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.