Monday, December 31, 2018

Blog Episode 444: Grandparenting In A Dimly Lit Room

I am grandparenting. I am sitting in a dimly lit dining room because Little Miss is asleep on the couch. Young Sir, however, went down in his own room right on schedule and I've not heard from him since. 

So here I sit trying to finish this final episode for 2018 that I started yesterday. 

This is my 444th blog episode. 

That's 8.5384615 in widow years. 

This whole thing got started because ....because.....oh, I don't remember. I think I started out wanting to write about being a widow, and then it was just a stomping ground for my own opinions....and then it got political. By the way,  I'm not sorry about that at all.

As this years slips away and a new one comes crawling in, my thoughts turn to the world at large. The US is rapidly becoming a third world country, where infant mortality is high, maternal mortality is high, and people ration meds because they can't afford to buy them even with insurance. The stripping away of environmental protections undoes decades of work to clean up our air, water, and toxic waste. The undermining of the judicial branch shames the United States; we look more like the Philippines than Western Europe. Our allies are no longer our allies, thereby opening a door to provocation from North Korea, China, and Russia. Who would stand with us against an attack? Certainly not the nations who have been trashed by a schoolyard bully.

At the end of 2018, the only thing I can say about my country is that I am deeply ashamed of what We, the People have become. As Americans, We, the People, can continue to buy into the rhetoric as so many already do. As a Jew, it's hard to miss the handwriting on the wall. 

I'm sure the Jews of Berlin and Munich and Frankfurt saw the same handwriting in 1932 and chose not to believe they were in danger. That was then. 

This is now. Antisemitism remains the safe hatred even after all these years. Nothing much has changed. Doesn't much matter what minority or majority you are, you can always find antisemitism right beneath the surface. It's the only hate that is sanctioned  by silence. It's the only hate that is conveniently shared by diverse groups who don't even understand they're antisemites...they just want a better the Jews get. And it's the only hate that victims tend to give a free pass: Oh, it'll blow over. 

It never does.

My grandkids are asleep under this roof. Their parents are at Orchestra Hall listening to a concert of Bernstein, Copeland, and Gershwin. Jews, all of them. Dead, alive, it doesn't much matter. What matters is that we have survived in the past. What matters is whether or not we have the koi'ach, the strength, to fight this fight before it's too late. Unlike the last time. 

I'm going to stop here. 

My heartfelt thanks to all my readers, and honest wishes for a happy, healthy, prosperous, and peaceful New Year,

The WP

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Hugs your loved ones a little tighter.
We're not off the roller coaster yet.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

The summer I turned 6, we moved to the wilds of Long Island. That winter, I found out about Christmas. I mean, I'd heard of it, but I didn't know anyone who had that holiday so this was all new territory. We did sing some songs in school, but they didn't make any sense, so I didn't care much about them. My neighbors across the street invited me to help trim the tree. I had no clue what that meant, but my mom thought I should go.

Into a sparkly world  of tinsel, lights, and ornaments I went, eyes wide open and unable to fully digest that majesty of it all. When it came time to assemble the manger scene, my friend Patty told me all about Jesus being born in a stable, the magic star, and the three kings. Gently, we unwrapped all the pieces, the mom, the dad, the camels, the cows, the kings.... but the baby wasn't there. We couldn't find that baby anywhere. We went back down the basement where one of her older brothers held her up high so Patty could reach in to feel around the space where the manger was stored. Suddenly, she gave a shout, and out came a little bundle. We danced with excitement that the baby was found, and we gently laid him in his manger crib. Then we settled down for hot chocolate and stories. Patty's parents told us about the night the baby was born and then about Santa Claus. When it was time to go home, Mrs. Eyerman promised she would call my mother to see if it was okay for me to go see Santa Claus at Roosevelt Field. 

I was too excited for words! I was going to see Santa Claus! I raced across the street and down the block 3 houses to my house. I ran in the door. "I can go see Santa Claus if you let me," I burst out. "I had fun, but it was almost terrible! We almost couldn't find sweet baby Jesus!"  Oddly, my mother looked like she was gonna keel over.

That night, my dad, the great make-up story artist, did not make up a story at bedtime. He recited a poem he had been compelled to memorize in school. 

A Visit from St. Nicholas

BY CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE or thomas livingston...take your pick
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
"Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”
There was a lot of learning that night. I learned about Christians and their holidays. I learned that people believe different things. And I learned to ask a different kind of question.

Much of me, unknowingly, was forged that night. 

Years later, I was telling the story about sweet baby Jesus to my British grandmother. Suddenly, she began to recite, A VISIT FROM ST. NICHOLAS. She laughed at my shocked look; when she was done she said, "I bet Daddy recited that for you." I nodded, unable to say anything. "They forced him to learn it for a school assembly and he didn't want to do it, so I learned it with him. I always did love to memorize poems, even that one. It's a Christmas poem, but it has a nice cadence." Then she told me something I would never, ever forget. "Not everything that looks tasty is good to eat." 

By the way, I did get to see Santa that year I was 6...but that's a story for another Christmas Eve.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
May this Christmas be the happiest one ever. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

When Hallmark Channel Is Your Friend

I've been reduced to Hallmark Channel. 

This is a very sad state of affairs. Sad for a number of reasons, none of which are terribly dramatic or life altering. Basically, there is nothing on TV I want to watch. 

Oh, yeah, I have a watch a list of movies yet to be seen, and there are old favorites that always perk me up. But in the scheme of "what's on," I'm tired of violence. I'm tired of gratuitous sex. I'm tired of absurd police and federal law enforcement "dramas." Those aren't dramas; those are excuses for bad special effects. Does anyone really need LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL NOSE PICKING UNIT? The cha-chung noise, once a staple comment in this household, has lost its charm.

TODAY show anchor desk ~ c.1956
The news is almost worse than these non-dramas for the worst possible reason: it's not news; it's infotainment, and it's not even good infotainment. TODAY has turned into an idiocracy fest. GOOD MORNING AMERICA is more like Good Morning, Fantasyland. CBS is the only one out there actually showing news in the morning, and thankfully, our local station, WCCO, has held to their model. With about a quarter of the happy-talk on the other local stations, 'CCO concentrates on news, weather, and traffic, the BIG THREE in Minnesota. That I watch while I'm getting ready for work. Notice I don't even mention Fox. No reason to. We're talking about news. 

Frankly, I miss J. Fred Muggs and the Today show anchor desk. They had a whole lot more gravitas than the current crew. 

Let's not even talk about the prime time news shows. NBC's DATELINE is visual click-bait. 60 Minutes does more than its fair share of populist baloney and they can be pretty dodgy on their own. And the serious stuff is soooooooo dramatic. What ever happened to good story telling? 

NEWS HOUR on PBS is the only evening news program worth the time. In fact, most of the history and documentary programs on PBS are worth watching. See, they deal in facts. That's refreshing. You can learn something watching actual fact-filled stuff. 

Meanwhile, what I really want are happy endings. I want people falling in love, struggling a bit with the process, then happily ever after. I know that's not real, but that's not the point. 

The point is that in the car this afternoon, I was listening to an analysis of the INF's demise. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces agreement was the last of the Cold War treaties, and one that has held up for quite a while. The US accuses Russia of being out of compliance, and Russia says everyone else is, too....while moving on to Instagram as their social media of choice for electoral interference. 

In Texas, a judge has ruled the ACA totally unconstitutional and says everything must be peeled back. The stock market continues its plummet. Carbon emissions are expected to reach a new high in 2018. 85,000 children may have already died of starvation in Yemen and the executive branch of our government continues to support Saudi Arabia. Of course, 85,000 is a lot more than one kid who dies from dehydration and starvation in ICE custody but the loss of that child is no less important or painful as the others who have died in war. Which the border really is, if you really wanna know.  Just another war zone. 

As if the unnecessary death of children due to starvation is just another day in the office for Feckless Leader, he says he's shutting down the government because they won't give him his wall. Oh, for pity's sake, do us all a favor: just take your baseball bat and go home.

So I watch sappy, overwrought Hallmark channel to escape. Escape the fears I have for my kids. The fears I have for my grandkids. I worry about war, the environment, and antisemitism. I constantly ask myself is being Jewish is putting a target on all our backs? We are way too many steps into that parallel universe of 1930s Nazism. Didn't the Jews of Germany say, "Oh, no, it can't happen here. We're part of the fabric of our society?"

Now that I have depressed everyone into Hallmark and insensibility, let me leave you with my current ear worm:

There's a holdup in the Bronx, 
Brooklyn's broken out in fights. 
There's a traffic jam in Harlem 
That's backed up to Jackson Heights. 
There's a scout troop short a child, 
Khrushchev's due at Idlewild 
Car 54, Where Are You? 

Clap if you know what Idlewild is. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
If you like a good cry at the end of Christmas movies,
the WP highly recommends LOVE, ACTUALLY
THE HOLIDAY isn't bad either. 
Both are pretty funny, too. 

Monday, December 10, 2018

No Smocking Guns Allowed On These Premises

There were a few skeptics out there who said they never heard of a Hanukkiah and that the candle-holder thingee is a menorah. For the last time: it is not a menorah. Even my 4-year old granddaughter, the brilliant and mathematically advanced Little Miss, when explaining Hanukkah to her cousins, said 
...and then we light all the candles in the Hanukkiah because tonight is the last night. 
If Little Miss knows it's a Hanukkiah, trust me, it's a Hanukkiah. Now that we have that straightened out...

Bill Bramhall / Tribune Content Agency/ 12/09/18
I still don't feel much like writing about politics. The president continues to embarrass the nation with his tweets. As his non-existent business empire continues to implode, revealing more and more heinous business dealings, crimes, and felonies, and the White House staff keeps exiting at a furious pace, there isn't much to say about it.  I may not have liked George H.W. Bush as president, but watching everyone fall over themselves praising his statesmanlike behavior is a greater indictment of what we have...or don't have... now rather than how it actually was under 41. Even 43 came off as a gentleman-in-mourning. When the nation suddenly views the Bushes as model Americans, you know something is not quite right.

Personally, I long for a family like the Obamas: a loving couple, seemingly normal kids, no adulterous scandals, smart people responding appropriately. I don't have to agree with everything they do or say, but I want people with grace, elegance, and good manners occupying the White House. They do happen to represent our nation in public. 

Instead of  moronic, misspelled tweets, I would settle for a single, cogent thought that considers the state of the world. Is that asking so much from a world leader? Apparently, it is. 

The Mueller investigation appears to be heading into the final stretch. I'm not crazy about the idea of impeachment if only because Pence, that right-wing, not-so-closeted Nazi would become president. All of them belong in jail: Feckless, his traitor-tots (Junior, Eric, Ivanka, and Jared,) his campaign committee, and even some of his robber baron cabinet appointees. They all need to be fitted for orange jumpsuits... with lovely smocking, of course.

We have become an international joke, a laughing stock on a world stage where once our commitment to science and technology was a lamp to the world. Instead, we embraced fossil fuel usage today, and we were mocked for it at the U.N. conference on climate change currently taking place in Katowice, Poland. 

The stock market is not winning. The employees of GM are not winning. The earth is not winning. What happened to all that winning Feckless promised we were going to have? By the way,  he can get you a great deal on a bridge in Brooklyn.

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
There is a spell checker on Twitter, 
but it kinda assumes you know what you're talking about.

Monday, December 3, 2018

They Tried To Kill Us. We Won. Let's Eat.

Something about that meme struck me. Perhaps it's the reduction of the concept to standing on a single foot. Or maybe it's the juxtaposition of ancient and modern. Whatever it is, on a very gut level it's ultimately very wrong.

Hanukkah is not much of a religious holiday. It's more political than anything else, miracle of the lasting lights not withstanding. So, here's the short version of what happened. 

They tried to kill us. We won. Let's eat. 

Okay, that's a little too flip. Let's try a slightly longer version. Here's a brief academic timeline from Wikipedia:
  • 168 BCE: Under the reign of Antiochus IV, the second Temple is looted, Jews are massacred, and Judaism is outlawed.[50]
  • 166 BCE: Mattathias dies, and Judah takes his place as leader. The Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom begins; It lasts until 63 BCE.
  • 165 BCE: The Jewish revolt against the Seleucid monarchy is successful in recapturing the Temple, which is liberated and rededicated (Hanukkah)
Add to that the idea that there are sources who suspect Antiochus IV was really trying to quash an internal civil war between the Maccabean Jews and the more Hellanized Jews and got caught in the middle. Extrapolate, kids. Sound a little familiar, does it?????

Unlike the High Holy Days of the Fall, plus Sukkot (Tabernacles,) Pesach (Passover,) and Shavuot (Pentecost,) all of which appear in the Torah and have work prohibitions (as in observant Jews go to synagogue, not work nor school) Hanukkah does not have that same status. Since it's not in the Torah, and not recorded into the canon until quite late, there are some Jews, like Beta Israel of Ethiopia, who are Biblical Jews or Pre-Rabbinic Jews, who were unaware of anything after Written Law (Torah) until modernity stepped in. But I digress. This holiday is unlike the others. It's about a revolt, a political and military victory, and it's about reunification of Jews in Jerusalem. It's a holiday of re-dedication. 

There are a couple of big take-aways from this story. 
The Merneptah Stele

  1. The first is that all this happened at the Second Temple... before Jesus was born and long before Mohammed was born. Which kinda reinforces the idea that Jews were living there, building there, worshiping there, and periodically operating their own country there in between invasions, exiles, and assorted disasters. This little stele is from the the Iron Age, circa 1209 B.C.E and is the earliest recorded use of the word ISRAEL to define a separate nation. We've been around the neighborhood for a while.
  2. They did try to kill us and we won. Now, it's entire possible there was an internal struggle going down at the same time, but have you ever known Jews not to argue amongst themselves? You've heard the old joke, two Jews, three they can both agree they'd never set foot in. This kind of fight, however, was more serious. It also makes me wonder if this particular fight will ever end. It's still going on, in different forms, today. In Israel. But that's another story.
If you want to understand Hanukkah, you have to stop thinking there's some kind of equivalency with Christmas. There isn't. They only thing they have in common is the date, the 25th of the month. Hanukkah falls in the 25th of Kislev. It predates "December," even though both are winter months. 

Spoils of Jerusalem, Arch of Titus, circa 82 CE
This is a menorah from the Temple with 7 branches.
If you're lighting a Hanukiah (that thing most people incorrectly call a menorah,) you are marking the time when the Second Temple was taken back from the Greeks and rededicated. This is a joyous time, but it doesn't hurt to consider how this observance came to be. We are celebrating freedom from tyranny...albeit temporarily...and we are celebrating self-determination. We are standing tall as Jews. Period. We are what we are. Jews have spent TWO millennia fighting off attempts to assimilate us into the collective. And when we didn't eagerly assimilate, they stuffed us in ghettos and gas chambers. 

The hanukiah from Grandma Sarah
and Grandpa Moishe's house.
I am generation 3. 
If you're lighting a Hanukiah because you are observing Hanukkah, it's because you are the product of generations of people who refused to give in. Don't just light it because you think you're supposed to. Light it to be proud of the strength of will and lineage that has gotten you to this moment. 

If you're lighting a Hanukiah because you think this is some sort of symbolic Jew thing your grandmother said you should always do, well, you're right. It is symbolic. But consider this: does being a Jew mean anything to you?

Maybe this year, instead of going through a rote ritual, you'll pause to consider why you're lighting those candles in the first place. 

Did the Jews of Germany and Austria even had the same thoughts? Was there a moment they knew they were in trouble? When they lit their Hanukiahs, did it ever occur to them that this was an act of defiance? I know it did later, in the ghettos and the camps, but when the storm clouds were on the horizon, did anyone recognize them for what they were?

If you are a Jew and are not lighting a Hanukiah this year, for whatever reasons, it does not absolve you from being one of us. When push comes to shove, you'll still be considered a Jew. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
You didn't have to agree with President George H.W. Bush's policies,
(I sure didn't)
but he was a class act. 
Maybe the last of his kind.