I am just sitting here thinking about how quickly the Jewish high holidays are approaching. I never seem ready for them. See, they may be the same date every year on the Jewish calendar but because they are different on our daily calendar, we often seem shocked by their arrival. Often you’ll hear Jews say something like “Can you believe the holidays are so early this year?” or “Can you believe the holidays are so late this year?” It’s funny because you’ll never hear us say, “Well, hot diggedy dog, can you believe the holidays are right on time this year?”
Now listen, many know of course that Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year..go Jews! And we also know Yom Kippur is the day of atonement..oy Jews! Rosh Hashanah is more celebratory and is a time to really begin our self reflection and evaluation. You know…to think about how we have treated not only ourselves that prior year but how we treated others. It’s also a time where G-d is said to be deciding who will live and who will die, who will be sick, who will be well that coming year and I suppose anything else that was going to happen. Well, I can tell you now people. This past year G-d had it in for me. I cannot believe that when G-d closed that book of life last year at this time, it was written for me to loose my uterus but to gain 20 pounds! And to think I agonized over every damn fattening thing I put into my mouth! Why didn’t I just enjoy it if that was what G-d wanted? OY VEY! Well, this year I am making damn sure I ask that some of my weight be removed and passed along to someone else. You know, pass it to someone like one of those fashion models. It would be charitable and such a good deed…yes, a mitzvah to take my extra fat and to give it to someone who could use a little “thickening” up as I like to say.
Now talking about that closing of the book of life thing. Isn’t that a bit harsh? Does anyone else kind of feel that way? So, we made a few mistakes during the year. Who doesn’t? But, I realize not everyone can live. I get that, but I must admit, like hell do I want to be the one left off the list. Meanwhile, for those who don’t make it on the list. Does anyone else feel it would be common courtesy to be told whether they made it or not? How terrible it would be for someone to always be looking over their shoulder wondering if tomorrow will be the day. How cruel it would be to have that person even think they made it and one day before the book of life is to be re-opened that person dies. Come on! Really? And after having spent an entire 7 days (from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur) making amends and apologizing to those we’ve hurt and it was all for nothing? At least tell us if we made the cut. Don’t y’all think? Speaking for myself I spend countless hours talking to myself and to others who have passed… oh and yes, sure, I speak to G-d if that’s what you like to call it. Anyway, during that time I’m always stressing what a valuable addition I am to have hanging around for another year. You know. I believe you can never stress that too much. Hey, it has worked for me so far so why quit now?
Listen, I understand many religions have a New Year holiday and a holiday to atone. But, I think the Jews have a special niche. Yes, a special niche. Oh, who am I kidding? We Jews can’t just celebrate and leave it at that. We have to celebrate but then remember something tragic that happened to us. Damnit, no wonder our people are “bipolar”. We’re happy but sad at the same time. OY VEY! For example take our weddings. During the ceremony we celebrate the union between two people but at the very end we break a glass. Why? Well, it’s to remember the hardships of our people and the trials and tribulations we endured throughout time. Really? It isn’t enough that our people experienced what they did but we have to constantly remember it? OY VEY! Gee wiz at what point in our history did it become wrong to simply celebrate? All of our holidays are filled with “we’re happy but only after all of this horrible stuff happened to us first” scenerio’s. No wonder our Jewish mothers are a bissel meshuganah! Listen, I know…it has been said that to remember is so that history doesn’t repeat itself. OK, folks- The Jews have over 5700 years of history where bad things have happened to them over and over again. Um, I’m not so sure remembering each event has helped one bit. If truth be told I’m guessing it was more about superstition. I can see it now: In order to keep the Kena hora (evil eye) away we always have to remember something bad (as well as spit three time) when ever we celebrate. But, there again after 5700 years of repeated history, you would have thought someone would have said that didn’t work either. It just makes me laugh. We’re happy…we’re happy…..WAIT! Time out on the happy….let’s not EVER forget how our people had to walk to school up hill… both ways… in the snow… and by the way there was a monsoon coming with a side of locusts.
Lets face it folks we Jews are somewhat dramatic. We seem to thrive on it. Look at our story of Chanukah. You don’t think it seems a bit over the top? Come on! The Jews were a tiny army up against the huge, large Syrian army. But of course that wasn’t all. The Jews didn’t even have the weapons that the Syrians had nor did the Jews have the money to buy the proper weapons. It is hard for me to believe that the Maccabees won by their strength (and oh yeah, because we had G-d on our side). Really? What made us so special? Chosen people, you say? Come on! Why would G-d choose a people? After all wasn’t G-d supposed to be fair and loving to all? I think if the story had any validity it was that the Maccabees had a better military strategy. Even my 10 year old son understands that truth to winning a battle. I’m guessing that was how the Jews won with of course a side of luck. After all, we are all brilliant, right? Meanwhile, let’s look at this more closely. Knowing how my people can tell a story, this is how I see the Chanukah story happening. What if Judah Maccabee was an old man and was sitting with all of his 50 grand children. Well, you know. They had lots of kids back then. Anyway, his grandkids were begging him to tell them a story from his childhood. Judah wrapped up in their excitement to hear a really good story, he by no means wanted to disappoint them. He takes a moment to think to himself and then realizes telling them about how he and his family fought off the Syrians barehanded without having had food or water for an entire month… Don’t worry, Judah decides to reel it in just a little bit but hell, he has to add some cool parts to keep his grandkids thinking Judah was really far out.
And so as Judah began telling his story, his grandkid’s were on the edge of their seats excited to hear every detail of Judah’s story. He tells the kids he remembers being a little older than them when he would watch the Syrian army train for battle. He tells them he remembers there being thousands of Syrian men who were as tall as the sky. In fact they were so tall he wasn’t even able to see the Judean mountains because of it. OK, so Judah sort of left out a little, minor detail. Did the kids really need to know that he was only 5 years old and was very short for his age? Why of course not! All that mattered was that Judah kept his grandchildren interested in his story. And so Judah continued by telling the kids he and his family along with a very small army of Jews singlehandedly fought off that very same large Syrian army from when he was a kid. He explained how they got their Temple back. Of course I’m certain the kids cheered at that part. He told his grandkids how his family was disgusted by all of the destruction the Syrian’s had done to their place of worship and how they needed to light the menorah first before even beginning to clean. He explained to them that when they saw the Menorah, they were shocked to see it was lying on the ground with large amounts of oil (which kept it lit) spilled out. He told them how the Jews panicked for fear there wouldn’t be enough oil to keep the Menorah lit day and night as tradition dictated. Now folks, the panic in having enough oil for the Menorah I’m guessing was the same kind of panic we Jews have when we worry about whether we have enough food for our guests at a dinner party. The thinking is there must be an over abundance and when an itty bit of it is burned, dropped or missing in action, there is suddenly a fear there isn’t enough. So, I’m certain there was enough oil but once those Jews started panicking there was no reeling them in to think more rationally. The Jews could only think about the amount that had spilled and not about the actual amount they still had. In their mind they had to replace the amount that had spilled…after all that was the extra they needed just in case. Listen, I could even see the scene now. Come on. I’m sure you can imagine with me on this. At least 20 of them were standing around the Menorah arguing about not having enough oil. All 20 of them had different ideas on how to handle the problem. While the argument ensued, a by standard (who we will refer to as the Shabbas goy) walked in and analyzed the problem. OK, so as long as the Jews felt there was no back up oil, they were going to panic and make everyone’s life miserable. Sound the least bit familiar? And so the by standard figured he could head out to the nearest town and return with more oil before the group of Jews could decide what to do. When he returned 7 days later the Temple was just about clean but of course they were still arguing over whether the oil would last. Now, lets be honest, here. How many kids do we know would have been interested in that Chanukah story? Not many. We all know kids like action and the element of surprise. Judah knew that and that was what he gave them. Come on. It wasn’t as if Judah was lying. He just gave the story a little Jewish seasoning that’s all. AND SO Judah told his grandchildren there was only a very very tiny amount of oil to keep the Menorah lit for only maybe (barely) one day. That worried the Jews because it was going to take someone about 8 days to go to a nearby town to get more. However to everyone’s surprise when that person returned from the nearby town with the oil AN ENTIRE 8 days later, the Menorah was still lit. Lo and behold it was a MIRACLE! Now you could only imagine how wide eyed Judah’s grands were at this point and how they must have been cheering. Judah seeing their adorable faces so interested in his story, I’m sure it was exhilarating. Listen, wasn’t it Judah himself who coined the phrase, “Embellishments just happen?” Meanwhile, does it really matter? Eh! Who cares? The important part was his grandkids would retell that story over and over again keeping Judah’s story alive. So what there were a few over the top parts to it? And if truth be told…aren’t we all kind of, sort of related? So, Judah was kind of, sort each of our own great, great, great (plus), grandfather. And what talent our relative had to keep not only his grandkids entertained but also his grandkids for generations to come.
Can you imagine what Judah could have done with that story if he had WordPress? Judah would have had his very own blog. How cool would that have been? And what if he had had Facebook? Can you imagine what he would have posted after telling his grandkids the Chanukah story? “Told my famous Chanukah story to my 50 grand’s today. Little Schmuel was so cute when he hid behind his brothers as I described in detail how barbaric the Syrians were to the Jews.”
What if Facebook had been around during biblical times? Could you just imagine their posts? OY VEY! What in the world would have Noah posted? How about Abraham or Naomi? Certainly some good material for a stand up comedian!
Oh my gosh, I can see it now!
Noah: A picture of two unicorns and him posting, “Missing! They were last seen hitched to my boat house. Please contact me if found.”
Abraham: “Spoke to G-d today. He told me I had to sacrifice my son, Isaac. OY! My wife is going to be really pissed after waiting so long to try to have a child! By the way open invitation to come to our tent for Shabbat dinner this Friday. No RSVP necessary.”
Naomi: “Oh, Ruth! Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”
Moses: “OH G-D is SO annoying today…never leaves me alone! You won’t believe what I have to do today! I have to walk all the way up Mt. Sinai! Do you know how hard that is for a man of my age? What is G-d thinking? I am really getting tired of being his messenger. At any rate if anyone is free and in the area early tomorrow morning feel free to meet me at the bottom of the mountain for a cup of tea.”
OMG! How about if King David had Facebook? Something tells me that man would have gotten into a ton of trouble saying way too much on his FB page. Can you imagine? King David: “Oh, today I fought off the Moabites, the Edomites, the Ammonites and the Arameans…no big deal. All in a day’s work. Oh, I saw a beautiful woman bathing on her roof top. Soon she will be mine.”
As I was thinking about those biblical characters and what they’d do if they had facebook, I began thinking about us today and how facebook has singlehandedly changed our society. Lets face it with the use of Facebook we can now keep in contact with literally hundreds of people all at once. We can easily wish 50 friends and family with a hit of the button a happy new year as well as keep them abreast on what’s happening in our daily lives. It’s really remarkable how we can reach out with ease to those we know. It’s incredible to see updated photos of friend’s children and of their wonderful vacation excursions. Let’s be honest before Facebook there was no way to have written to one hundred people daily to keep them updated on our lives. Some feel that is a negative thing but I don’t see it that way. I love hearing about my friend’s and family’s children and about what is happening in their lives. And especially when an illness or tragedy happens where I can help provide extra support. I find Facebook a useful tool. Facebook has truly become an amazing way for us to laugh, cry and be a part of so many friends and family’s lives.
Now having said all of that I did question (for a moment) how FB has changed our approach to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. For one as a child my parents would have sent out a card to each of their friends and family members wishing them well. Each card would have also included a hand written personal note talking about our family. Today, it is more common than not to simply post a generic “Happy New Year” to all. For those of us who were accustomed to the “old” ways, we can find it impersonal and somehow just not right. But, does that mean it’s wrong if someone does post a generic greeting? Does it make it any less personal? Well as a child, those cards my mom wrote to friend’s and family were the only time they received updates about us. And I must tell you more often than not my mom would write the same exact letter in each card. So honestly, how is Facebook any different? It’s just that on FB we are “upfront” about sending everyone the same card with the same message.
On the conservation side of things here there are some who feel we have too much paper waste by sending out a Happy New Year to all on FB, we are conserving – helping the earth. Don’t buy it? OK, I know. I must admit there is nothing like receiving something in the mail. Among all of the junk mail and bills I receive, I am like a little kid when I receive a hand written letter to me. I admit it. It’s nice.
However, the reality is times are a changing. By posting a New Year’s wish to all (on FB), it has allowed me to reach out to each and every friend and family member without the mistake of leaving anyone out. And plus there would be no way I could afford to send out that many cards. For me even when I post a message to all on my Facebook page it is a personal sincere message. My wishes are not any less meaningful. Listen, I get it. Many of us are from a different world. A world that was filled with strict rules and Etiquettes. But let’s face it. FB and other modern technologies are changing those rules. They aren’t as important anymore. Whether we like it or not, agree or disagree, we have no control over how the world around us is changing. Meanwhile, can you really imagine Moses posting on Facebook? Would he have resisted using it? According to the stories we’ve all been told Moses wasn’t one to quickly buy into what was popular. Regardless, it is certainly humorous and fun thinking about it.
You know when I was in Hebrew school back in the 1970‘s our teachers stressed the importance of making amends for our wrongdoings and taking this time to soul search for how we could make ourselves better. And in order to do so, it was stressed how we must contact those we’ve hurt in person and apologize. I remember a student asking if writing a letter was permissible. The teacher took a moment and then he told us, “Making amends is what is important. Sometimes we are able to speak to the person face to face and other times we aren’t. What matters is that we make the effort and reach out to the person we’ve hurt. There are times doing it face to face is not an option so that certainly doesn’t mean we are off the hook. We just have to look to other ways that are available to us.” Of course only as an adult could I understand what he was saying. Life is complicated. It’s never black and white. And so for me, yes, I could apologize to someone in person but I could never ever fully express myself as I could in a letter. So, that has been the method I use and has been even before Facebook. With someone with ADHD and learning disabilities, writing has been my saving grace. I look at it like someone who stutters but when they sing they don’t. When I speak to someone I can be off and running talking about this and that, but writing allows me that focus and the ability to say more succinctly and often more intelligible what I want to say.
AND SO, here we are about to head into our Jewish New Year and our week of self reflection. And here I am using Facebook to share these thoughts with over 500 of my friends and family (well, of those who choose to read it). I must admit my mother would be appalled because to her this just isn’t the proper way. But there again my mom’s world no longer exists and this is a new way of how we all express ourselves. Listen, you’ve got to admit it does force us to make sure we keep our stories in check because we know our friends and family will not hesitate one bit on letting us if we haven’t. I’m certain even if Judah Maccabee had written on Facebook, we all would have done the same to him as well.
FINALLY, I want to wish each and every one of my friends and family members a heartfelt, sweet and healthy new year. For those who have had a trying year, I wish you only good things to you for this next one. Please, know I have enjoyed all of your photo’s, your funny jokes, your political “arguments” (whether I agree with them or not) and everything in between that was posted on Facebook this year. Yes, you have made me laugh, cry and more than anything else appreciate the opportunity to be able to keep in touch with you.
Here’s to Facebook for allowing me to find “lost” friends and family and allowing me the opportunity to be apart of so many of their lives. I look forward to another (FB) year hearing about all of your wonderful families and the amazing celebrations you are having with them!
Just a year before my mother died, she game me some advice that I couldn’t understand. Of course today it makes perfect sense. At the time though I was 14 years old and very clueless by what she was telling me. Here was the thing…she knew her days were numbered and she wanted to tell me something she felt was important. My mom told me I was a person who had always and would always beat by a different drum. She said that I’d take a different path in life than most others and she wanted me to know it was OK. I remember thinking, “OK, what the hell is she talking about?” Honestly, she made me mad because she wasn’t being specific. “Dammit, stop talking so generally and just tell me what you mean!” G-d I was an awful 14 year old. But realistically even if she had told me what she meant I have no doubt I wouldn’t have understood and maybe have even been offended. I have no doubt she understood my ignorance but told me anyway with the hopes I’d remember (just when I needed to).
On that day she was talking to me my mom was barely able to walk let alone stand. Even so she made a point to walk to the kitchen where I was. While she was standing in front of me the grimace on her face said it all. She was in excruciating pain. However, my mom had a message to give and dammit she was going to give it. That was Momma. She continued to tell me that no matter how untraditional of a life I was to choose I was to always be proud of it and follow my heart. I remember thinking, “OK, and so what?” Listen, my mom banked heavily that I’d never forget what she told me and for some reason I didn’t. I suppose I knew it was important to her. Maybe it was because I knew she was dying? Maybe. Meanwhile, even as a snot nosed 14 year old, I stored what she said somewhere in that brain of mine. All I can say is I hope I have made her proud by doing exactly as she encouraged me to do.
Listen, all I could hear was my mom’s advice as I was going through each stage of my life. Her words allowed me to stand up to adversity, to maintain the confidence (that I had value in this world) and to have the ability to wipe myself off to continue moving forward. Her words empowered me to love another woman even though it wasn’t popular and may make others dislike me. My mom didn’t need a crystal ball to know I would have some up hill climbs in my life as a result of who I was. As much as I wished she could have been with me physically, I have no doubt she will always be holding my hand in a more spiritual way (as she had done to help me through so much in my life). More than anything though, I am most grateful for one thing and one thing only. That was that my mom gave me the strength, passion and drive to make my dream of having a child a reality. I am certain she was the one giving me all of those little kicks in the ass to keep me going so the brightest light of my life could emerge; our son, Judah.
Moving on to the real world after Judah was born I was amazed by the amount of support Carol and I had. I’m sure at first many friends and family were concerned for Judah. After all he was being raised by two moms and because of that they had the preconceived idea that he would be void of any male influence. Folks, how would that have been possible? And why would we have done that to him? Just because we are two women doesn’t mean we don’t like men. We just chose not to marry one. That was all. Meanwhile, Judah had (has) a wonderful array of uncles, male cousins and a grandfather all of which were (are) involved in his life. And then on top of that there are our adopted families who have loved Judah just as much as their own family members. It really does take a village to raise a child…any child no matter who their parents are. We are incredibly grateful (more than words could ever ever express) for the love Judah has gotten from my family, Carol’s family and from friends who in many cases helped raise me. Judah has been one very lucky boy.
OK, so now I would be remised if I did not mention Carol’s family. Listen as proud as I am of the unconditional love and support I have received from my sister, her husband and their two children, they are my family. I know them and I am used to their ways. They are mine. And the truth was Judah was directly related to them. However in mine and Carol’s relationship not being married in the eyes of the law it was uncertain to us how Carol’s family would react to Judah. Now before I can even get to Judah, I must explain the differences between mine and Carol’s family and their reaction when they first met me.
To say our two families were total opposites would have been an understatement. For one Carol’s family are Christian…from the Episcopal side. However, even though they are not church goers they do have a strong Christian belief system as their foundation. Christmas is a time for family to gather. They have traditions which are sensible and understandable. They were Southerners who took turns talking in a conversation. They hardly ever got loud. They were polite and always said “Sir” or “Ma’am”. Their food dishes of choice were black eyed peas and rice, green bean casserole and “Mama’s” macaroni and cheese. Carol and I refer to her family as “white bread” which means they are plain (in a very good way) without any added unnecessary frills. What you see is who they are. If they ask you, “How are you?” That’s exactly what they mean. No more, no less.
Then there is my family. We are Jewish in religion and culture. And as if I need to say more, I will for those of you who don’t know what that entails. We too celebrate our holidays and have our own traditions. However, our holidays usually come with tons of drama. For instance most of our holidays are about how others tried to kill us but through our perseverance we made it…we survived against all odds…we were the army of 10 in a world with armies of thousands who wanted us dead…get my point? In my family if you wanted to participate in a conversation you had to roll up your sleeves and get in there. The louder we spoke the more we were heard. And the thought of allowing someone to finish their thought was absurd. Why? Just get in there and say what you gotta say. Now, even though my mother was VERY Southern (being raised in Birmingham, AL during the 30′s, 40′s and 50′s), because my father was from Brooklyn (and I spent more time with him after losing my mom), I took on more of the NY ways. “Sir” and “Ma’am” were foreign to me. Funny, though, my sister says them. I suppose her being 7 years older and having more one on one time with my mom, she picked up a little more on the Southern ways. At any rate in regards to food our Sundays usually included pastrami and tongue sandwiches on rye or pumpernickel bread. Our dad’s breakfast usually consisted of sardines and bagels topped with a ton of cream cheese.And so we refer to my family as “pumpernickel”. We are spicy and all about frills (necessary or not) and we have a tendency to cause gas if you aren’t used to us.
OK, so basically when I first met Carol’s family, I saw them like soft cotton sheets just fresh out of the dryer and I have no doubt they saw me like burlap that had never been washed. Get my drift here? AND SO I know it wasn’t very easy for them to open their hearts and to accept me. I was the epitome of everything they weren’t and somehow their family member, Carol, had fallen in love with me. OY VEY was right. OK, so they weren’t saying, “OY VEY!” Maybe “HOLY SHIT” was more like it.
I’m not sure where it all turned around for Carol’s family to finally feel comfortable with me but (in time), they took me in as if I was one of theirs….well, one of their “adopted” ones. Maybe because they could see I loved Carol? Maybe. Or was it because I wasn’t going away and they had no choice? More than likely. But whatever the reason they welcomed me. Even so, I was terrified as to how they would accept Judah once he was born. I felt Carol’s parents would be Judah’s grandparents and Carol’s siblings would be Judah’s aunt and uncles. However, Judah was not genetically apart of their family. Hell, Carol and I couldn’t even be married in the eyes of the law. That meant there wasn’t even a way to justify to Carol’s family that Judah was her stepson. Her family being very traditional I was fearful they wouldn’t see Judah as one of theirs. And of course that scared me because I never wanted our son to feel like an outsider in a family he was to grow to love.
I have to tell y’all, my worry was for nothing because once Judah was born and once they got to know our sweet little boy, they couldn’t help but to fall in love with him. We were very lucky because Judah’s kind and easy going spirit was heartwarming which made it easy for others to open their hearts to him. Carol asked her mom if it would be OK for Judah to call her Gram and her dad, Papa (like the other grandchildren). I don’t know if Carol’s mom told her Judah could because she was more worried about upsetting Carol or because she really did see Judah as a grandson but honestly, it didn’t matter. What was more important was that our son was given a huge gift…he was given the love of another family which was so incredibly special to me. After all by the time Judah was four he would share that family’s last name, so genetically or not, he was one of them.
I will never forget when Judah was 3 and we were at a family gathering at Carol’s brother’s home. Carol’s sister, Rachael, was introducing us to someone and she said, “This is my sister, my sister in law and my nephew.” Said was able to introduce us casually and comfortably as if it was no big deal. Another time Carol’s father introduced me to someone as his daughter in law. And on my side of the family my sister and her husband introduced Carol as their sister in law.
Listen, Folks, Carol and I understand we are not going to be accepted by everyone. We didn’t expect to be even when we had been the brunt of that rejection (many times during our lives together). However, it was important that we be accepted by our families. It was important for Judah to have that support. Hell, it was important for us to have that support too. I am incredibly touched and moved to have so many generations of family members who love us for who we are. Lets face it folks, if two families like mine and Carols can do it then anyone’s can. Both of our families as a result have allowed us to give the most incredible and precious gift to Judah. He will be raised knowing he has an extended family who accepts and loves him as the individual he is. In a world where he will be judged time and time again, he will have the comfort of knowing his family will never past judgement simply because of the parents he has. As a result they are helping us empower him in the road of life he chooses to take. And so far, he’s taking a very good one!