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Category Archives: Being Jewish

Rabbi, we have to stop meeting like this

We, the parents of the Hebrew class of Gimel, which means third graders to non-Hebrew readers, were called to temple recently for a teaching moment with the Rabbi.

In theory, this is a very nice thing. We have a friendly, young rabbi and bunch of parents who I have known for years. In reality, putting me anywhere near the Rabbi has in the past proven somewhat problematic. Apparently, Rabbis make me nervous or stupid, possibly both.

That’s why, I have resolved for the past year or so now, to watch my mouth and what comes out of it. I will not tell the rabbi, that my hotness is the reason that the room is warm. I will not swear ‘Jesus Christmas’ when I accidentally spill my coffee that I probably should not have brought into temple in the first place. I will not comment on any part of his appearance, like I did when he grew a beard after the passing of his mother, which, who knew – was connected. Um, every Jewish person but me.

This morning, the Rabbi tells us we were brought together to discuss the Shema. I’ve always been a good girl, but never a good Jewish girl, so I couldn’t really tell you what it means beyond that is a prayer that sounds lovely to ear and speaks to the heart of the covenant between you and God. I think.

It’s probably because when the rabbi started speaking I was too involved with searching for a butterscotch candy deep in my bag. Don’t worry, he waited for me to find it.

And when one of the women asked a question that made me roll my eyes a little, I couldn’t help nudging the friend next to me and giggling like an elementary school idiot.

It’s an informal gathering and thankfully the rabbi is kind and tolerant. I add my two cents here and there, and am my general babbling self, causing one woman to remark that I should possibly just lead the discussion.

Okay, then. I’ll shut up now.

And I did, silently chastising myself until the children all filed in. They were part of this ‘special activity’ with the parents and rabbi. They took their seats around the table and my eyes followed my little third grade boy, so freaking adorable with his new haircut that accentuates his huge, green eyes that are always glittering with mischief.

They all settled in and we turned our attention back to the rabbi. “So we are all here for this….”

The sound of a chair rustling interrupted.

The rabbi starts again.

More rustling.

It is, of course, my son.

We all turned to watch my impish boy as he worked to move his chair in between the two next to him.

When he was finally done, he looked up at me and smiled radiantly. I couldn’t help but smile back, but we’re going to have to have a talk when we get home. He just can’t go around being so distracting.

I have no idea where he gets it.

owen and me

Damn. I know where he gets it.

Latke them up and don’t let them go

My kitchen reeked of potatoes and onions. The smell infiltrated my hair and clothes, and even after a shower and thorough shampooing, the scent would linger hours later, causing dogs to trail after me as well as one ever hungry husband.

I was frying up latkes for my 11 year-old son’s multi-cultural holiday fest at Middle school the next day, and had been at it all afternoon.

I tried to get out of it. I did not want to make latkes. I suggested bringing in jelly donuts from Dunkin Donuts. I suggested chocolate gelt. Nope, he shook his in-need-of-a-haircut head. He wanted latkas.

I huffed and puffed and blew a lot of hot air, but of course, there I was, splattered with oil, spatula in hand flipping one potato pancake after another when my son walked in from school with his friend.

“Oh, you’re making Latkes.” his friend casually commented.

I nodded, proud of myself. Look at me, I’m making latkas. “Would you like one?” I asked, ever the altruistic domestic fry goddess.

His friend and my son each took a pancake and munched happily. “Good.” His friend said, “My mom is making them too for the multi-cultural fest next week. “

My eye started to twitch.

Next week?

I turned to my son, “Honey? When did you say your thing was?

Sheepish, sweet, aw shucks oops. “Oh. I think I made a mistake.”

Gripping the spatula tightly, I flipped a potato pancake instead of flipping out. “Oh, ya think?”

“Sorry mama.” He said.

Hard to stay mad with that goofy smile combined with a sorry mama, so I turned my fire on the pan, finished up and froze the batch of them.

Freaking latkes.


The next week. 7am… Actual Multi-cultural fest day.

“Baby, I’m going to reheat the latkas and bring them to school around 1pm.”

Baby bear paws around my waist, his face buried in my stomach. “Thank you, mama.”

It’s all worth for these hugs. For these hugs, I will do anything he asks.



He is crouched over, still hugging, his eyes big and hopeful. “Will you not come to my multi-cultural fest?”


But I made latkas… But you always want me to go…. But…

“Please.” He says and hugs my waist tighter, squeezing any defiance from me.


“Sure,” I say, deflated.

He squeezes me one more time, and I run my fingers through his moppy shag before a car beeps outside and he runs out the door for his ride to school. My baby is growing up. I hate this day.

I stand there for a second, watching and waving from the screen door when I feel a presence sidle up next to me. It is my youngest. His small, strong body is naked but for his Skylander underwear. He rubs the dreams from his eyes, but some still linger and he raises his sleepy arms to me. He is five for another two weeks and I will suck every drop of five left in him. I lift him up and cuddle him as I watch the car with my oldest disappear.

Sighing, I stare at the empty street. It was only a blink ago that my 11 year-old was in my arms, never wanting me to leave him, asking where his wife would live when he married, and worrying we’d send him away to college.

“I’m hungry.” My five year old says, dragging me from my wistful melancholy into the kitchen.

I wish I could keep them more innocent than knowing, more mamma boys than young men, more needing me than their friends. But time marches on, and the only thing that seems to linger is the smell of latkes.


Dead Grandma Totally Messes With Me

Before I even had a hint of the infertility problems which would plague me, before any of my babies were ultimately born; my grandmother envisioned me with a girl. She was prone to ‘seeing’ things, mostly dead people, but she also had an extremely refined intuition or esp. She’d offhandedly say things, like, “Oh, so and so just died.” While we were busy processing that information, the call would come in. So and so was dead.

So it was no surprise to me, and I took it as almost a certainty, when 11 years ago, she called and told me I was pregnant. I had been quietly trying for almost two years by the time of her call. I was seeing doctors, and was on an emotional roller coaster month after depressing month.

“Why haven’t you told me you’re pregnant?” she asked, her strong, smoky tone full of reproach.

“Uh, because I don’t know that I’m pregnant. Wait,” I held my breath like I was speaking with a doctor holding test results, “Am I pregnant?”

“If this old witch still has it, you are.”

Five days later, full shock and glee, I called her back. “I’m pregnant.”

I could hear her blow her cigarette smoke into the phone before she offhandedly replied, “It’ll be a girl.”

I had a boy.

She scratched her red head (what other color would a witch have?) and said, “I guess it’ll be the next one.” Nearly three years later, she was wrong again. Almost 3 years after that, when I had my third and last child, she was so convinced it was a girl, she snapped at me.  “What do you mean, it’s a boy!? Well, I’m sorry!”

I certainly didn’t care, but my grandma was not one to be wrong, ever. She didn’t take it well, but decided to love my boys regardless. They each were a shining, joyful light in her life.

By her 90th birthday celebration, she still remained convinced that I would have a girl. Somewhat dramatically (she knew no other way) she said, I would be naming the child after her, implying her death was near.

In the Jewish religion, a name is passed down after a loved one passes. My grandma had been housebound for the last decade with a variety of issues, but none of them life-threatening. Still, as she put it, over and over again, her suitcases were packed and she was ready to kiss her old ass goodbye. We listened to this talk for years, but recently, it seemed she might actually be getting closer to taking that trip.

I was over 40 by then. Given my age, and the fact that I had never become pregnant without assistance, I told her that, she would have to rely on another grandkid for that girl. Besides, I insisted, she was an ox with special powers, she wasn’t going anywhere.

Her response was a dirty look, but she conceded that maybe, in this one instance, her radar had been off. I don’t think she really believed it. She just no longer had the energy to argue. When I think about it now, I love that she remained truly convinced that she was right; such beautiful, dogged stubbornness.

Six months later, she died. I held on to her promises to haunt me and she didn’t disappoint; showing up in many ways, most notably as a fly on my wall, something she had always wished to be in her last homebound years.

I miss speaking with her, knowing I could just pick up the phone and hear her raspy voice. I know she hears me out there, but I’d be much happier to have her hear me over here. I try not to think about it.

But this week, I was late. Yes, that kind of late. A solid, bloated, hormonal and crampy, full week late. I knew I couldn’t be. I counted days and considered. It was not possible. Still, her voice was loud and bossy in my head; you will have a girl. Against all reason and sanity, I went and purchased a pregnancy test, cursing her under my breath.

I’ll spare you the suspense. I wasn’t pregnant, and two hours later, my friend, ‘Dot’ arrived. I laughed at myself and breathed a deep sigh of relief.

As the year anniversary of her passing draws near, I love that she can still mess with me. And since I don’t plan on having another child, I’m definitely going to be just a bit more careful about ‘things’ in the future. My grandmother doesn’t like to be wrong, and I don’t trust that witch at all.

grandma & jack

Boy, did she love her boys, but would it have killed me to have a girl?


Just Say No!

It’s the word most often used by children, an easy, mono-syllable that’s fun and expressive. We’re brainwashed to it at a young age from parents and teachers. There’s a whole campaign telling us to just say it. Whatever the reason, one thing is for certain; my kids certainly know how to say, “No.”

“Michael, it’s time to get up.”


“Julius, did you brush your teeth?”


“Tyler, do you know where your homework is?”


This morning, I’m finally leaving the nursery school after some harrowing negotiations with Julius.

“I don’t want to go to school today!” Floppy-curled, chubby-cheeked four year-old stands tough.

“I’m picking you up in just a few hours.”


“You have to go.”


Heavy sigh.

I had a 9:15 spin class and didn’t want a battle this morning. He was going. I was late. There was only one thing left for me to do… bribery. Yup. Plain and simple. I got low and whispered in his ear. “Go now and I’ll take you to the candy store at pick-up.” I threw some sugar on the sugar, “You can pick out TWO things!”

Julius easily took the bait. We were both solid candy addicts. With a big hug, I was out.  Genius parenting, right there.

I maneuvered my way through children and moms like an all-star obstacle course racer, waving here and there, trying to quickly get to my car without stopping. I was outside, almost there, when the Rabbi spotted me and beckoned me to him. I had a momentary fight or flight reaction; I wanted to run to the car. First, because I was going to miss my gym class and second, because nothing good can come from our conversing. I have a long history of inappropriate commentary, but when the Rabbi beckons, one can only submit. So I take one last longing look at my escape vehicle just feet away and walk over. So close.

As it turns out, it was worse than me embarrassing myself.

Rabbi – “I was wondering if I could count on you to get a little more involved in the Hebrew School.”

Me (Smiling painfully, nodding in the negative and backing slowly away) – “I have a lot on my plate right now.”

Rabbi – “Yes, yes, I know you do a lot for the nursery school but it’s time you transitioned your efforts.”

Oh no, he was using Rabbi mind games on me, it was like the Force, only stronger! I felt myself nodding up and down in agreement.

By the time I got into my car, I had no idea what I had agreed to.

On the elliptical machine at the gym (yes, I missed my class) a friend from the elementary school approached and asked if I would help out on a volunteer project for the kids.

“I don’t know.” I demurred. “I’m already over-extended.”

She assured me it was nothing. Cake. Just need a name to put down.

Again I found myself nodding. I was going to have to consider wiring my head to my neck.

Finished with exercise, I stopped at the supermarket and the dry cleaners for Howard, then home for a shower before nursery pick-up. My phone rings. It’s my father. He needs me to call a doctor for him and maybe figure out this problem he’s been having with his home health aide. He’s in a decent mood, which is a plus, but I sigh and add the chore to my list.

I go to pick-up Julius, checking my emails while I wait. There’s already one from the head of the volunteer committee, the “name only” gig. Uh oh. I’m distracted when Julius runs out with a hug intended to knock me over and almost succeeds.

“Hey! Did you have a good day?” I ask.


Of course not.

“So, do you want to go to the candy store?”

“YES!!” came his exuberant reply, accompanied by another knock down hug.

Finally, a yes from my boy! Now here’s a kid who knows his mind. I think about it. He’s a genius. He simply says “yes” to what he wants, and “no” to what he doesn’t. What a concept!

Hmmm… I wonder if I’m going to learn anything from this?


Hineni – “Here I am”

I rummage through my closet looking for an appropriate outfit, not an easy thing for a girl who spends her life in gym clothes and sneakers. I try on at least three different ensembles, but ultimately settle on a 15 year-old black dress that I have worn for pretty much everything from bridal showers to funerals. Today, it’s my fall-back temple dress. Thank goodness for Express in the 90’s.

Shalom! School has begun. Fall is almost here. I am Jewish.

Of course I’m Jewish all year round, but in September we celebrate the high holidays – Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hashanah, we reflect on the past year, and on Yom Kippur our fate is sealed. Simply put, it’s finals week and report cards are coming.

Today, I’m supposed to be at the temple by 10am because I’ve been given an honor to open the ark encasing the Torah. It’s nice to be acknowledged, but I’m really no good at the religion stuff.  I mean, I send my boys to Hebrew School, attend temple on the holidays and of course, wear my “I heart Jews” tee shirt (kidding); but I can’t read Hebrew, never was a Bat Mitzvah, and feel generally uncomfortable with all things religious. I once said “Jesus Christ” as I tripped into temple and practically fell into the Rabbi. Apparently, I am capable of offending multiple religions simultaneously. I also have said “Amen” to the Rabbi after he sneezed, and once in my flirty, uncomfortable-with-authority awkwardness, suggested to him that the reason it was hot in the temple was because of me. Oh yes I did.

I can’t imagine why they would put me up there on display, and I’m conflicted about why I even accepted. I don’t really want to go, but all I can do now is accept my honor, hopefully not fall off the stage, and then slip quietly into background, which is where I really wanted to be in the first place.

I glance at the clock. 9:45am. Crap. Howard and the boys will just have to meet me. It’s a seven minute walk, but I’m in heels so it’s more like 10 minutes. I start with a brisk pace, but slow down when I trip over the sidewalk and slightly twist my ankle. At 9:58am, I limp into the temple sanctuary and check in. “I made it!” I announce and the administrator hands me a card that says my time is 11:15am. What?? My paper said 10am. I show it to the administrator and he shrugs. What kind of racket is this?

I grab a prayer book and sit down in a semi-breathless huff. I notice the book is new and remember that the temple purchased new books a month or so ago, and that in a moment of sentimentality I had even donated $54 for one of the books to be dedicated to my grandmother who had recently passed.

I flip it open absently and there it is; my grandmother’s inscription. Out of 300 random books, I find my grandmother. Or more accurately, my grandmother finds me. I smile and look around like she’s just placed the book on my chair, but of course, it’s our secret.

The temple president is speaking, and I’m instructed to wait for her to finish before ascending the Bimah (platform). Her running theme is “Hineni” which translates to “Here I am.” She’s trying to inspire people get involved, while thanking the people who do. Hineni. I like it.

She finishes and up I go with a handful of other honorees. I open the ark, the Torah is brought forth, and we are instructed to follow the procession around the congregation. What? Me? No. I didn’t sign up for that. Open. Close. Done. But I’m ushered forward and immediately overwhelmed with people shaking my hand and offering Shana Tova.

Like writing LOL, I have never been comfortable saying Shana Tova. It always felt like I was pretending to be something I’m not. Happy New Year I can say, but here I am clasping hands with dozens of people and Shana Tova’ing like a game show host.

We finally end the procession back on the Bimah. The Torah is put away and the arc closed. I look out from the stage and see my boys, front and center watching me. Julius is dancing a little dance, Michael is bright-eyed and Tyler is smiling wide. I smile back and realize his fly is open. Oops, I think. Hineni.

I return to my seat, flushed and happy to be done. Howard and the boys are there and together we finish out the service. I look around at the congregation and see so many friends and familiar faces. My prayer book with my grandmother’s inscription rests on my lap. I feel warm and connected. Hineni. Here I am.