Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Modest Proposal

A couple of weeks ago, while reading the Huffington Post, a sidebar headline caught my eye -- "In Defense of Bridal Boudoir." Curiously, I clicked on the link and was led to a piece promoting the practice of so-called Bridal Boudoir pictures, those soft-core porn pix some women pose for when they become engaged or are newly married. Hawked hilariously as "tasteful," these photos are intended to be keepsakes or trophies of you at that moment in your life when you are/were at your most delectable and nubile.

But it wasn't just that the article was silly and written in breathless advertorial tones, it was actually offensive, urging women to get those portraits done before everything goes to hell:
But brides face tough questions in deciding whether or not to book a boudoir session: Should I let it all hang out? Will he still love me tomorrow? 
I'm here to say yes and yes! Yes for many reasons, some of which a young woman may understand now and some which she will not understand until she hits 50 and her tightly toned triceps just flutter in the breeze. And not everyone is Madonna, so don't even go there. 
All young women are beautiful. This is not a cliché, this is nature or God's plan or whatever you want to call it, but it's as true as all babies are beautiful. My best friend is really beautiful, we're talking Angelina Jolie beautiful and there's about a handful of pictures of her in existence. We spoke of it recently and she insisted that no one ever took her photo and I was dumbfounded because everyone TRIED to take her photo and she would put her hand up to block them. I reminded her of this and she looked sad and said, "Oh yeah, why did I do that?"
So much is wrong with this writer's thinking that it is hard to know how to begin to respond. Misguided concepts like Bridal Boudoir (the consumerism! the objectification of women! the ageism!) invariably compel me to respond, so I fired off a few salvos within the comments section to the article.

However, because I do not actually care about this subject for more than the three minutes it engaged me online, I blithely skipped away for a couple of weeks, only to be drawn back to the forum this evening when a notice stating that someone had responded to my comments popped up in the sidebar section of the HuffPo, obviously the source of all distraction in life.

In a state of semi-horrified fascination, I read the comment posted by someone called Ogaraj. Ogaraj is infuriated by my critique but what is really striking is how up close and personal he makes his response, using my actual name, ranting and raving.There is something both creepy and interesting about his counter-offensive. He is livid about my "passing judgment" on him and his wife, who are evidently sleazebag consumers of this dubious service. It is kind of funny that he cares what I personally think of Bridal Boudoir and it is not-so-funny that he believes I am critiquing him and his wife.

What's weird is that I stumbled upon this lost correspondence as I was preparing to research a related topic: Orthodox Jewish women who dress in a sexy or provocative manner, in defiance of the laws of tsniut or modesty.

I somehow get the impression that Ogaraj is not an MOT and would therefore not be useful to an exploration of this trend. For this, I am relieved because he obviously cannot draw the distinction between expressing an opinion and passing judgment. I would caution him to avoid reading negative reviews of movies, books, plays, restaurants or anything else that he likes. The judgment might be too much to bear.

Here is my volley with Ogaraj, from the comment section of the HuffPo. You can link through to the original piece here.

In Defense Of Bridal Boudoir
While it is customary for couples to book wedding and engagement photography sessions, a whole new world of possibilities hangs over the bride with the rising trend of the "boudoir" photo shoot.
Shira Dicker Wow. The fact that you see someone having posed, soft-core porn shots taken of herself as a sign that she is in command of her sexuality is the essence of the problem.This is hardly a liberated gesture; it's pathetic. I feel the same way, incidentally, about the so-called Slut Walk; in fact I blogged about it. When women conform to MALE ideals of sexuality, that's not liberated.

Bring on empowered female sexuality. But this, my friend, is not one of its manifestations.
posted Dec 21, 2011 at 07:04:37
Reply  |  Link
ogaraj First, you implied that my wife, (along with the many other women out there who have done boudoir), lacks dignity for doing so. Then, you raise that ante by determining that it qualifies as soft-core porn, and go so far as to call it pathetic. You even go on to foolishly imply that there are largely differing male and female ideals of sexuality, but pass judgement on what does or does not qualify as liberated.

Your insults and hateful judgement says far more about you and your own (fear? loathing? hatred? confusion?) of your own sexuality than it does about the women and men you pass judgement on. The photos my wife (and many other women, along with those in the article) had done have her wearing more clothing than women wear out for a day on the beach with family. Hardly porn. No nudity involved. Hardly undignified. Very classy. Very sexy, and very beautiful.

Most importantly, she enjoyed doing the photos, and enjoyed my response to them. In the end, it was something that she found empowering and fun, despite whatever repressed sexual ideal that Shira Dicker thinks she should conform to. You close by hypocritically saying "bring on empowered female sexuality." In what form- the kind that you approve of? What are the rules that my wife needs to conform to that Shira Decker will accept as a manifestation of what is sexually empowering to a female? Next, are you going to say that a mom wearing a two piece at the beach with her family and posts it to facebook is a bad mother? Better yet, since you see yourself as the authority on female sexual expression, are you going to instruct wives everywhere on what positions are acceptable for a woman to perform in the bedroom as part of *your* opinion of what is empowered

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Heroes

On this Christmas Day, I want to honor two heros: Pope Benedict XVI, for railing against the blingy consumerism that has become synonymous with the season and this little girl who takes on gender stereotyping in toys.

Both messages are as appropriate for Christians as they are for the rest of humanity.

Merry Christmas! And oh yeah, Happy Chanuka!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing!

For my MA thesis at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I researched young American expats in Berlin, an undertaking which compelled me to spend time in bars and clubs.

In tomorrow's Weekend section of the New York Times, my article on Manhattan's Swing Dance Demimonde appears. My research compelled me to spend time going to swing dance clubs and parties.

There is a lesson in this:

Do what you love and your work will never feel like work.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Red Wallet. A True Urban Tale.

One week ago, I found a small red wallet in the street outside of the 8th Avenue entrance to Penn Station.

It was 12:30 a.m. Having been out the previous three nights, I was eager to get home quickly. Though I was not more than a five minute walk from the subway, I gave into temptation and hailed a cab.

As I sprinted towards the car that was in the process of discharging a passenger -- a small man with an over-large suitcase -- I saw the wallet winking up at me from the pavement. It was a woman's wallet, probably freshly fallen. Holding the back door of the cab open, I craned my neck around, checking out the street-scape. A young girl was making out with a guy against a building. Some young toughs glared and glowered as they trumbled by. A bunch of British businessmen walked briskly, talking in that too-bright, too-loud voice of the intoxicated. There was a high concentration of questionable people on the street; any number would have loved to claim the wallet as their own.

So I scooped it up and jumped into the cab.

"Amsterdam and 116th and can I have a light back here?!" I shouted to the driver.

I felt a jolt of adrenalin, a surge of sudden wakefulness. My palms were sweaty. Guilt mixed with curiosity and excitement.

Whose wallet was this???

And what if there was the proverbial million bucks inside? Would I have the moral integrity to return the wallet to its owner?

I opened up the wallet and peered inside. There was not, as it turned out, a million bucks. The sum was closer to one hundred dollars.

There were seven credit cards, an employee ID and a driver's license, with an address. The owner of the wallet was a 26-year-old woman from Long Island who worked in Manhattan. She had long blondish hair, parted in the middle. She was the kind of young woman who blended into a crowd. Nice looking but utterly unremarkable. Kind of bland. She had receipts from several meals. She had store charge cards. I counted her credit cards again. Seven credit cards for a 26-year-old. Huh.

Peering in the inadequate light, I called information on my BlackBerry and fed them the address on the driver's license. Within minutes, I was speaking with a woman who was completely awake, not sleep-saturated, as I had feared. The wallet belonged to her daughter, she told me, but she hadn't come home yet and there was no indication that she even knew the wallet was missing.

I was thanked profusely and praised for my honesty; arrangements were made by the parents to retrieve the wallet the following day. But the next day I got a call from the father who was at a holiday party and couldn't make it and asked would I mind babysitting the wallet until Monday.

Somewhat surprised that he trusted a complete stranger with his kid's seven credit cards and cash over the weekend, I agreed.

The weekend came and went. On Monday afternoon I got a call from the father. He would be coming to my home, by subway, to meet me and get his daughter's wallet back. Feeling sorry for him for having to make the shlep uptown, I arranged to meet by the gates of the Columbia campus.

The appointed time arrived. The father showed up at the Columbia gate, looking out of place. He had white hair and wore a boxy black coat. His face, as they say, had the map of Ireland etched upon it. He thanked me sincerely. I handed him the wallet out of my bag. Awkwardly he gave me a small box his wife had "thrown together." I told him a gift was unnecessary. He said that when his daughter returned home at 3 a.m. that morning, she hadn't even noticed that her wallet was missing. He borrowed my phone to call her, since his phone battery had died. He got his daughter's voice mail and arranged to meet her at Macy's to do Christmas shopping.

Handing the phone back to me, he waved goodbye and left for the downtown subway. I crossed the Columbia campus, heading home. Something nagged at me but I couldn't put my finger on it.

It's been a week since I found the red wallet. I now realize what was amiss, indeed, every time I think of this small saga, I am struck by the same three things:
  • The fact that the father made all the arrangements and traveled to pick the wallet up for his adult daughter
  • The fact that the adult daughter didn't notice her wallet missing all evening. (Was she drunk or very drunk?)
  • The fact that the adult daughter didn't once contact the person who found her wallet
I don't need to be thanked. That's not what I'm saying. But I am truly astonished that not even once, not even by text or email or Facebook message, did I hear from the owner of the missing wallet. Not the evening it went missing, not the following morning, not that Friday when her dad was going to retrieve it, not over the weekend and not the day I gave it back or the next day or any day since. Not out of a sense of anxiety or gratitude. There was a silence so strange that, before I heard from the father on Friday afternoon, I feared the young woman had met up with trouble and perhaps the wallet might turn into a clue in a crime scene.

Her glaring absence from the retrieval process made it seem like the wallet did not really belong to her. Though the wallet contained a driver's license that bore the face and name of a 26-year-old girl and there were lots of credit cards in her name and certainly a decent amount of cash, she appears to be a phantom, a figment of my imagination.

But the wallet's owner actually does exist. I found her on Linked-In. I Googled her and learned where she went to school. And now, because her father used my phone to call her, I have her cell number as well. I admit it. I'm tempted to send her a single text. It would say "hey kaitlyn! yr wlcm!"* One week after I found the red wallet, the conclusion I've come to is that, unless her parents are covering up for some terrible thing that happened that evening, the wallet's MIA owner is a 26-year-old child --someone with a case of impaired responsibility, faulty decision making and an stunted sense of menschlichkeit**.
*You're welcome
**Human decency

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sister (and Brother) Act or YouTube Lunch Break

My morning was spent working on a book launch for a new Bible commentary and fact-checking my second Occupy Wall Street article for the Jerusalem Report; my afternoon will be booked with final interviews for an article on Swing Dance for a great metropolitan newspaper -- due tomorrow (!) -- and groveling before press agents to request an interview with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in advance of their January 25th concert in Charlotte, NC.

The Swing Dance article necessitates that I attend a party tonight which begins at 9 and goes on until the wee hours of the morning. The groveling before press agents probably requires booze but I never drink before 6 p.m.

Bleary-eyed and mush-mouthed, I needed a little break without going too far from my computer and found it in the following video, courtesy of two talented kids and one of my favorite songs of all times from one of my favorite groups of all times, "Psycho Killer" by The Talking Heads.

Oh, and speaking of killer, these kids KILLED the song.

Fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Diaspora-Bashing. The Sport Continues...

First came the video ads in such shockingly poor taste as to appear like Saturday Night Live parodies of commercials -- the Israeli grandparents enjoying a Skype conversation with their grandchild in America during Chanuka until the little girl proudly announces the name of the holiday -- "Christmas;" the little boy nudging his sleeping father with the mantra "Daddy. Daddy. Daddy...." switching finally to "Aba!" which works its magic; the American boyfriend clueless in the face of his Israeli girlfriend's sadness on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day.

These ads were the brainchildren of the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, part of their "Returning Home" project. The tagline of the campaign: They will always stay Israeli. Their children will not. Help them return home. The message rendered loud and clear was: The Diaspora is toxic. Move there and lose your Jewish identity, memory and soul.

Then came the scores of incredulous Facebook postings and sharing, the outraged response by American Jewry to the ads' implicit message. For it was not just any old outpost of the galut that was portrayed; it was that goldeneh medinah of diasporas: the United States of America. You know, that country that is Israel's staunchest ally, with the world's largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel (or maybe also inside Israel?), that nation that gives untold sums of money in government aid and private donations, where so many consider Israel their far-flung home-away-from-home.

The media went nuts (I got contacted by several reporters working on stories, including a CNN producer) when the ads came to the attention of the public, seeking commentary from those newly-appointed agents of assimilation -- American Jews. I suddenly envisioned myself standing in dark glasses and a trench coat on street corners, targeting Israelis newly arrived to New York with the words -- "Hey kid! Have I got something for you!" -- handing out vials of American Dream assimilation potion.

Now here was a story! Not "man bites dog" but "dog pees on the leg of the man who pets him."

The New York Times put Joseph Berger in New York and Isabel Kershner in Jerusalem on the case to cover the next phase of the story: man shouts at the dog that peed on him. In other words, the campaign had been pulled because of the loud public outcry from American Jews, including prominent community leaders. To quote the late Amy Winehouse, theirs' was a unanimous chorus of "No, no, no!"

The outpouring of outrage died down and the ads became ghostly reminders of a dumb idea or the butt of jokes told around the Shabbat table, a welcome bit of comic relief from the not-funny-in-the-least SAT cheating scandal which tragically was a Jewish story as well.

Yet this morning I found a piece of writing on a Forward blog that is even more baffling to me than the ads themselves because it is written by an American Israeli, an educator and a public intellectual. The essay, by David Hazony, posits that the voluble and unified reaction of the American Jewish community indicates that the ads touched a nerve not because they were tacky but because of the truth they contain.

In other words, the American Diaspora, really is a Roach Motel of Jewish continuity where Israelis check in as Jews but they don't check out. Or they check out as Goyim.

Hazony writes:
These ads are ill-thought out. But a secure, self-assured, thriving Jewish culture would have just shrugged them off. Instead, we get responses that are totally out of whack — suggesting that the Israelis really stepped on a live wire in the American Jewish psyche.

As the daughter of a rabbi who became a clinical psychologist when she was a teen (therefore I have a PhD in psych by proxy, as well as millions of reasons to be in therapy, which I am), I seize the authority to state that Hazony's analysis not only insults American Jews by claiming that their response was "out of whack"  (earlier he calls it hysterical) and accusing them of being insecure members of a Jewish culture that is failing to thrive, he also demonstrates an utter lack of intellectual sophistication by resorting to this sophomoric "psychological" interpretation.

I wonder why Hazony needs to believe that American Jews are not "self-assured." We are actually the most self-assured Jewish community of all time, proudly and publicly and proactively Jewish. And as the assertive, in-your-face Jews that we are, it is incumbent upon us to stand up to what amounts to a smear campaign that sadly illuminates the insecure ability, or perhaps the inability, of the Israeli government to hold onto its citizenry.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Notes on a Scandal

If you want to hear a range of opinions and reactions that might blow your mind, ask people what they think about the recent SAT cheating scandal on Long Island.

As the incident has been forefront in my mind, that's what I've been doing. Herewith, a brief playback of actual commentary, gleaned from recent conversations:

The SAT scandal is the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the cheating that goes on.
The prosecution targeted a Jewish community. Once the investigation gathers momentum they will find the Asian kids who cheat as well.
Queens College has an elaborate tests-for-drugs network in place, administered by Yeshiva kids from Long Island.
They nailed the Long Island kids. Wait until they find out what's going on in Indiana.
Test cheating at Yeshiva of Flatbush was so pervasive that I (a total straight arrow) started cheating just not to be at a disadvantage.
I remember that Yeshiva kids stole the trig Regents exam sometime in the mid-seventies, causing the test to be cancelled that year. We were overjoyed.
It was gratuitous for the newspapers -- especially the New York Jewish Week -- to name names. For instance, no one needed to know that one of the test-takers-for-money was the son of a past president of a Great Neck synagogue.
Kids routinely outsource the writing of term papers for entire courses.
At Columbia University, cheating is just a fact of college life. Some do and some don't. 
How is this scandal different from hiring high-price tutors for the SAT's? Really??
The fact that the test takers were largely the sons of successful, prominent people is significant. It signals their sadly misguided attempt to also be powerful and successful.
The scandal is part of a culture of entitlement. Parents are raising kids to believe that anything -- including undeserved grades -- can be purchased.
Some of the parents had to know this was going on. 
The scandal does not accidentally involve Jewish kids. Cheating on tests is simply not believed to be wrong in some pockets of the community.   
In the past, private school principals protected cheaters when they were the scions of wealthy and powerful parents. I can recall at least two incidents like this when I was in high school. This time, the head of Great Neck North, a public school, was able to speak out because his funding is not dependent on protecting the guilty.

In about 40 minutes, I will head over to the Jewish Theological Seminary to teach three classes to the fine students of the Rebecca and Israel Ivry Prozdor program. In my classes I will be talking about the cheating scandal, eager to hear what the students think. But I will not report on my findings. Instead, I will leave it to the students to blog or report or talk about, adding their voices to the on-going conversation about a rip in our social and ethical fabric that saddens me so much I want to cry.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Gloria, Don't You Think You're Fallin' OR Yet Another Chapter in the Ongoing Public Humiliation of the American Wife

Another day, another tidbit of information about the slo-mo undoing of Herman Cain, presidential candidate.

This time, as told to Sean Hannity, hardly a member of the so-called liberal media, Mr. Cain told America that Mrs. Cain -- his loyal wife Gloria -- didn't know about his 13-year friendship with Ginger White. Check out the deets here.

Forget all the allegations of sexual harassment. Herman Cain is SO busted with the surfacing of Ginger White because she has the evidence in hand: text message trails, books inscribed with sexually suggestive notes and a money trail, of course, making her an official, old school kind of mistress.

And then, again, there is the matter of a close friendship with a woman for, oh, over a decade that Herman somehow neglected to share with Gloria. There is the matter of him not asking his wife how she felt about him receiving texts at 4 a..m. and paying another woman's rent and living expenses.

The degree of marital infidelity inherent in these two acts alone seals the deal for me....and for most married women with even a nominal shred of dignity and self-respect, I would hope.

Ginger White's latest public statement that her heart bleeds for Gloria Cain just offers further confirmation of the sexual nature of this friendship. White expresses deep remorse and shame. Only a guilty adulteress would think in that direction.

Which makes the disintegration of Cain's campaign a spectator sport right now. His arrogance in the face of these new and very credible allegations borders on the delusional. Forget about his horn dog ways. It is this moral ruthlessness, this bold belief that he can lie to his wife and the media and the American people and STILL pursue the nation's highest office that sends chills up my spine.

And the pleasure of watching this unworthy candidate fall is undercut by the tragic spectacle of yet another American wife being humiliated in a public arena where literally billions are watching.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

My Super-Chill High Schooler

Last week, fresh off the plane from our Italian excursion, HOBB and I drove up to SAR High School in Riverdale for that stress-fest known as Parent-Teacher Conferences.

Being an SAR event, much of the stress factor was absent, though we basically showed up without appointments, having screwed up the online registration process just before we left the country.

As it was the equivalent of three in the morning for us, jet-lag further shaped our perceptions and reactions. Also, given that exhaustion makes me punchy, I could not stop giggling. In retrospect, I worry that I must have appeared stoned to half of our son's teachers.

But the real factor in defusing the experience that typically unnerves parents is the nature of Little Babe, our youngest child, a high school junior.

Little Babe is a sweet, diligent, respectful, smart... and very relaxed student.

The teachers typically adore him. He participates in class. He has creative insights. He has quirky interest and abilities. He is kind-hearted. His worst offense is talking to friends.

And not completing his assignments.

Little Babe's performance on tests is also less-than-stellar, reflecting his underlying learning issues and ADD...and also his penchant for minimalistic studying.

For years, we have left parent-teacher conferences with broad smiles of pride and furrowed brows of concern.

The concern we feel has been further compounded by our son's unflappably stress-free attitude. Maybe it's our own fault because we don't pitch parental fits, but there is no way to get our son to care about getting better grades.

While we are far from Tiger Parents, we would frankly like to see him break a sweat over his schoolwork. But he is neither a slacker nor a scofflaw. He just invests his academic energies solely into what takes place inside the classroom.

Once he is out of the classroom, music subsumes his life. He sleeps in a room with several instruments and amps. He wakes up and plugs in his electric guitar or bass. He leaves the house wearing his headphones. He composes and orchestrates and records his music. He writes lyrics. He plays and sings and teaches himself new instruments. Without a single lesson, he now plays piano well enough that he is composing pieces for the keyboard. He stays late to jam with other students and teachers and participates in practically every musical after school club.

Little Babe is the third child in the family, the youngest sibling of two students who strove to achieve good grades. Middle Babe was especially tormented by her grades in her final two years of high school but her own diligence was nothing compared with the nervous breakdowns most of her friends were experiencing. Big Babe's high school classmates were similarly poisoned by the conviction that unless they got into Harvard-Yale-Princeton-Penn-Cornell-Brown (Columbia was considered a safety school), their lives were over.

Last year, when I was a graduate student at Columbia, I was a complete sleepless lunatic, chasing down deadlines, working on my assignments, wishing to distinguish myself through my schoolwork. Little Babe awoke and fell asleep to the sight of me working on my various projects at the dining room table. Though I am still incredulous at having gotten my MA at the age of 50, secretly, I am plotting to go for my doctorate.

At one point last year, on the night before a test, I interrupted Little Babe's private Red Hot Chili Peppers jam session to goad him into studying for more than half an hour. After he stared at me impassively, I blurted out, in sheer frustration, "Aren't I a good student role model for you?"

"Not at all," he coolly informed me. "You are completely obsessed. I'm not like that."

Indeed he is not.

And suddenly, I am completely okay with that.

The recent SAT cheating scandal -- centered in the Great Neck of my childhood -- has made me see Little Babe's chill attitude towards schoolwork and academic overachievement in a new and healthy light.

The network of privileged students who bought themselves high scores or earned dirty money achieving high scores for others brings into sharp focus the multiple problems of academic overachievement to begin with.

Obviously, it is false to claim that the kids arrested in the scandal were powerless to resist the urge to cheat, driven by overwhelming social or parental pressure to commit what amounts to hardcore criminal acts, but it is also foolish to pretend that there is not a harmful emphasis on academic super achievement and a short A-list of schools that many ambitious, high achieving parents consider acceptable for their own children.

Add the affluence factor that enables mediocre students to pay up to $3,500 for stellar SAT or ACT scores -- and perhaps a tacit message from parents that this kind of thing is not so bad, after all, what do standardized tests prove anyway? -- and buying your way into a top university becomes a consumer sport, akin to buying a pair of shoes on

The hysterical quest for perfect grades, the Tiger Mother goal of getting your kid into Harvard or Yale only is so wrongheaded that I cannot believe it is still upheld by intelligent people. No question, the pedigree accompanies you for life, opening doors, making you a member of an elite but at what cost to one's sanity and humanity? Why do parents think that it is commendable to have kids who are grinds? And what is this kind of elitism all about, anyway?

Yes, I still want Little Babe to break more of a sweat over his schoolwork and do better on tests and score decently enough on his SATs or ACTs to get into a good college. But I now see his academic attitude as tinged with civil disobedience; it appears an act of quiet rebellion against the pervasive ethic of academic overachievement. Little Babe, like his older siblings, is a superstar, but most importantly, he is a teenage boy and a mensch.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Death (of Objects) in Venice

One week ago today, I awoke to a foggy day in Venice, awash in the fairy tale feeling of being in that exquisite, impossible city.

The Venetian adventure was Part II of my weeklong trip to Italy, which began in Rome with HOBB and moved to Venice, where we were joined by Big Babe who flew in to meet us from his home in Berlin. Though this was not my first time in either city, it was the only time I had journeyed directly from Rome to Venice and the transition was stark and bracing. Rome is rooted by the presence of the Papacy and the ruins and the famous film sites and the grand fountains and the piazzas and the ubiquity of people of the cloth scurrying through the streets -- priests, monks, nuns, seminarians; the occasional rabbi or imam.

Venice, on the other hand, is a dreamscape, no less historic, in fact, shockingly ancient and unmodernized but hardly rooted, in fact sinking, drifting downward and upward at the same time.

There is much to unpack about my trip to both places, an orgy of walking and wine and delectable food and sites and sights to incite the imagination; the countless conversations with my husband and eldest son, our fond friction, the fractious way we connect after long absence.

But on this Sunday morning in Manhattan, I wish to ponder the melancholy meditation I had while in Venice about recently lost garments, a new habit of mine which began last winter in Berlin.

Walking through the winding alleyways and streets, crossing the squares and bridges, I found myself taking stock of clothes I had abandoned in public places: the black Adidas jacket I left in a club in Berlin, the off-white Gap jacket I left in a bar in Nyack, the vintage plaid cap I left at a wedding on Long Island, the black H&M sweater and street vendor white straw fedora I left in a retreat center in Connecticut, the Topshop black sweater hoodie I left in a New York synagogue...and grieving for them, now likely the property of strangers.

An one who is emotionally bonded to her clothes, this new habit of mine is intriguing in its novelty and also its out-of-character-ness.

A wearer of scent (Burberry Weekend has been my trademark for almost two decades, sometimes accompanied by Origin's Ginger, patchouli oil and now, a new Burberry -- Body) I imagined the rogue wearers of my lost garments stealing my smell, an unpardonable crime, a most intimate form of identity theft. 

Crossing the Rialto, the Ghetto, the Grand Canal, the Bridge of Whispers and St. Marks Square with my husband and oldest son, lost for hours, I pondered the sudden divestment of my vestments and whether their disappearance made me lighter, enabling me to travel, to fly, perhaps even teleport beyond the bounds of space and time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Beauty for the 99 Percent. Or Occupy Sephora!

Soap & Glory's Glow Lotion is one of those miracles in a bottle, a shimmery, pink feel-good concoction that has an utterly transformative effect on my skin.

I discovered the Glow Lotion at that repository of retail Nirvana, Target, about four years ago and went through dozens of bottles of the stuff @ $9.99 a pop.

Then suddenly, it disappeared from the shelves.

Various phone conversations with Target customer service representatives and Soap & Glory personnel located across the pond (the company is based in England) and Internet searches later, I learned that the line was coming to Sephora.

Oh joy, I thought.

Well...Soap & Glory has indeed arrived at Sephora and I now have in my possession one precious bottle of Glow Lotion, the first one I have laid my hands on in about two years.

The only hitch is, my magical elixir has DOUBLED in price.

Yep, to redeem my pink glow from days of yore I forked over twenty buckaroos to the matte-faced sales girl with aggressively red lips at the check-out counter.

This act bothers me conceptually more than it does financially.

The ramifications of a beauty product going from affordable to upscale are troubling in these times.

Leading me to wonder if I should set up a tent outside of Sephora headquarters, voicing my belief that beauty products should be available and affordable to the 99 percent as well as the privileged micro-minority for whom the Glow Lotion, even at $20, is a bargain.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Cooking Karma

One of the many benefits of working at home is the ability to cook while working, not that I do it often enough.

But yesterday afternoon I recalled the marinated Ahi Tuna I had bought at Trader Joe's the week before and it seemed that a side of sauteed red cabbage with ginger would look good next to it and I just happened to have a humongous head of said cabbage loitering in my fridge, purchased from Bazzini's on Broadway.

The chicken-less chicken soup prepared by HOBB the night before was fairly crying out to be included in the party and once I put up the tray of pesto Eggplant Parmesan -- also from Trader Joe's -- which I found sleeping in the back of the freezer, the penne was a natural complement.

My hearty Monday night dinner yielded maximal appreciation from HOBB and Little Babe (Middle Babe, my vegan daughter, supped with friends) and I admit to basking in a rare hausfrau afterglow.

My kitchen mitzvah was amply rewarded two hours later when -- in the midst of a late night walk down Broadway -- HOBB and I chose to have tea at the Thalia Cafe at Symphony Space instead of the crowded Starbucks around the corner.

Perched on tabletops throughout the cozy bar were trays of food: cheese and crackers, chocolate-covered strawberries, mounds of blackberries and raspberries, small toast rounds with sauteed mushrooms. Stealing glances at the trays -- and wondering if we had wandered into a private party -- we sat down tentatively on the banquette. Shortly, the bartender came by to inform us that the food was ours for the taking, leftovers from a WNET screening and after party that had just ended.

Joyfully, we jumped up to pile our plates high, concluding our dinner with a dessert course of berries and cheese, chatting comfortably for over an hour, awash in Monday night Manhattan magic.

Monday, November 07, 2011

The Ginsbergian Howl That is Occupy Wall Street

Friends, this just went live on The Jerusalem Report yesterday. Because it is, most flatteringly, PREMIUM content, I cannot link directly to the magazine so I copied it here. 

With thanks to my amazing editors at The Jerusalem Report, here is my report from Occupy Wall Street.
Jerusalem Report

The Ginsbergian Howl that is Occupy Wall Street

We stood together, turning our individual howls into a collective Halleluyah, fighting to restore our nation to its status as a “Goldeneh Medinah,” with justice for all.

Occupy Wall Street protester
Photo by: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
At 11:20 in the morning on the last Shabbat of October, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I found myself in the middle of a surreal scenario.

As if out of nowhere, large, doughy snowflakes fell out of the sky, at first tentatively and then with great vigor and purpose, targeting the people below.

True, the front page of “The New York Times” had promised a “major storm.”

Still, I considered the possibility of snow in October to be as plausible as sudden peace in the Middle East. This freakish autumn snowfall was bound to pass quickly, I decided. Squaring my shoulders, I turned up the collar of my winter coat and pulled down the wide brim of my black felt cowboy hat.

My synagogue, Anshei Hesed, is located one mile from my home and it typically takes me 20 minutes to get there in my Shabbat shoes, or in this case, boots.

In any other city – or perhaps, any other synagogue – it would be sheer hutzpa to arrive at Sabbath services close to the noon hour. However, when I finally joined Minyan M’at in their fifth floor sanctuary, I was astonished and relieved to discover that the service had not progressed past the middle of the Torah reading.

As I found a seat in the crowded room, I was jolted into a sudden and terrible awareness that the dozens of protesters occupying thin nylon tents in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan – just a few miles from where I sat in happy comfort – were likely freezing half to death.

Especially since Mayor Michael Bloomberg had ordered an end to generators and space heaters at Occupy Wall Street the day before.

Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is a phenomenon of civil disobedience that began on September 17, 2011, in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, which is in the financial district and close to Ground Zero. Consisting of day protesters as wellas protesters who are camping in tents, OWS is a demonstration against corporate greed, bailouts in the financial industry, corruption, foreclosures, joblessness and economic injustice in America.

Inspired by similar protests in Israel and throughout the Arab world, OWS is a movement led by citizens that has spread from NYC to hundreds of cities around the nation and world.

I tried to banish my uneasy thoughts and concentrate on the Shabbat service, but to no avail. It wasn’t some reflexive social justice awareness that bonded me to the people who were camped out at Occupy Wall Street, nor was I trying on a new hippy-dippy, radical chic,kumbaya consciousness. Having just been down to Zuccotti Park two days earlier, on Thursday afternoon – the latest of several visits, including the much-documented Simchat Torah celebration where we unfurled a sefer torah on the plaza across from Zuccotti Park – I felt a keen brothers’-keeper connection with the Wall Street Occupiers, they who are bold or desperate or crazy enough to shake the public out of its slumber by loudly proclaiming that the American Dream is dead.

I suppose I had come to see Occupy Wall Street as a form of davening (praying) and Zuccotti Park as a shul of sorts… perhaps more of a shul than the one I currently occupied. Maybe that’s why I was so restless.

Occupy Wall Street had been going on for a solid month before I found my way downtown. Part of the explanation for this long delay was related to work commitments and the disruption of the High Holidays, but part of it was due to circumspection. I was skeptical, unsure that the protest had integrity or even staying power.

But I support any effort to curb corporate greed and had been amused, scandalized and horrified by the demonization of the protest by such venues as FoxNews.

My affinity with Occupy Wall Street was perhaps inevitable, given the events of the day that I first made its acquaintance, which was Sunday, October 16th – Hol Hamoed Sukkot. Finding that we had a couple of hours free in the afternoon, my husband and I took the subway downtown to check out Occupy Wall Street for ourselves.

I was vaguely worried that I might find the protesters extreme or perhaps laughable, grist for the mill of my ideological nemeses, those smug, affluent arch conservatives I seem to always sit next to at family events. At these dinners, whenever my new acquaintance and I start to speak about the economic downturn in America, I am stunned by what seems to me to be ethical myopia or simply blindness to the fact that within our nation resides a tiny class of the super-privileged and powerful, while the majority of the nation struggles and stumbles as it slips rapidly into a state of crisis.

I needn’t have worried. What I found at Zuccotti Park on that sparkling Sunday in mid-October was gritty, passionate outrage, a kinetic hothouse of agitation, a laboratory of tikkun olam. All around me were people who felt betrayed by America.

There were filthy, pierced and tattooed twenty-somethings and there were buttoned-up, sober fifty-year-olds. There were the unemployed. There were the uninsured. There were the homeless.

There were the foreclosed. There were the political dissenters and the disappointed.

A petite silver-haired woman strode past wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed “Grandmothers Support Occupy Wall Street.” A sweet-faced young journalism school graduate pitched her services, handing out copies of her résumé to passersby. Flyers were everywhere. A meeting was going to take place later that night to assign cleaning responsibilities.

The recession was Obama’s fault. The recession was Bush’s fault. The recession was the War Against Terror’s fault.

Zuccotti Park is a maze of causes and alleyways, a shuk of complaints. At the west end of Zuccotti Park was a drum circle with painted, bare-chested boys dancing with frenzied abandon. At the south end of the park was free food – crisp yellow and red apples from a local farm. On the east side of Zuccotti Park, men and women were preaching like prophets. There were circles of people echoing the words of the self-appointed spokespeople, forming a human microphone to carry the message out to the crowd. There were lone guitar players sitting cross-legged on the steps. There was a Native American man collecting signatures. There was a handsome young former businessman with a poster board telling his tale of personal woe.

At the north end we found a small sukka erected by Jews for Economic and Racial Justice (JFREJ). When we arrived, a prayer service was in progress. Men and women sang “Open the Gates of Justice,” many wearing kippot and tallitot. A Habad man circulated with a lulav andetrog, asking passersby if they were Jewish. A man from Romemu, a liberal Upper West Side synagogue, taunted the Habadnik, telling him that he would recite the blessings over the lulavand etrog only if the Hasid visited Romemu, which meets in a church. Near the sukka was a lending library called The People’s Library.

Zuccotti Park is the heart of Occupy Wall Street. It is a messy, magnificent collective of human beings who feel empowered and/or desperate enough to gather their grievances in one place and air them in a gesture of defiance – at the foot of the financial district.

Their various complaints form a symphony, a 21st century Ginsbergian howl. The denizens of Zuccotti Park are leaning out of a great metaphorical American window and shouting that they are mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

But I would be disingenuous if I were to draw a divide between the demonstrators in Zuccotti Park and myself. True, they were involved in the active role of protesting and I was merely a tourist, taking note of their signage and garb, listening to their native song, beholding, quite literally, their indigenous dance. Yet what happened to me as I walked through the snaking pathways between protesters is that a myriad of maladies crystallized and I felt that I was part of the fellowship of wounded American citizenry. I, too, have felt my back bent beneath the bulky cost of living; I am she who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when the real estate market crashed in 1987, who narrowly avoided foreclosure on her home, and whose respectable income has always been inadequate to cover the cost of Jewish education, not to mention private American college.

More pointedly, I am the mother of a 27-year-old journalist who might be handing out copies of his résumé here had he not decided to relocate to Berlin, where he has a thriving career as a freelance arts writer and lives well because of the affordable rent on his apartment, which is a tenth of what a comparable apartment rental might be in Manhattan.

At Zuccotti Park, I experienced the camaraderie one often feels in the waiting area of a hospital emergency room. We were united in our woundedness, dazed survivors of the same cataclysm.

Straight from the heady civil disobedience of Zuccotti Park, I journeyed uptown to watch “Wall Street,” a film that is as spookily prescient about the outer limits of greed as it is an artistic masterpiece. if my earlier excursion hadn’t converted me to the cause of campaigning for capitalism with a conscience, the recognition of Gordon Gekko in a procession of real-life scoundrels sealed my resolve to join the protest.

I am an observant Jew and the way I found to protest was organic.

My first opportunity presented itself the following week at the erev Simchat Torah celebration at B’nai Jeshurun. The next day, occupy Judaism was organizing a Simchat Torah event on the plaza opposite Zuccotti Park, where hundreds of Jews had previously gathered on Yom Kippur. An energetic global grassroots effort created by Daniel Sieradski, a Jewish activist, Occupy Judaism seeks to enforce the messages of occupy Wall Street through Jewish rituals and observances and through the lens of Jewish tradition and ethical teachings; it is also publicly critical of Jewish institutional organizations for their complacency on the issue of economic injustice. Within moments i knew that I would join them.

When i reached the plaza in front of Brown Brothers Harriman – where, incidentally or not, heavy-hitting members of Jewish communal organizations are employed – a loose smattering of tentative individuals and communal leaders had gathered around Amichai Lau-Lavie and Naomi Less, both leaders of Storahtelling, an educational group that calls itself “a radical fusion of storytelling, torah, contemporary performance, art and ritual theater.”

After singing nigunim (wordless tunes) to the accompaniment of Less’s guitar and freelance musicians, the moment of truth arrived, the reason we had journeyed so far from our homes and synagogues on the holiday.

Cleaning our hands first with Purell, Lau-Lavie and his helpers ordered us to form a tight circle and then instructed us to hold tightly to the torah scroll as it was unfurled.

Once the holy parchment was fully revealed, Amichai went around the circle, yad (pointer) in hand, touching the text and guiding us through the glorious narrative, highlighting the innumerable ethical teachings: “Clothe the naked.” “Protect the weak and vulnerable.” “Love the stranger.” “Do not steal.” “Leave the corners of your field for the poor.” “Do not covet.” “Do not worship idols.” “Do not kill.”

And on and on and on; until the circle was complete and the end flowed into the beginning. tears streaming down our cheeks, smiling, singing and swaying, we gave each other blessings rooted in the Torah, blessings that compelled us to undertake bold acts of tikkun olam.

On a chilly Friday afternoon in October, we stood together as Jews and Americans, protesters, agitators for change, celebrants of Simchat Torah at occupy Wall Street, turning our individual howls into a collective Halleluyah, fighting the good fight to restore our lost nation to its original status as a “Goldeneh Medinah,” with justice for all.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Beyond the Kardashian Wedding; Some Words on the Essence of Marriage

There are a number of things about contemporary pop culture I will never understand. One is the appeal of so-called Reality Television. The second, closely-related, is the public's interest in the stars of this realm, chiefly the insipid bunch known as the Kardashians.

I'll skip the feminist rhetoric about how heinous these young women are as role models for girls and the moral finger-wagging about the shallow, mega-materialistic values they hold. I'll even mute my own outrage at the media for being as fascinated with them as they are with themselves. What astonishes me beyond belief is the press coverage that the $10 mil coronation wedding received and now, 72 days later, its unraveling. 

Waking up today, my Twitter feed is flooded with items related to the pseudo-news of Kim and Kris's pending divorce. Naturally, I am hard-pressed to believe anyone took the marriage seriously to begin with, but that's another matter. To counteract the annoyance that is beginning to cloak me like an itchy garment, I scroll back three days to recall a rather remarkable talk I heard about the essence of real life-partnership.

This past Saturday, I, like many devoted shul-goers, trudged through the prematurely wild and without-warning winter weather to make it to services. My resolve to endure the mile-long hike while large, yeasty snowflakes flew all around me was hardly inspired by religious motivation; rather, it was an expedient, diplomatic move. An inconstant member of my minyan, I wanted to show my face in services at least once before next week when I am scheduled to read Torah.

While initially grumbling to myself that I picked a doozy of a day to put in face-time at shul, I found my devotion rewarded a short while later. There was an aufruf taking place for Elana Berkowitz -- the daughter of Dina Rosenfeld and Howard Berkowitz, one of Minyan M'at's founding families -- and her fiance. I grabbed a siddur and a seat. As my nose, toes and fingers thawed, I was treated to an exquisitely-wrought address by the bride-to-be's father on the essence of marriage, that is, life-long partnership. 

Though the hour was late -- well past the noon mark that often signals the natural end of Shabbat services -- there was not an impatient listener in the crowded fifth-floor room. In fact, as I looked around the room, I saw people actively sniffling, dabbing at their eyes and, in a few cases, sobbing quietly. 

For those who were married and those who were about to be married and those who wished to be married, Howard Berkowitz presented a vision of this partnership's potential. Here is an excerpt:

        Elana, Ed, on your e-invitations to the wedding you had an image of a two-seater bicycle with the statement “we have decided to go tandem for life.”  The word “conjugal” in Latin means “to be yoked together”- to go tandem.  Whether it is side-by-side or fore-and-aft, you have decided to make the commitment to become sustaining companions for life, to pull together to get wherever you are going, to accomplish collaboratively whatever in this world you set out to do.  This corresponds to the Rabbinic ideal of marriage as the relationship of re’im ahuvim, loving friends.  This was so important it was enshrined in the sixth of the seven blessings which are said at a Jewish wedding: “O make these loving friends greatly rejoice even as You did rejoice your creation in the Garden of Eden of old.  Blessed are you, O Lord, who makes the bridegroom and bride to rejoice.”  In the Song of Songs (5:16) we read: “This is my beloved and this is my friend.”  The first “not good” in the Torah is found in Genesis 2:18-where it was not good for Adam to be alone.  Milton even had Adam choosing knowingly to eat of the forbidden fruit so as not to be separated from Eve.  The importance of romance in marriage is attested to by the most romantic statement in the Torah (Genesis 29:20): “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.”  Chayim-“life”- a word we refer to constantly in Judaism, is actually a plural-“to lives, to lives, l’chaim….”
            In your aufruf parsha, God chooses Noach of all people living as a partner to do the work of saving a remnant of life on earth because Noach was found to be “blameless in his age” and God tells him “…you alone have I found righteous before Me in this generation.”  These two hedging comments suggest that Noach was simply the best of a mediocre bunch.  Last week, in Bereshit, we heard, in a long list of Adam’s descendants, how the repeated pattern of the generations was disrupted with the entry for Enoch:  “..Enoch walked with God 300 years…Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, for God took him.” (Gen. 5:22-24)  Later God will establish favored relationships with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph with only the first being in any real sense reciprocal.  God casts about in each generation seeking some sort of partner to work with.  But God does not find a great and true love until Moses.  The intimate relationship between God and Moses is perhaps best hinted at by this passage from Exodus (32:9-11):  “The Lord further said to Moses, ‘I see that this is a stiffnecked people.  Now, let Me be, that My anger may blaze forth against them and that I may destroy them, and make of you a great nation.’  But Moses implored the Lord his God, saying, ‘Let not Your anger, O Lord, blaze forth against Your people….’”  As with any good couple, God shares thoughts with Moses in order to elicit a response and the help needed.  Exodus Rabbah boldly makes this emotional reciprocity overt in stating that when God waxed hot, Moses would be cool and when Moses waxed hot, God would be cool.  Their unique relationship is clearly stated by the Torah in Exodus (33:11): “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another” and Deuteronomy (34:10): “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses-whom the Lord singled out, face to face….”  It is almost as if the metaphor of the marriage of God and the people Israel, which is used extensively throughout Tanach and Midrash, is said of God on the rebound from God’s grief over the loss of Moses.  To human understanding, even God needs to be married.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fire and Rain

After my dental appointment this morning, I will be pulling on my wellies, plunking on a baseball cap and heading down to Zuccotti Park to report on Occupy Wall Street for The Jerusalem Report.

From the comfort of my dining room on Amsterdam Avenue and West 116th Street, the vista is say the least. The trees on the Columbia University campus are being rattled by the winds. Pedestrians hurry past, squaring their shoulders. The sky is gunmetal grey. It is a day to stay indoors.

I am an activist with a conditional sense of commitment....that is, once I have to sit outside in the rain, my commitment begins to waver. I can do heat. I can do cold in limited doses. But rain is the deal-breaker for me.

On the cozy red armchair that Big Babe rescued from the trash about ten years ago, Nala the Pomeranian snoozes. Alfie, her big brother, is asleep on the couch. They are dozing off the trauma of their morning walk in the rain. Curling up and sleeping seems a lovely activity just about now.

If this sounds like a kvetch it is. I kvetch therefore I am. And kvetching, after all, is really just a form of protesting. I am protesting against the elements that change Occupy Wall Street from a hippie street fair to something else, something I haven't yet seen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Cold Comfort

Motivated to start my Wednesday with a workout, I just slipped on my shorts, sports bra, tank top and sneakers, plunked a Zabar's baseball hat atop my messy morning hair, threw some professional attire in my gym bag for later meetings... and then I remembered.

There is no hot water at the JCC fitness center.

There is no hot water but but there is a new complimentary coffee bar, a peace offering to all the disgruntled patrons who have endured freezing cold showers -- or no showers -- for the past week. True, some workout without showering but many of the regulars seem to have taken a mini-vacation during this shower-free period.

As someone who is a proud, profuse sweater, there is not a chance I could leave the gym without showering unless it was summer and I had no more professional commitments and I'd be walking the two miles to my home in order to shower there.

Therefore, I've endured several cold showers over the past week, having figured out a system to make them less painful.

This system involves an overly-long preparatory session in the steam room, racing into a shower stall where I dance beneath wet icicles while gasping audibly....and following up the ordeal with another steam room visit.

When I finally leave the JCC, dressed, warm and fully dry, I must admit that I feel a rare sense of wellbeing, a heroic intimation of achievement, smug satisfaction.

Like those brave souls at Coney Island in the middle of winter, I am tough enough to be called a Polar Bear or at least a true New Yorker.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Unbearable Mondayness of Monday and Other Musings on Time

About one hour ago, the miserable Mondayness of today began to slowly morph into a more manageable beginning-of-the-work-week optimism and I abandoned the urge to flee my own life, eventually finding that I was actually humming between phone calls instead of grinding my teeth in despair.

As I have proposed in previous posts on this matter, Monday should NEVER begin earlier than noon. It is far too traumatic to jolt people out of their weekends anytime before that and I will bet that one day, some scientist will discover that there is a quantifiable quality to Monday mornings, kind of like the veneer of dusty grease that begins to form on walls near one's stove.

Indeed, as I write these very words, HOBB called to bemoan the Mondayness of today. "I cannot believe it's only Monday!" he wailed.

His words are a cri de coeur, an existential plea, a Ginsbergian howl.

Since I'm meditating upon the matter of TIME, I wanted to share a cataclysmic realization I had this past week on one of the Jewish holidays, either Hoshana Raba, Shmini Atzeret or Simchat Torah (who can remember anymore, they all begin to blend and blur until they are one mass of calories and prayerbooks and festive clothes).

The realization went like this: 365 days -- that is, a year -- is only the briefest building block of time, not the epic monument I had always regarded it to be.

Unbelievably, this realization dawned on me NOW for the very first time in my life. Until last week, I considered a year to be a substantial measure of time.

Now it seems to me as skimpy as a string bikini, covering only the essential parts, leaving too much exposed, virtually weightless, folding up into practically nothing, in perpetual danger of getting lost or misplaced or destroyed in the wash.