Thursday, November 21, 2013

Getting it On

It was my first drum lesson in over six months and I was frantically rushing through Times Square in an iridescent turquoise dress that looked like it was made from extra fabric from a child's mermaid costume, drum sticks poking out of my handbag.

As is my habit, I was late. "U No Me," I had texted Mike, my drum teacher, as I was running to the 2 train at W72nd Street. "B there in 10." By which I meant: 15 minutes.

I started the day by arriving late to my 8 a.m. JNF breakfast, which was a bit of a mystery since I was actually awake well before dawn, due to my jet lag.

Ten hours later, dressed in my mermaid dress, I careened past bodegas and the Garment Center Congregation (what?? a shul right next to my drum studio??), literally sprinting into the new location of Funkadelic Studios, which had been my musical home away from home last year.

Aside from my travel and work schedule, I think that part of what kept me away was the childish fear that I would hate the new setting of Funkadelic.

Shouting out quick hi's to the staff who yelled back, "Good to see you!" I found rehearsal room #7.  My teacher Mike Shapiro was waiting for me, playing drums.

Screeching my greeting and apologies and sheer joy at our reunion, I picked up my sticks and approached the drum kit.

Instantly, the half-year gulf closed.

Sitting on my throne, I reverted back into my drummer girl self, gazing with reverence at the instruments before me as if they were vats of glittering jewels.

"Show me what you got," requested Mike.

After a brief moment of terror that I had forgotten everything, I was back in business. Mike plugged in my iPod. I played Tom Petty. Mike plugged in his iPod. I played more Tom Petty.

Then Mike said, "let's get it on" and changed the music.

I sinceeeeerly tried...

My adolescence came flooding back to me.

Mike showed me how to adapt the beat I had just played previously, making it cool and super funky.

Mike played air guitar.

We sang along with Marvin Gaye.

Theeeere is nothing wrooong with me....

I kept the beat.

After it was over, he high-fived me.

"That was cool," he said. "Man, you were in the pocket."

And that, in the world of drummers, is as good as it gets.

Yeah. I got it on.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Seize the (Birth) Day!

In celebration of my 53rd Birthday, here is my bracha (blessing) for those of my vintage...or really any vintage. May you:
  • Embrace the awesomeness of being your particular age, with everything that comes with it.
  • Pause to acknowledge that you have been on this planet for a significant period of time, maybe not along the continuum of history but along the timeline of other people's lives
  • Take chances.
  • Allow yourself to feel truly wise every once in a while.
  • Not be afraid of hard work. Nothing of value is achieved easily.
  • Agitate for positive change.
  • Live with your eyes, mind, arms and heart wide open.
  • Believe in the power of fun.
  • Opt for joy.
  • Make peace when you can and with whom you can.
  • Be smart enough to live according to solid values.
  • Give up silly or shallow pursuits.
  • Don't waste your energies on fruitless endeavors.
  • Read all the books you wish you had read.
  • See all the films you wish you had seen.
  • Travel as you can afford to.
  • Dance.
  • Sing.
  • Celebrate.
  • Snuggle.
  • Explore.
  • Party on!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

All About Me (An Expose, as Per Your Request)

I was raised on inherently Jewish ideals and values:
  • Kol Yisrael areivim ze l'ze: all Jews are responsible one for another
  • Clal Yisrael: all Jews are part of one fellowship
  • Tzedek, tzedek tirdof: Justice shalt thou pursue
  • Hochay'ach tochi'ach et ameetecha: Thou shalt rebuke thy fellow
  • Lo alecha ha'melacha ligmor, v'lo ata ben choree l'hivatel mee'menu: It is not up to you to complete the task but neither are you exempt from taking part in it
  • Im ayn ani li, mee li? Uk'she ani l'atzmee ma ani? If I am not for myself, who will be, but if I am only for myself, what am I?
Undergirding these and countless other ideologies was the central understanding that human beings were put on this planet l'takayn olam b'malchut sha-dai. To fix the world for the Kingdom of God.

I could go through my twelve years of Jewish Day School education and pull out the ideas and teaching of those who influenced me, including Martin Buber, Hillel, Rabbi Akiva, Reb Nachman of Bratslav, Moses Maimonides, Nechama Leibowitz, Yehuda Amichai, the poet Rachel, Chaim Potok, Milton Steinberg, Leonard Bernstein, Franz Kafka, Hannah Senesh, Kings David and Solomon, the writers of Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Fathers), Shlomo Carlebach, Woody Allen, Philip Roth, Erica Jong, Judy Blume, Nora Ephron, the liturgists and composers of our prayers and hymns.

I could attempt to compile a list of all that I've read and studied, the 40-plus times I've been to Israel, my summers spent at Jewish summer camps (Massad, Ramah, Moshava, Cejwin...and others), and my A-list Jewish credentials: I am the daughter, granddaughter and niece of prominent rabbis. I know how to read Torah, in fact, I do read Torah periodically at synagogue.

But for those angry folks who have recently called for an "expose" of me based on my activistic work on a recent case involving the effort to help an Orthodox victim publicize her plight, I offer this pithy Q and A with myself in order to help you in your investigations.

As my personal work ethic is complete transparency, I present this interview, which is intended to reveal all the juicy revelations you are surely hoping to uncover. I believe that coupled with Googling me in order to read my press releases and published writings online, you will be able to answer the question posed by one of those who wrote -- most elegantly -- in a recent comment thread of a blog notable for its hysteria and vitriol: "Who is this Dicker?"

Q: Who is this Dicker?
A: Ah, I'm so glad that you asked! I am an almost 53 year old woman who lives in NYC and works as a writer and communications consultant.

Q: Is this Dicker a frum Jew?
A: By your definitions, probably not. By my definitions, hell yes!!! I keep Shabbat and kashrut and holidays. My life is Gd-centered. I am a passionate Zionist. My life's work is motivated by mitzvot (good deeds) and the task of tikkun olam (repairing the world).

Q: But we heard this Dicker is a Conservative Jew! We published the finding that her father is a Conservative rabbi!
A: Yes! You did a good job investigating me! My dad was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary and served as a respected pulpit rabbi for 21 years. He then became a clinical psychologist. But once a rabbi, always a rabbi. And once the daughter of a Conservative rabbi, always the daughter of a Conservative rabbi.

Q: We heard this Dicker eats treyf!!!! An article about her in the Forward states that she once bought Irish Cheddar cheese at Zabar's for her oldest son who lives in Berlin. What kind of Jew eats such chazarei (literally pig-food)?
A: Hmmm. You are probably unaware that the recent requirements for kosher cheese are a bit more than a century old. Once upon a time, all Jews ate all cheese unless it was laced with chunks of ham. Let's be real: cheddar cheese is hardly a cheeseburger. But since you asked -- and to lay matters on the table -- I'm quite sure that my concept of kashrut differs from yours. And I'm sure that yours differs from other Jews. But no. I do not eat anything from a pig.

Q: We heard this Dicker hates Orthodox Jews! Why would she engage in a campaign of such lashon hara (evil words, aka gossip) against Orthodox Jews????
A: As I'm married to an Orthodox Jew, it would be hard for me to hate Orthodox Jews. My kids probably affiliate as Modern Orthodox and I love them. I do not hate my husband. I love my husband, though I'm pretty sure you would consider him as treyf (unkosher) as you seem to consider me. He wrote a book a couple of decades ago where he candidly articulated his struggles to live a religious life and be a journalist. It was a bestseller.

I have friends in various Chabad communities and, believe it or not, in Kiryas Joel. I have friends who live in contested territories in Israel. I have female friends who cover their hair. I have male friends whose tzitzit dangle from their shirts. I have neo-haredi relatives.

But let's discuss those charges of lashon hara. Since when is working to reverse injustice considered lashon hara? I believe that the term lashon hara is misappropriated by those that do not want their own evil deeds revealed...or the evil deeds of those near and dear to them. This is a very subjective term.

And incidentally, the work I do is not against anybody. It is for the purpose of repairing the world. In other words, I believe in humankind partnering with Hashem to fix that which is broken in the world.

Q:What other terrible projects is this Dicker behind? What other damage has she done to the Jewish People?
A: I am a writer who has worked professionally as a publicist for over 20 years. Google will be very instructive in revealing my work to you. I have been writing personal essays and feature articles for the better part of 35 years. I operate in full transparency; indeed, I am proud of my work and whom I have promoted. Among my past and present clients:
  • The Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
  • The Yeshiva University Museum
  • Neshama Carlebach
  • Yossi Klein Halevi
  • Justice for Jews from Arab Countries
  • The Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
  • The Rabbinical Assembly
  • The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
  • American Hebrew Academy
  • Magen Tzedek
While this list is a fraction of what I have done, I include these to give you an idea of the scope of my projects across the denominational divide, though I've consulted on literally dozens of projects, some in the realm of political life.

I have also done pro bono projects on behalf of worthy causes.

I've worked with artists, writers, filmmakers, schools, cultural initiatives and social activism.

I do not discriminate by denomination. I will work with Jews of all affiliations.

The only people I do not work with are haters, liars, thieves and lunatics.

Q: We've seen pictures of this Dicker online. She is not dressed modestly! She does not cover her head!  She wears sleeveless dresses and Doc Marten hiking boots. Who is she to work with frum Jews?
A: It is true that I dress differently from ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Q: What else is this Dicker up to?
A: Glad you asked! I like to swing dance, which I sure is considered treyf by you, but that's fine. I have plenty of partners. I even wrote an article for the NYTimes about swing dance in NYC. I like to travel and do so often for my work. I am a champion Scrabble player and am currently writing a book on the utility of Scrabble in marriage with my husband. I have two adorable dogs. I am blessed with wonderful friends and family. My Facebook page is public so you can cyber-stalk me if you wish. I have a new cool business called The Wedding Kvetchers. I hope you will Like it on Facebook. I am the architect of Flashmobs. I am a performer. I play the drums. Oh, and I like to sing in karaoke bars with friends, though I KNOW you are against that because you believe that a woman's voice cannot be heard in public.

So maybe that's what your suspicion of me is all about.

I am a woman who has raised her voice in public to address social injustice perpetrated in the name of Judaism. I believe that Judaism is the most brilliant, compassionate and humanistic religion on the planet. I am offended by acts of injustice in the name of the Torah. My belief of Gd is that of a personal, caring Master of the Universe.

Yes, I have spoken out. Not for the cause of lashon hara but for tzedek, perhaps even tikkun olam.

So, I hope you have a better idea of who I am. I could write so much more -- indeed, what a rare an indulgent pleasure to write about myself!! -- but I'm on my way to the gym, another thing I really like to do. I hope you do, too! I think that spending an hour or so on the treadmill or elliptical trainer might help you think about such values as Clal Yisrael and tikkun olam.
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PS: I took this selfie aboard the Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul two weeks ago. I thought that a personally-penned expose of myself should include a self-taken photograph.

Friday, November 15, 2013


When I made the decision, nearly 20 years ago, to veer from my childhood ambition of being a full-time writer in order to toil in the groves of public relations, my action was informed by the most practical of considerations:

As the mother of children I wished to raise and educate Jewishly, I needed to have a steady income.

As a freelance writer raising small kids, I had an integrated and organic -- if hectic -- lifestyle, chasing down feature stories that compelled me by day, being with my children on weekends and after school, writing late into the night.

For the New York Times's Westchester Weekly section, I wrote feature articles about the first female rabbi in the county; the battle of anti-floridationists; the struggle of midwives to gain delivery privileges in area hospitals; the muralist Alton Tobey; the comedian Marc Weiner; the herbalist Andrea Candee; a campaign to stop smoking in county high schools; the effect of homelessness on children.

For Jewish newspapers, I penned first-person columns about my family life and profiled famous people, such as Abba Eban, for Jewish magazines.

And I wrote a novel, never published in its entirely (though a chapter was published as a short story): Revelations of a Rabbi's Daughter.

My decision to halt personal publication was made in the middle of the Westchester night, sitting on the counter of our beloved Tudor home in New Rochelle, which we had just decided to sell.

It was done with stoic certainty but it was hardly easy.

The sad reality was that two writers with kids in Jewish Day School could not afford the mortgage of a home we had bought right before the real estate market crash of 1987.

We were house poor, but we were also poor poor, owing to my freelance income. Those Times articles, no matter how compelling, paid bubkes, and the Jewish publications paid even worse.

A family in the Greater New York area who aspired to a Jewishly robust life needed to earn more money than we were making.

So I hopped over the invisible yet tangible fence separating journalism and public relations, never abandoning my writing self or sensibility, never forsaking my dreams, committed to working only on projects that compelled me.

For twenty years, I have done exactly that.

Yes, there have been moments of sadness that I have not given myself the time to write a second novel (though I have written numerous novellas and short stories) and I have railed against the high cost of Jewish education that forced me to leave my truest calling behind...or at least back burner it for two decades.

However, an awareness has been growing in me over the past year that perhaps the sacrifice I made was not completely sacrificial.

Perhaps my work in public relations -- first as an employee of non-profit institutions I revere and since 2002, as a consultant to countless causes, individuals and organizations I admire -- is also a calling of sorts.

Looking back at the successful promotion of people, places and things that are near and dear to me, my decision is looking less and less like a concession or compromise or pragmatic solution to being broke.

I have worked on important books and with important thinkers.

I have drawn audiences to important films and art exhibitions.

Devoted to the vision of Conservative Judaism, I have helped to reverse the narrative of decline surrounding this centrist approach to Jewish life.

In particular, involved as I am now with a high profile case involving the injustice of Agunah -- the chained woman whose ex-husband refuses to grant her a Get, Jewish writ of divorce -- I feel a sense of serenity and even good fortune.

It is becoming clear to me that the work I have done is not just about getting my clients' name into the paper but about changing things: people's minds; injustice; the social landscape.

Life unfolds in mysterious ways and the entire canvas is often hidden from view. I've been guilty of gazing only at fragments and corners, feeling restless and sad. I have regarded that which has preoccupied me chiefly as my failure to fulfill my truest calling.

But on this erev Shabbat, as I get a jump on a day that ends at 4:19 p.m. I have a rare feeling of peace about the non-journalistic work I have done. The wide canvas is revealed to me, perhaps only momentarily, and I see a marvelous mosaic, a body of work, something rich and meaningful.

And that feeling of completion acts as a comforting muse, inspiring the books and stories and articles that have waited patiently in the wings of my soul, waiting to be written.