was right with the world.
Then yesterday, during the weekly pre-Shabbat Zoom gathering of the JCC Association team, one of my colleagues, a former song leader, chose “Blowin’ in the Wind” as this week’s song. He described how he first heard it at home as a third-grader in 1989 and rightly noted that the sentiment and the lyrics are as apt today as they were when they were written back in 1963. While he sang, accompanying himself on the guitar, I refrained from typing into the chat that the song and I are the same age!

In fact, there are many songs whose opening notes magically whoosh me back to places and people from my past.

Play Billy Joel’s “My Life” and I’m immediately in Mrs. Ritter’s brown, two-door Plymouth Volare. Susie, my friend Amy’s sister, is driving, and a bunch of us are squished together in the back seat, heading home from the annual Franklin-Piscataway homecoming game. The radio’s blasting, and it’s as though Billy Joel is talking directly to us, high schoolers just starting to find our voices and try out our wings:
I don't need you to worry for me 'cause I'm alright
I don't want you to tell me it's time to come home
I don't care what you say anymore this is my life
Go ahead with your own life leave me alone
The same thing happens with “Evergreen,” but instead of in a car, I’m in Bound Brook, one town over from home, at my high school’s yearbook signing dinner, slow dancing with Ross Ignall. (Ironically, that year, the yearbooks weren’t back from the printer in time for the event, so we all signed staple bound booklets, specially assembled for the occasion.)

The opening bars of “You Are” by Lionel Richie are from the same era, and those notes whisk me to Easton, Pennsylvania. It’s freshman year and I’m in Ruef Hall, Room 307, with its matching comforters, curtains and rug—the most coordinated room on our floor and maybe in the entire dorm. It’s Saturday night, the music’s mellow, and my roommate Terry and I are chilling, waiting for the clock to strike 11 so we can head out for the evening—to Zete first, then maybe a stop at another fraternity house, or, to my favorite spot, the basement of Marquis Hall, to sit in an oversized faux leather booth at “The Leopard’s Lair,” for French fries and diet Pepsi. 

Two musical pieces, though, predate Lionel, Billy, Daryl, John, and Barbra.

Thanks to WQXR, this one came blasting into the living room at 12 Webster Road when there was still a stereo and speakers along the wall where a piano later sat. All four of us were in the room at the time, and as if on a whim, my mother said to the elementary school-aged Amy and me: “Does this song remind you of another one?” A few minutes of quiet listening, and… “Hatikvah!” I shouted, surprised at having made the connection to a song from an album of Israeli songs that played often on our stereo.

Naomi Shemer’s classic, “Jerusalem of Gold,” was another of those Israeli songs. It quickly became such a favorite that I chose it as the closing song for my bat mitzvah service. For many years, hearing its soulful refrain took me back to that night more than four decades ago. More recently, it’s brought me to the back patio of the King David Hotel from whence I caught a first glimpse of the walls of the Old City in 2004—on the first night of my first-ever visit to Jerusalem. A longtime URJ board member, Arthur Heyman, z”l, had accompanied me to the spot, creating what was then, and especially is now, a sweet memory indeed.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Does Anything Quimper to This Small World Passover Story?

For nearly as long as I can remember, my Aunt Claire has been collecting Quimper French pottery (pronounced CamPear). It’s mostly yellow or white, round or octagonally shaped, and often includes a man or a woman standing in profile, surrounded by a border of dainty, yet measured flourishes of blue, green, or red paint. In addition to plates, bowls, and cups and saucers, my aunt has collected, in the course of nearly 50 years, gravy boats, serving platters, wall hangings, pitchers, vases, and more. Some out-of-the ordinary pieces are painted in shades of green, but still are adorned with the distinctive French country figures. A man on one plate, a woman on another.

When she redecorated her kitchen, sometime in the 1980s, I’m guessing, she made Quimper the centerpiece of the room, choosing wallpaper, fabric for the window curtain, and plain blue everyday dishes—all to complement the yellow pottery. She and I trekked to the Pierre Deux store in New York City to find exactly the right wallpaper and fabric pattern.

Fast forward to this past Thursday evening.

As I scrolled through Facebook, admiring all the seder tables, adorned with laptops to bring friends and family into our quarantined celebrations, this photo caught my eye:

Commenting on the photo, I said, “Chag sameach! And a weird question: Do your yellow dinner plates have figures of men and women on them? Are they Quimper?”

In his reply, the poster of the photo, one-half of a couple I know through a mutual friend (and, more recently, through my synagogue) wrote: “Yes, and I don’t know!”

Me: “What does it say on the back of the plate? My aunt has been a longtime collector of antique pieces of this French pottery, which is pronounced ‘CamPear,’ and she has an incredible collection of it. It seems her collector's eye has rubbed off on me!

Adam: “I looked on the back of the plate and it does say Quimper.”

He then sent me this photo via a direct message and our conversation continued from there:

Me: As I suspected! I foresee a blog post coming from this conversation. Stay tuned....and chag sameach!

Adam: Ha ha! Ok. They belonged to Marla’s mom, Donna Newman, and after she passed away they came to Marla.

Me: Are they your Passover dishes or do you use them year-round?

Adam: We use them on special occasions year-round.

It’s now Saturday afternoon, and I’m crafting this post—not only because I love this story of an unexpected connection, but also so I can send it to my Aunt Claire in Florida. She’ll love it, too!

Never again will a Passover come or go that I don’t think of Adam and Marla and the Quimper dishes on their holiday table.

Wishing everyone a ziessen Pesach!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

My Guilt-Free Pandemic

Sheltering-in-place is hard for everyone, but perhaps more so for those of us who live alone—even if we’re introverts. Sure, I love what my sister calls “bonding with my apartment,” but that’s usually after a week of work, working out, socializing, and dealing with the stuff that goes along with running a household: laundry, garbage, recycling, cooking, bills, and all the rest.

Here are five things I won’t feel guilty about during the pandemic—and perhaps not ever again:

1. Not Cooking: Although blizzards and pandemics send many people scurrying to the kitchen to produce huge quantities of comfort food, challah, brownies, and the like, I’m not one of them. In the three weeks I’ve been home, I’ve made one batch of chili and one chuck roast—most of which is in portion-size containers in the freezer. That’s enough. Cooking brings me no joy, no comfort, and I’m not going to do it anymore. I’m going back to salads, veggie burgers, and scrambled eggs. My kitchen and I will both be happier that way.

2. Not Reading: There’s nothing that goes better with bonding with my apartment than curling up with a good book. There’s a problem here, though: I don’t have the bandwidth to read. No concentration. No attention span. No comprehension. Therefore, no guilt.

3. Not Tuning in to Minyan: Prayer can be challenging in the best of times. These days it’s nearly impossible. I think I’ll stick to a Mi Shebeirach for each ambulance siren—and there are a lot of them here across the street from NYU/Langone Tisch Hospital—and for the people I know personally who are fighting COVID-19, including a friend from my hereditary cancer network who is hospitalized on a ventilator. Any more than that is… Just. Too. Much.

4. Not Observing Passover the “Right” Way: In a year when my MacBook Air—not MetroNorth—is going to take me to the seder, does it really matter if all the chametz is out of the house or if I shake out the crumbs from the toaster-oven before Wednesday night? About some traditions, though, I say, “Pandemic, be damned.” Come the virtual seder, I’ll still want assurance that shmorah matzah tastes exactly the same as the box it comes in and that Elmo is going to make his usual guest appearance in time to sing “Echad Mi Yodea.”

5. Oreos: Drastic times demand drastic measures, and if Oreos are my comfort food of choice right now, so be it.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and wash your hands.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

5 Things I Miss in These Crazy Times

Today it’s cloudy and rainy in New York City. In an earlier time (like, maybe three weeks ago), I would have welcomed such a day to stay home and hunker down. After two weeks of doing just that, though, here are five things I’m missing in the age of COVID-19:

1. Browsing for Books: Even with shelves of unread books, browsing for new ones is one of my all-time favorite activities. I can’t wait for libraries and bookstores to reopen, so I can get lost in the stacks once again.

2. Hanging Out at Union Square: Although it’s probably OK for my sister and me to hang out together as we often do on weekends, we’ve refrained from visiting each other except by video chat. Right now, I’d like nothing better than to stroll to Union Square, spend some time in Barnes & Noble, and then visit with her in Apt. U21F, which overlooks 14thStreet on one side and south down Broadway on the other.

3. Spending Weekends at Del Boca Vista: Amy and I go out to New Jersey about once a month, and it’s a highlight in our world. We have it down to a science: We meet at “our Dunkin’” in Penn Station on Saturday morning just before 11 a.m.—in time to take the New Jersey Transit 11:14 to New Brunswick. (We both purchase e-tickets on our phones, but we activate them differently: one upon boarding the train and the other when she hears the conductor’s ticket punch. Can you guess who’s who?!) Our dad meets the train, and from there it’s on to Frank’s Pizza for lunch and then home to “the new 12 Webster Road” in DBV. A trip to Labyrinth Books in Princeton and dinner out are often on the agenda, as is breakfast at the Somerset Diner. We’re nothing if not predictable!

4. Sitting in “My Pew” at Minyan: No, my pew doesn’t have my name on it, and no worries if someone else sits there, but when all’s right with the world, Isabelle is to my right, Harriet and Albert are in front of us, and some combination of Sandra, Laura, Jesse, and/or Charlie usually are behind us. From her voice alone, Joanne makes her presence known; I don't even have to turn around and look to know when she's there. I’ve been shunning virtual services (and several invitations to “meet up” virtually with friends) thus far—mostly because my eyes are so tired from a week of work that regularly includes eight or 10 hours of screen time that I just want screen-free evenings and a screen-free Shabbat.

5. People Watching: This pastime of mine is right up there with book browsing, and except for the little bit I can do while standing in the check-out line at Fairway, it’s mostly off limits these days. Soon, I hope, I’ll be taking in lots of good people-watching on my bus ride to minyan, browsing in Barnes & Noble or visiting in Union Square after services, and that when we’re able to find a weekend that works for all of us, Amy and I will be back out at DBV, and I’ll have a chance to people-watch in Penn Station while I wait for her in front of “our Dunkin’.”

Stay healthy and safe, my friends—and if you’re so inclined, let me know what you’re missing in the age of coronavirus. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

5 Things I’m Grateful for During These Crazy Times

I’m tired of the word “unprecedented,” which has been overused in recent weeks, so here are five things for which I’m grateful in these never-before-seen days:

1. Dunkin’: The Dunkin’ on the corner of 33rd Street and Second Avenue has remained open thus far. Although the store has shortened its hours, I can begin or end my daily walk with coffee—or occasionally a latte.

2. I.M. Pei’s Garden: I’ve always enjoyed the private, well maintained green space that separates the buildings of Kips Bay Towers, but even more so now. Today, the space bustled with couples, families, and others, out for a stroll, some fresh air, or just a change of scenery. We maintained our distance and our neighborly ways. It was lovely.

3. Technology: I have new appreciation for technology beyond the phone and have used FaceTime more in the last few days than ever before. As my sister said to me earlier today, “Why did it take a pandemic for us to start video-chatting?” A fair question…

4. Sunshine and Fresh Air: I’m not sure I ever fully appreciated the feel of fresh air on my face and in my lungs the way I do now, each time I step outdoors. Today’s brilliant sunshine was an added bonus, its warmth a welcome complement to the brisk spring air.

5. The Daily Vort (Yiddish for word): One of my new colleagues has been writing and sending a daily email to the staff that he’s entitled the Vort. No more than three or four paragraphs, each message contains timely Jewish content and a bit of inspiration for these troubled times. Reading them brings routine and comfort to days that don’t have enough of either.

Stay healthy and safe, my friends—and if you’re so inclined, let me know what you’re grateful for as you make the best of your time at home.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

A Rundown on My New Job

Dear The Mums,

Remember when you taught nursery school at the JCC in Rockville, Maryland, back when it was still called nursery school and not, as it is today, early childhood education? I was reminded of that long-ago family connection to “the field,” now that I’m working as a senior writer for JCC Association of North America, the membership organization of JCCs, YM and YWHAs, and a network of summer camps across the continent.

It’s only been two weeks since I started, but the welcome I’ve received has been overwhelming and began almost from the moment I accepted the position, which I’d applied for right before Thanksgiving and accepted just before Christmas. From the signs and balloons that awaited me in my office to a first-day lunch out with my team, I have been bowled over by the warmth of absolutely every single person I’ve met thus far. What’s more, within a few days, all the new-employee paperwork was done, I was enrolled in a pension plan, my medical insurance card arrived in the mail, and my business cards were printed. Lest I forget, I have a complimentary membership to the 14th Street Y, and I can’t wait to go swimming.

I’d met the president and CEO, Doron Krakow, during my interview, but he was out of the office traveling until well into my second week. When he returned, I heard him greeting people by name, asking how each person was doing, catching up on projects, and demonstrating a warm, leadership-by-walking-around style. When he stopped into my office (which, it seems, someone vacuums nightly), I received a most enthusiastic, warm welcome—including a hug—and we chatted for a few minutes. I told him, as I have repeated so many times in the last two weeks, “I’m thrilled to be here!”

As far as the work and my team goes, it’s all good. We meet weekly around a table, face-to-face, to review the status of all our projects, which are managed by Angela, the marketing administrator. Joanne, the chief marketing officer, heads up the team, and the other members include Loraine, the graphic designer; Morgan, the digital media marketing manager; Ben, the photographer/videographer; and Michael, who is a marketing consultant to JCCs. (His wife is a Reform cantor, and the Jewish geography as I am getting to know my new colleagues and they’re getting to know me has been fun. One woman, Yuliya, has a Gratz diploma on her wall, which sparked a great point of connection for us. She loves Dr. Davis the way you did!)

The marketing department functions as a service unit for all the other parts of the organization, and in addition to reading lots of materials to get up-to-speed, I’ve contributed to a few projects, including an update about JWB Jewish Chaplains Council activities. (JWB—Jewish Welfare Board—was established to support Jewish servicemen at the time the U.S. entered World War I and eventually merged with The Council of Young Men’s Hebrew and Kindred Associations, founded several years earlier, becoming the national association of JCCs and YM-YWHAs.) I’ve helped with Doron’s “Shabbat Shalom,” his weekly email message, drafted a joint letter from him and the board chairman to Federation executives, urging them to register for JCC Association’s upcoming biennial gathering, and also drafted an article for a lay leader that spells out the importance of attending this biennial event, known as JSummit. It’s scheduled for early May in Milwaukee, and I’m looking forward to being there.

A few more details to paint as full a picture as possible about my new gig: The offices, located on the fourth floor of an office building on Eighth Avenue, halfway between Port Authority and Penn Station, are lovely – with lots of oversized scenes from JCCs decorating the walls. It’s nice to be surrounded by joyful images of kids at summer camp, seniors in water aerobics classes, and preschoolers enjoying juice and challah in anticipation of Shabbat. (Yesterday, the staff had its once-a-month oneg, which, not unlike the pre-school celebrations, included a bit of singing; a micro d’var Torah; blessings over the candles, juice, and challah; home-baked treats; and a few minutes of collegial schmoozing.) There’s a beautiful conference suite; a number of offices leased to tenant organizations, including two in which the executive directors are former URJ/RAC employees; and a designated staff lounge, where people gather for lunch—and, again, someone cleans the refrigerator every single week.

All this by way of assuring you that I’m quite happy with my professional life these days—the work, my colleagues, and the mission and values of the organization—and, truth be told, proud of myself for (finally) having made this much-needed change. I think you would be proud, too.

Miss you…xoxo.

P.S. If Brian’s name sounds familiar, you’re right. He and I were classmates at Laf Coll, and he preceded me as president of Hillel. When I told the now-retired Bob Weiner about my job and that Brian and I would be colleagues, he wrote back, “So happy and proud. Good Shabbos. Hugs and love, Bob.”

P.P.S. The JCC in Rockville is now the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, and from what I can see online, it appears to be an amazing facility.