Monday, September 27, 2010

Free at last, free at last!

So I was sitting in the pew during Sukkot, reading something other than what I was supposed to be reading, but trying to learn more about my place as a widow in Jewish society. Granted, I’ve figured a lot of this stuff out on my own, but any insight is good insight. And then, I almost fell off my pew. I couldn’t believe my eyes, but there it was in black and white.

A mature woman who is widowed or divorced and not under the control of her father can have all the non-adulterous sex she wants. Not only that, we can even take a lesbian lover since there’s no prohibition against female homosexuality in Torah, only male (and that’s the ol’ seed-on-the-ground issue.)

When I had stuffed my eyeballs back into my head, I immediately shared this with the other widows ...who had the same reaction I did. This was great news. Or so we thought until it was pointed out that to have all this sex we would need to find someone to have sex with, and to be honest, the pickins’ around here are kinda slim.

Still, this is an interesting concept. I guess I always presumed there was a “no sex without marriage” rule somewhere in Torah, but not only isn’t there a rule like that, Torah actually deals with bride price issues where pre-marital sex may have been involved. Apparently, it’s no big whup if the parties are unattached and consenting.

Which led me into my next search: bride price…and do I have one?

Now, all things considered, I am not without assets. I am, however, past (without a whole lotta hormore theapy that I really have no interest in) child-bearing age and I have adult (IMHO) children. Therefore, I’m sorry to say, I have no discernible value in the marriage market.
In other words, I am a free agent.

What a totally awesome, empowering statement on so many levels! What a concept! According to Jewish law. I am my own woman! I am under no one’s control. I can take all the non-adulterous lovers I want.

Or not.

[Note to self: at this time, I am excluding George Clooney and Alec Baldwin from consideration because I do not know either of them personally nor are they Jewish. They may be the epitome of good looks and charm, and they are both really, really smart, but neither one is here, so they’re off the table... for the moment.]

I wasn’t kidding when I said the pickins’ were slim. There isn’t a single guy I know with whom I would want go to dinner, much less to crawl between the sheets with. They just aren’t all that attractive. Picking a lover is more than whether or not he’s a hunky guy; he has to have a mouth attached to an active brain. My intellect has to be aroused. If the conversation is boring, the rest of it will probably follow suit.

What part of this is shocking? That I feel this way…or that I think this way? If you know me at all, neither. I've always been the practical, nuts and bolts type. You really have to work hard to sweep me off my feet. And to those of you who might be wondering...the answer is yes, I have been swept, and I've got the sons to prove it.

I want dazzling conversation and rapier wit. I want passion. I want the romance of Paris, the spice of India, the hot springs of Iceland, and none of the Bologna. I want an adventure.

Of course, should I ever feel a compelling need to do someone else’s laundry, I could just decide to remarry.

Tip of the week:
Only marry someone who laughs when you fart in bed.

Bonus tip 
Mom, do not read this to Dad. He'll get upset.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Exalted Guests....or WWJT: What would Jefferson Think?

Just to wrap up Yom Kippur for those of you who are curious about how I survived: I did and it sucked. I spent about as much time crying as I did not crying. It’s very hard to concentrate on atoning when you’re a functional waterworks. End of conversation.

This week the holiday fest continues with Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles for my gentile readers). This holiday makes its initial appearance in Exodus, then again in Deuteronomy. Anyway, fast forward a few thousand years and you get people building these little booths covered with willow branches and cornstalks in their backyards. Anyway, one of the more interesting traditions is Ushpizin…the Exalted Guests.

Seven exalted guests are invited into the sukkah every night, and each night, a different one leads the way. Traditionally, the guests were the forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David, but over the years, everyone debates just whom they’d invite. This year, I have a more dynamic table in mind.

I might keep Joseph on the list if for no other reason than to let him explain how an immigrant from an unpopular neighbor-state managed to rise to power under an autocrat…and how he views immigration here and now, but I want Jefferson and Adams there, too; Teddy (not Franklin) and his niece (yes, she was Teddy’s niece long before she was Franklin’s wife) Eleanor Roosevelt would certainly get an invite, as would Felix Frankfurter, and Bella Abzug. Yep. I’d want Bella there, hat and all. And I would ask them each, “What did you think was going to happen?”

Who wouldn’t want to hear Joseph and Jefferson argue on agribusiness, architecture and taxes? Jefferson, the guy who believed in reduction of government expenditures, a balanced budget, a decrease in the overall size of the national debt, AND alleviation of the tax burden….v. Joseph, the national master planner and possibly first income tax assessor. What a combo!

What could be more fun than listening to the framers of the Constitution rail on what is now considered free speech? I want to hear Justice Frankfurter, a founder of the ACLU, defend that idea in the face of lunatic fringe media in the midst of that discussion.

And speaking free speech and the lunatic fringe, what would John Adams say about the Tea Party? I’m sure the candidacies of Sarah Palin and Christy O’Donnell would positively shock him! Remember, this is the guy who wrote to his rather politically savvy wife, Abigail, saying, “I must not write a word to you about politics, because you are a woman.” Think of the debate between him and Bella, the woman who said “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.” And in the middle would be Eleanor, ever the diplomat, making sure everyone listens to each other and directly addresses the issues  at hand.  

And finally, at the foot of the table would be Teddy “Square Deal” Roosevelt. From that perch he would hold forth on the importance of equal opportunity.

The point would not be for all the exalted guests to agree, but for everyone to discuss with passion and patience all matters of importance in between bites of blintz soufflé at a table beneath a roof of willows, corn stalks, and stars.

Chag Sameach  -  חג שמח

Tip O'the Week
Planning to sleep in the sukkah? 
Remember to put a weatherproof mat between you and the ground.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What if I swing a chicken over my head?

 Isn’t there some place in all this atoning where I get to laugh... even just a little?  No matter how serious things ever got in this house, all you had to say was "where's the kapporah chicken?" and we started laughing.


I stopped laughing a year ago; I was too numb to confront the holidays with much more than impotent anger. I was too busy trying not to set my hair on fire while trying to figure out how I was going to survive. Nothing prepared me for the reality of widowhood, and while I had a eight weeks to prepare (whereas my cousin Sylvia didn’t even have the space of a heartbeat..and is, therefore, my role model in all things widow weeds) I wailed that it was not enough. That was probably because I was in complete and total denial that this was really going to happen. I believed in the miracle. I believed that we would awaken from the nightmare next to each other in the same bed. I believed we would see in our 75th anniversary together. I believed...I believe.... אני מאמין

Last year, the only thing I atoned for was for not being smart enough to have been on top of what should’ve been my real world.

This year, it was different. Rosh HaShannah crashed into me with the weight of a freight train; I just wasn’t expecting it to be so hard. There was no “do I wear a tie?” debate, and no tayglach or matzah ball jokes. There was no little rush as when I would see him, wrapped in his big Fig-Newton tallis, saunter into the sanctuary, then pause to talk to his buddies before joining the rest of the family in Bud's Rosh HaShannah Row, the same row of seats we always occupy, even without Bud and Steve. 

And not even the annual 2nd night dinner at Annie and Peter’s made me feel any better. I stared at the table picture posted on the fridge, the one taken several years ago when we were still all present, and the only thing I felt was disappointment that Steve would not be there to regale us with Steve-ness. 

I'm sure there is much to atone for this year. I’m pretty sure I’ve pissed off any number of people. I don’t think I was conscious enough to do it consciously, but if I did offend you, I will try, from the bottom of my heart, not to do it again.

I know I’ve scared more than a few of you, and for that I am truly sorry. Wrapped in my own pain, I probably didn’t come off as completely grounded at all times. And to tell the truth, I probably wasn’t, but it was never my desire to inspire worry. I cannot apologize enough for having my head implanted in such a way that I was looking past my tonsils and out onto the street. Steve called it "auto-cranial proctology." I will try to avoid it this year.

Promising you all that I shan’t screw up again this year would be pointless; I’m sure I will. I just hope that these are a new variety of screw ups and I’m not repeating the same old same old. I shall endeavor to find new and improved ways.

May you all be sealed in the Book of Life for a good, sweet year... גמר חתימה טובה

Tip o’the Week

The hardest thing to do on the planet is to apologize and mean it. 
 The second hardest thing to do is accept an apology and mean it.
 The third? To swing a chicken over you head and not get pecked.

 [Note about a Fig Newton tallis: my dad used to tell me that guys who wore those really big prayer shawls on Yom Kippur, a fasting day,  were really hiding Fig Newtons underneath them. ~ sjss]

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Happy, Sweet New Year - שנה טובה ומתוקה

A friend of mine happens to be in Poland on business. When he originally told me the name of the town in which the trade show is being held, it didn’t ring any bells. Later, though, when I thought about it again, I realized I did know the name of this town: Kielce. And not for good reasons. I asked what he knew about the town, and he came back, almost immediately with, “there was a massacre there.” Actually, there were two massacres there: a massacre of children during the war, and then a pogrom (yes, a pogrom)  after the war. Not a nice town. Someplace you would rather be from, and even then, you'd probably not want to admit it.

Anyway, he emailed to tell me he was driving through the town, came upon the memorial to the Jews of Kielce…those who died in the liquidation of the Ghetto, the massacre of the children, and finally the pogrom... and took a picture. I was very touched, and told him he’d performed the mitzvah of kever avot, visiting the graves, an important thing during this week leading up to the Yamim Nora’im. 

I’m not sure he fully understood the importance of what he’d done.

Lots of people know what happened in Kielce, but I am equally certain that those who have direct memories of the children who were murdered in 1943 as well the those who were murdered in the death camps, and in the pogrom of 1946 are fewer and fewer every year. That my gentile friend knew that there had even been a massacre there was almost a relief…that we were not the only ones to remember. That he’d stopped because he knew what had happened in that town, that he stopped to take a photo and send it to me were acts of kindness and remembrance for those who have no one left to remember, either collectively or individually. Jews touring the camps and monuments are not enough; the events need to be remembered by everyone who is repulsed by acts of genocide and wholesale destruction of cities, towns, and communities.

This week, I will perform the mitzvah of kever avot when I go to my husband’s grave. I will say El Moleh Rachamim, and I will place a little rock upon the headstone to show I’ve been there. I’ll probably catch him up on the news, and I’ll be sure to mention Favre is back in purple. And while I’ll listen closely to hear if he says, “F*#king Vikings, they’re just gonna break my heart again,” I’m pretty sure the only thing I’ll hear is the breeze in the trees, and the sound of my own heart breaking all over again. 

When we take a moment to recall those who came before us, they live again in that moment. Whether it’s the children of the Kielce massacre, a parent, a spouse, a sibling, they all take another breath as we invoke their names. In that moment they are more than memories; we hear their voices, see their smiles, and feel the hole they’ve left on our souls.

I will go on missing the salty sound of Steve’s running commentary on life. And I will go on, one ear cocked, just in case he has an opinion he’d like to share.

Tip o' the Week 
Take a moment to think on those who have gone on,
and remember that without them, you wouldn't be who you are.