Monday, March 26, 2012

The Apology Tree

It’s only the last week in March and the hedgerow in the front has leaves. Do you have any idea how strange that is? The lilies are emerging, my beloved hostas are poking up, and that bleepin’ Japanese lilac tree has already started the sucker assault on my front garden.

Let me tell you about that Japanese lilac tree. 23 years later,  I still hate that tree. Granted it’s beautiful and it smells good, but it’s got a bad history and though I dream of ripping it out, I cannot.

We moved into the house…the biggest tar paper and chicken wire shack one could ever imagine…in the middle of winter knowing stucco, sod, and landscaping would come with the spring. Our builder introduced us to a young landscaper who was establishing himself in the area as a competent, skilled, and reasonable fellow with whom to do business. We hit it off right away. He drew his vision, I drew my vision, and somehow, we found a common ground. When our next door neighbor nicked our boulders while they were stacked in the yard, he kept Steve from doing something rash…and came up with an alternate plan for the retaining walls. We liked this guy even more when the junior son started “working” for him by carrying “stuff.” He was very patient with a very determined 4 year old, and "paid" him in shiny, new quarters. And we liked him well enough to recommend him to a number of our friends as well as to the synagogue where he was hired for a very large landscape and sod contract.

Anyway, after our initial landscaping was done, I still had to decide on some additional plantings in the front. We went back and forth. We finally settled on an idea, and I asked for an estimate. When he stopped by with the paperwork, I commented that it was more than we had agreed upon and, quite frankly, it was more than I had budgeted.

Then he said it. He used “Jew” as a verb.

I told him to get off my land and never set foot on it again. I turned and went into the house. He came up the stoop and rang the doorbell. I ignored it. He knocked. I ignored that too. 

When Steve came home from work, I told him what happened. He explained that in Minnesota “Jew” was sometimes used as a pejorative verb and I would occasionally hear it. I told him I’d heard it before, but thought this guy, doing work for so many Jews, not to mention the shul, should know better. Steve agreed. He called the landscaper and fired him.

The next day when I came home from work, there was a Japanese lilac tree in my front garden, and the landscaper standing, hat in hand (literally) waiting to apologize. I told him to remove the tree. He refused. I told him he’d better pick it up from the curb in the morning where would find it lying on at the end of the driveway.

When Steve arrived, he found me in the front garden with a shovel. He went inside and called the landscaper. I never asked what was said; I never wanted to know. But when Steve came out, he gently told me "the apology tree" would stay. 

Oddly, the landscaper moved into our neighborhood. He always greeted me, and I was always polite but cold to him. He always asked after the junior son, and at one point actually asked if he would be interested in a real summer job (he was doing marching band and had to decline) but it wasn’t until Steve died that I actually had a conversation with him.  He saw me driving by and flagged me down. He said he’d heard and how sorry he was. And then he asked me if I knew what Steve had said to him that day. I admitted I did not.

The landscaper sighed when he said, “He told me that he stopped you from pulling the tree out. And then he told me that he wanted the tree to stay there so that every time I drove  by and saw it, I would remember what I said cost me more than just a few jobs. It cost me his respect and that was much worse. He was right,  y’know. It was.”

The damn tree is still there, it’s still beautiful, and it still smells good in the spring. And I still hate it.

But most of all, I hate those damn suckers. They are the bane of my existence; an insidious plot to drive me nuts. For the record, that is a short and less than happy journey.

Wifely Person's Tip O'the Week
Time for you to give me one. 
If anyone knows how to put a stop to those damn things, I'm all ears. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

When The Coop Is In The Balance

My cousin Barbara Simon Mazor is short (like me), opinionated (also like me) and definitely a rabble rouser (even more like me, therefore making this a trifecta.) Since I didn’t have a little sister of my own, watching Barbara follow in some of my footsteps has always made me smile. But it’s what she's done recently that makes me…no... ALL of us in this family, so proud of her that our buttons are ready to bust!

Barbara and her family live in Brooklyn and are members of the Park Slope Food Coop. Now, that might not seem like a big deal, but lately, her membership has been the cause of national attention. Following in the fine Simon tradition of rabble-rousing, Barbara has taken on the national  BDS movement that has raised its ugly head at the Park Slope Food Coop. Next week, on March 27th, the Coop's general meeting will vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on joining the boycott of Israel. 

If you don’t know what BDS is, let me explain: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions is a movement pushing for sanctions against Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. However,  Barbara defines it's actual nature quite succinctly when she says, 

“BDS is not about bringing peace to the region.  Its goal is to delegitimize 
Israel and ultimately to bring about the end of Israel as a Jewish country.  
BDS is Bigotry. Dishonesty. Anti-Semitism.”

The BDS movement's demonization of Israel does not recognize the reality of how the territories came to exist, the role of the Arab nations in the conditions within the territories, and the constant barrage of missiles and violence against the civilian population of Israel. Instead, they call Israel an apartheid nation even though Israeli Arabs are 100% Israeli citizens and Arabic is an official language of the State of  Israel. Israeli Arabs hold elected office, serve in the IDF, and partake fully of everything Israel offers all its citizens. To be sure, Israel is not perfect, there are issues even amongst its Jewish citizenry, but Israelis are Israelis are Israelis regardless of race, color, or creed. Name one Arab state with those credentials. You cannot. No Arab state exists with that kind of equality. 

The territories, however, are not Israel. They should be their own country by now, but they lack leadership, an economy, and a working infrastructure. Lobbing dozens of missiles at elementary schools does not produce a functional state. Anywhere else, that behavior would arouse world anger, abhorrence, and condemnation, but when the Palestinians do it, it's seems to be okay. Israel is told that the missiles are their fault...kinda like blaming the victim of a rape. But hey! It’s just Jewish kids hunkering down in bunkers. They should be used to that. Their great-grandparents lived in ghettos. Their grandparents were kept in concentration camps. A bunker should be no great shakes. Right?

Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran 
BDS has done nothing to actually help the Palestinian people. They have their spent capital on finger pointing and blame.  What they have done is to provide yet another platform for hate rhetoric aimed at a country that is already struggling with finding a resolution, where most of the population wants a two state long as the other state recognizes it fundamental right to exist. Israel wants a peace partner that does not call for its destruction as part of the  national covenant. BDS holds rallies on college campuses around the country, spreading a web of half-truths and outright lies. They condemn Israel for protecting her own children, yet they remain silent on other regimes killing their own people within their own borders. Where is their outrage for Syria or Sudan?

But this really isn't about that. Ultimately, this is about the Coop itself and the desire by some to alter its intended function. Early on, Barbara started a blog, STOP BDS AT THE PARK SLOPE FOOD COOP  where she laid out a rather matter-of-fact scenario about how dominoes fall when you politicize an organization like the Coop. She asked, in essence, what if 

“…1000 coop members resign, requesting the return of their $100 member 
investment. The coop has to come up with $100,000. Weekly sales drop by 
$50,000, which is about $10,000 in mark-up. 5 coop staffers are laid off.”

The reality is that even in an organization as large as the Park Slope Food Coop, which numbers about 16,000, a thousand members resigning would have a huge financial impact. 

Samantha Bee and Barbara Mazor
So because of a combination of factors, coupled with Barbara's determination that this will not go silently into the night, the issue started showing up in local papers. The next thing you know, there's Barbara in the Wall Street Journal. The Forward is talking about her blog. Suddenly, she's being interviewed on the radio and for other papers. The Grey Lady herself, the New York Times, started covering the story. And as if that is not enough (dayanu) The Daily Show dispatched Samantha Bee over to Brooklyn to go shopping at the Coop with my little cousin. According to that which we know, the interview will air on March 26th, the day before the referendum. We're just hoping they used her as the straight man....

But all joking aside; the existence of the State of Israel is no joke. That they are threatened daily by the neighboring states is no joke. BDS brings nothing to the table; they do nothing but drive a wedge deeper between both sides. Instead of helping the Palestinians to reach a place where they can live and work and love their children in peace, they have further entrenched everyone in a war of words that benefits no one.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Planning on attending the meeting? 
Do everyone a favor and let Barbara know.
Just post a comment on her blog

Monday, March 12, 2012


The past few weeks have been kind of exciting around here for a most unexpected reason: the entire shul has been gripped by Iditarod  fever.  One of our kids, Jake Berkowitz, is musher.

Now, just like being a blues man, being a musher is usually not one of the top profession choices for Jewish kids. At least, in the old days, it wasn’t. These days, we Jewish mothers are more concerned with our children’s happiness and their feelings of success and self-worth to obsess on whether or not they’re wearing business casual, casual, or a clown suit. It doesn’t matter. They just have to be passionate about what they do. And just like other folks ask after my kids, I find myself wanting to know more about what my friends’ kids  do. After all, Beth Jacob in Mendota Heights is the social center of the universe and all these kids grew up together.

picture from FB:THOUGHTS
So, Jake’s living up in Alaska and running his own kennel, but his folks are all here. And folks being folks, everyone is always asking how Jake’s doing with the dogs. I started watching for him several years ago when I found out he was living not far from the junior son on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It began with reading about the races and the racers and then learning about the skills needed to compete, to maintain a kennel, and how the it all works together.

I followed the races I could, and quietly watched as Jake competed in his first Iditarod back in 2008. I would routinely check the other races and was thrilled to bits when he won the Copper Basin last year. Knowing how much he’s grown and improved, I was really excited about this year’s Iditarod. 

If you are not familiar with sled dog races, the Iditarod's not called The Last Great Race for nothing. It's almost 1000 miles of the least forgiving terrain on the planet, all the way across Alaska from Anchorage to Nome.  There's a person, a sled, and a team of dogs. Both men and women race; there are no gender divisions. And it ain't summer out there. The weather is brutal. But people do it and love it. And, gee, if I a heartbeat!

Bib 29 - Jake and his sled
I registered at the Iditarod website, and at least three times a day, I checked the standings. It worried me that Jake, bib # 29, was hovering  in the low 20s at first, but then he started to move up. At shul on Purim, the standings were announced from the bimah. Shabbat morning, there was a roar when the rabbi announced Jake was 9th…even though I had already seen he’s moved up to 8th before I left the house. We were all so excited and everyone was talking about it. The assistant rabbi candidate who was visiting last weekend must’ve thought we were a bit strange.  By Saturday night, Jake was listed in 6th place and I was just cheering as I read the reports from the trail.

But on Sunday, everything changed.

While out on the trail, Jake was prepping fish snacks for the dogs and cut his hand badly with the fish knife. He made it into  Unalakleet on his own, and there’s a video clip of his arrival and him telling the race marshal he “nicked a vein.” He takes off his glove and shows a green bandage tied around his hand, explaining that if you untie it, it’ll still “spurt blood.”  Not a good sign.

The race marshal thought he needed to get sewn up….but after stitching it closed, the volunteer surgeon said he thought it warranted more attention than he could provide. The decision was made to fly Jake out of Unalakleet to a hospital in Anchorage where a specialist could take a look at the hand. Jake’s dad, who happens to have a more conventional profession…that of doctor…spoke to the doctor….which makes all his Jewish mothers feel a little better.

I had planned to write a smashing ending about how well Jake did and how exciting it is to actually know a real live musher who finished in the top ten of the 2012 Iditarod, but instead  I will tell you I spoke with one of his mothers this evening; she assures me he is back at home and doing well. They did not need to operate, and everyone expects a full recovery. You can hear a collective sigh of relief over Mendota Heights tonight.

I am so looking forward to Iditarod 2013! 

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
The Talmud says we need to teach our children two things:
a trade and how to swim. 
Neither comes naturally, but both are more fun when passion is involved. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Be Happy! It's Adar!

One of the great joys of having a married son is you get a daughter out of the deal, and after living in land o'guys for so long, having a daughter with which to share girl stuff is just one big giant smile. 

My daughter-in-law
My daughter-in-law has been around as the junior son's significant other since high school. She was part and parcel of this family for a long time before we lost Steve, and in fact, she was here when he slipped away. So when the first Adar rolled around and I could not bring myself to make hamantaschen without him, she leapt into action and not only made all the hamantaschen, but shipped them out to the family. Last year, without being asked, she did it again because she knew I wasn't there yet. This year, however, it was time to return to the land of the living, and before she could schedule her own hamantaschen baking, I asked if she would like to join me. Without hesitation, she said, "Yes! Of course!" and we planned for Sunday. 

Now this might seem easy enough, but the truth is that this is all very hard for me.

 Haman and Vashti 
Adar is the month of Purim, when we celebrate the story of Queen Esther and how replaced Queen Vashti and then saved the Jews of the Persian Empire when Haman wanted to destroy them all. If you've never encountered the Book of Esther, it's right there in your Bible...right between Ecclesiastes and least that's where it is in the Hebrew version. It's a little book, only 10 little chapters, a mere 167 verses in all, and never once is G-d mentioned. A great story, it's got all the elements of the first class feminist spy novel... a queen contest, bad politics, plots up the wazoo...John le Carré  could do no better! 

Queen Esther's jester
The holiday is called Purim for the lots that were cast to decide the date of the Jews' destruction. For us, it's like Halloween in reverse. You dress up, often in costumes of the characters, but instead of trick'or'treat, you do shalach manot....going around delivering little packages of sweets for your family and friends. In fact, our rabbi always says if you trick'or'treat at Halloween, you must promise to deliver shalach manot for Purim. And for Jewish women, it's the kickoff to the month-long countdown to Passover...when our kitchens are turned topsy-turvy and great feasts are prepared. 

It used to be "Be Happy, It's Adar" in this house. But at Purim 2009, we had the first warning something was not right. All the "Do you want me to call Tom?.... Would you please call Tom and move up your appointment?.... Steve, you shouldn't wait another two weeks for your appointment with Tom," went unheeded. Would going in earlier have made a difference? Should I have forced him to go? (Like that would've happened.) Did I do enough? Say enough? Holler enough? I can second guess myself into the Olam ha'Ba  and it won't make a difference. But that month of happiness, Adar, seems to have become the month of annual self-flagellation, ending only at the first day of Pesach, the day we learned there was no future. 

So to have my daughter-in-law to myself for hamatashen baking is a great gift. I probably repeat the same stories year after year, but it's as if telling and retelling should make them easier. It does and it doesn't. But it's of great consolation to me to have her there. She rolled the dough, I placed the fillings, we baked, we laughed, we packed, we labeled, and she took to the post office to send. It was teamwork. 

Hamantaschen for all! There's lekvar, apricot, raspberry and a newcomer: chocolate!

I wasn't alone. And working together, I could almost be happy that it was Adar. 

King Ahashverus

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week

Need a quick kiddie Purim costume?
Cut a head hole out of the top of a pillowcase, 
then arm holes on the side. 
Paint with acrylic paint or use Magic Marker. 
Works like a charm