Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But The Truth

There are frequently times when two people are learning together and one says "This posuk means this" and the other says "No, it means this." The Gemorah is full of arguments about the "real" meaning of certain words and phrases. We follow the reasoning of the person who is "ranked" higher. Sometimes these rankings change. Generally, those of us on a lower madrega are told to accept one particular viewpoint or the other. Sometimes those viewpoints change position as the centuries move on. Sometimes a third or a fourth or a fifth interpretation comes to the forefront.

Much the same thing happens in the secular world. Great men of learning argue with each other about what is possible or probable about the world that we live in. And here, too, we are asked to follow the ideas of the "giants," men like Albert Einstein.

In graduate school I was required to take a course entitled "Biblical and Classical Literature." Youch. At least the instructor was sticking to the "old testament" for the biblical portion. I was truly having some difficulty hearing that Tanach was actually "literature," written by a person and credited to God because of "sociological imperatives extant at the time of the writing." "Says who?" I asked. "Biblical scholars," I was told. "Greats like Wellhausen," the instructor chimed in. One student asked me if I could prove that God had written the Bible. I fired back "Can you prove that He didn't?" The student then answered "Can you prove that there is a God?" to which I answered "Can you prove that there isn't?"

And then the "magical" name came out. "Well," the student began, "Einstein was a genius. Would you agree with that?" I could hardly say no. "Einstein didn't believe in God or that there was a God," the student threw out to me. For the paper that we were supposed to be writing about this "enlightening" idea I threw caution to the winds and wrote what follows below. I actually didn't care much about what the grade was going to be because I was frankly pissed off. Luckily for me the instructor believed that the paper actually met the requirements of the assignment to a t.

I offer it now as a warning of sorts against placing our "greats" on too high a pedestal, any of our "greats," of assuming that because they have a lot of knowledge they must have all knowledge, or of confusing their vast knowledge in one area with the idea that they must be knowledgeable in all areas. Human beings, by definition, are not infallible; the "greats" can make mistakes.

After his death, Albert Einstein found himself inexplicably in heaven, a heaven whose existence he had doubted for years. So profound was his puzzlement at finding himself in heaven that he wandered unseeing and unknowing through the clouds-that-are-not-clouds, breathing-but-not-breathing the air-that-was-not-air. His wanderings came to an end at last when he stumbled against the foot of the throne of the King of the Universe. He threw up his hands to shield his eyes from the unbearable intensity of the light-that-is-like-no-other-light. And Einstein was suddenly filled with immeasurable fear.

And there came a voice-like-no-other-voice: “Are you surprised, Einstein, to find yourself in Heaven?”

And Einstein’s fear abated somewhat—questions and answers he could deal with. “Actually yes, Sir, I am.”

“And why do you suppose, Einstein, that you have been allowed into heaven?”

Einstein, as befitted a man-god of science, wrestled with the problem in his mind, turning over one possibility after another, until he had extracted the most logical answer at his command. “I have heard, Sir, from those who believe, that men who do good deeds find themselves here.”

And G-d looked down upon the man whom He had wrought in His own image and sighed. “And what good deed have you done Einstein?”

At this, Einstein straightened his shoulders and put his head up and preened more than a little. “I suppose, Sir, that even in heaven You have heard of E=mc2?”

And the Lord sighed once more. “Actually, Albert, we need to talk.” And the Lord G-d caused there to be something out of the nothingness that was present, and boxes appeared, stacked higher than Einstein could measure the height of and stretching out to the horizon and beyond, a horizon that shifted and changed even as Einstein saw it. And once again Einstein was filled with fear and puzzlement.

And G-d ordered: “Go ahead, Einstein, take a peek.” But Einstein was rooted in place unable to move.

And Einstein timidly asked: “What is this that You have created, Lord?”

And G-d answered: “Some clarification of the E=mc2 problem.”

And Einstein was persuaded to look into the boxes nearest him, and he saw stacks and stacks of computer printouts, in 4 point type, single-spaced, and his heart grew heavy within him. “But Lord, it would take me all of eternity and beyond just to read all of this, never mind synthesize and understand it.”

And the Lord indicated the myriad of boxes and answered gently: “This is only the first paragraph of the re-write, Einstein.”

And Einstein heard the Lord’s words, and he was humbled and fell down prostrate, sobbing.

And the G-d of Mercy looked down upon the man and saw that he was humbled before Him. And G-d’s heart opened towards that which He had created. Like a Father towards a wayward son whom He still loves, the Lord spoke once more. “If you will open your ears and your mind and your heart, I will teach you what you need to know, Albert.”

And Einstein ceased his crying, sat up, and raised his face in recognition of He who was above all things. And there grew within him hope, that virtue that saves man even when his intellect leads him into folly. “If You please, G-d, I would like to learn.”

And G-d heard the man’s answer and was satisfied. And the boxes were once again nothing and in their place there appeared graven tablets, infused with the fire of Heaven. “We begin, Einstein, with Book One, Chapter One, Line One.”

And the Lord called out: “In the beginning of G-d’s creating the heavens and the earth—when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters—G-d said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

And Einstein took out a pad and pencil from his pocket and copied down all that he was told, word for word. And he was content and satisfied. And God looked down at His Creation and He saw that it was good.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Fifth Question...and the Sixth...and.........

Why is it that what took weeks and weeks of hard work to bring to fruition took only one hour and 37 minutes to get packed up and put away? Why is it that the refrigerator which was spotless just a week ago is in desperate need of cleaning again? Why do the stove top and oven look like the losers in a battle, when just last week they were pristine? Why do the bedrooms and the living room and dining room look like a major convention took place in them, the delegates have all departed, but their memories linger on? Why is it that just a few days ago I had enough groceries to go into business for myself, but this morning I am in desperate need of a run to the supermarket?

And why is it that someone yesterday asked, "So, what are you doing for Shavuous?"

Women who deliver babies may sometimes suffer from PPD--post-partum depression. Women who spend weeks "delivering" Pesach may also suffer PPD--post-Pesach depression.

Me? I'm going back to work, and maybe, just maybe, some benevolent elves will sneak into my house and put it back into order. Hmmm, here's another question: what are the chances of that?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Remembering Our History

The last full generation of those who lived through the Holocaust is still with us, although decimated in number. They are people in their 80s and 90s. And the sad truth is that they are coming towards the end of their lives. They are our parents, grandparents and great grandparents. We have been taking for granted this very special group of people.

On the one hand, it's a sign of a returned normalcy that grandparents are looked at as just business as usual. On the other hand, by treating this generation as "business as usual," we are fast losing a vital connection to who we are, who we were and who we will become.

Perhaps we all remember our grandparents telling us stories about their growing up years. But perhaps we don't remember those stories very well any more. Go ahead, ask yourself right now if you can name your grandparents' parents. Can you name their brothers and sisters? Would you be able to spell the names of the towns they came from? If they emigrated to the US, do you know precisely when and how? Where were your grandparents during the war years? In the years before you were born?

How about the niggunim used by your grandparents for a yom tov or shabbos? How about your grandmother's recipes? How about an item owned by your grandparents that they have told you you will inherit--do you know its history? What were the minhagim in your grandparents' homes?

The time is now to remember that grandparents are a special gift from the Ribboneh Shel Olam, and not one we get to keep for ever. The time is now to make time and call every day, even if just to say hello. The time is now to make that visit that you keep putting off because life keeps getting in the way. The time is now to sit down with your grandparents and a recorder and get an oral history. The time is now to have your zeideh sing his niggunim for you into that recorder. The time is now to transcribe those recipes. The time is NOW.

It has been said that the saddest words in the English language are "It might have been." Don't find yourself saying those sad words when it is too late to do something about them.

A note: one of my favorite stories involves my great grandmother, as told to me by my mother, her grand daughter. That great grandmother was first married at 12. She and her friends used to gather in a wooded secluded area to jump rope--yes, jump rope. This is the 1800's we are talking about. And when all these "little girls" (what else would we call a 12 year old today?) would find them getting in the way, they would hang up their sheitlach and tichlach on the branches of a nearby tree so they could play. A world so different and yet with elements the same as the one I grew up in. Not an important fact of history, not earth shaking in its contents, but a story that puts a human face on a great grandmother I was not privileged to know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

You Really Never Know

A friend sent me an email today that gave me a good laugh. She is also involved in redding shidduchim and had contacted me many months ago about a former student of mine. I thought the shidduch sounded interesting and suggested it to the past student. He was busy with someone when I called but he said that it sounded like it would be good for someone else that he knew. That someone else called me. I got his information and got back to my friend. She talked to the girl. The girl said he really did sound good but she had just accepted a date from someone else. Would the boy perhaps be interested in one of her classmates that she thought would fit? Friend got back to me, I got back to the boy. The boy listened carefully and said it sounded good but it sounded even better for one of his other friends. His friend called me.

Back I went to my friend, who called the second girl, who said that it would be great except that she is three inches taller than the boy. Could I check if that is a problem? Played phone tag yet again and yes, it was a problem. But the boy had a different boy, taller, who he thought would be good. At this point, I said to please call my friend directly and let's eliminate a few of the middlemen.

I heard nothing further, and since I didn't "have a horse in the race" I didn't ask. Why am I now laughing? This switching of possible partners went on for yet another 4-5 sets of men and women. The last couple that it ended up with turn out to be muchatonim of a sort and so spoke directly to each other. They knew they weren't for each other but each had someone else for the other one. That didn't work out but the man and woman they were considering asked if they could pass on the names to two other people that it sounded ideal for. And yes, it was ideal, and yes this last couple in an extended game of telephone shidduch tag got engaged. What is so funny? They are the first man and woman my friend and I tried to set up to begin with. Heaven alone knows how many people were involved in finally getting this couple together.

Makes you a true believer in bashert. It also proves the truth of another saying: it has to be the richtigen zivug in the richtige tzeit--both time and people have to be right. Who is the shadchan in this case? Clearly the Ribboneh Shel Olam was. And it reinforces my belief that God has a sense of humor.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Biological Wonders of a Refrigerator

Deep in the recesses of a refrigerator marvelous biological processes take place, out of sight of human beings. Atoms are split in ways no human has ever envisioned. Genes float around in the frigid air forming new and unique partnerships. Cloning happens as a matter of course.

From lecht bentching for Shabbos through this morning I have served at least 8 meals. I have a full house of people. Somewhere I know that mathematical calculations should reach the conclusion that my refrigerator should be reaching a point of emptiness. And yet...

If we have been eating until all are groaning, and I know we have been, then what is all that food doing in the refrigerator? A quick check of the downstairs refrigerator shows it to be in the same condition. Where is all this food coming from? Somewhere, in the privacy of the dark interior, my food is hearkening to the precept to "go forth and multiply."

It cannot be that I have cooked too much. Or can it be? Have I succumbed to all that pre-Pesach worry I have heard from others that "there just isn't anything to eat on Pesach"? Calculating the square footage of both refrigerators and converting to portions possible, I see that I should not have to cook another meal until at least the middle of 2009. No, no it cannot be me that has made an error. Somehow, in some way, food is multiplying all on its own. There can be no other logical explanation.

Someone asks me that question that usually strikes terror into the heart of balabustas everywhere--"What's gonna be for dinner tonight?" I open the refrigerator doors wide and point. I watch the same puzzlement that has crossed my face cross someone else's face. "Where did all that food come from?" they ask. I shrug my shoulders and close the refrigerator doors. "Just another Pesach miracle," I murmur.

Since I don't have to cook dinner for tonight or for tomorrow night either, what will I do with all that free time that my refrigerator has granted me? I'm becoming giddy with the thought of free time. Look at me, sitting at a keyboard with a cup of coffee. Why do I have the time to do this now? Surely my refrigerator is sending me a message, oblique as it is. Is it saying "sit down and relax"? Do I even remember how to do that any more?

I sing a little paeon in praise of refrigerators as I prepare to head back upstairs and find that book I was dying to read. Go figure, I'm actually going to read it. But first I'm going to stick a hand into the fridge and grab something to eat. Hmmm, tuna patties, raspberry jello and tzveible mit eye with chocolate syrup and boysenberry jam on shmurah matzah. The fridge is cooking now and I'm off. Enjoy your day.

Friday, April 18, 2008

I Couldn't Resist

What is one reason why the Ribboneh Shel Olam allows many generations to live at the same time? So that we can physically see that making Pesach is not going to kill us. So that we see living proof that our mothers made it through the work and we will too. So that we can see that the very young among us, who don't do very much in helping for Pesach, will some day grow up and then do their share, just as we grew up and did so. So we can see that at some point, perhaps in our 60s and 70s and 80s, we get promoted to generals and are no longer the foot soldiers carrying out all the work. So that we can see that we are part of a long tradition and this work was not sent as a punishment for us specifically. Yes, misery loves company. And happiness is multiplied when it is shared.

Me? I'm still a captain, my general is arriving in a few hours, and my foot soldiers need some organizing. Chag Sameach!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

One Final Word

This is it for me for now. I wish all my readers and their families a joyous yom tov, one filled with happiness and health. Just one little note for the women who have been making Pesach: Yes, you've been working hard and have been stressed out on occasion. Yes, life has not been easy the past few weeks. Yes, you've wondered if truly sane people would put in this kind of work. The answer to that is also "yes." But the kvetching and groaning time is over. It is time to look around your homes with pride of achievement. It is time to say "I've done well." It is time to enjoy the fruits of all that hard labor. It is time to understand that all that work has been a gift to your family and yes, to you as well. When we usher in Shabbos and then Pesach, the possibility for that yom tov to be celebrated in your home is what you have worked to achieve. Don't ruin all that work by forgetting why you did it. Remember to enjoy yom tov. It's sort of like childbirth--when you see the baby you forget about the pain.


לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Balabustas and the 7 Dwarfs

If you are like most people who are staying at home and making Pesach, you have found yourself with a split personality for the past few weeks. People approach you warily. Children whisper among themselves, "Which one is she now? Is it safe to talk to her?" Husbands scramble to find their kesubot to see what posuk in there covers what they find themselves with. The answer is really simple: we are suffering from the Grimm's Brothers/Disney Syndrome, the variation of the disease that is known as "7-dwarf-itis."

At some point over these weeks you have found yourself decidedly Grumpy. There is too much to do and not enough time to do it in. Nothing is going the way the lists say it should go. Grumpy is the point where you ask why the posuk says avodim ho'yinu when you seem not to have been freed.

Other times you find yourself as Sleepy. Psychologists would never have to worry about what to write their dissertations on if they studied the affects of sleep deprivation over long periods of time on balabustas. You know there is a reason why your bedroom has two beds in it, but you seem to have forgotten what that reason is.

You have also found yourself acting the role of Dopey. Dopey manifests itself in the thousand and one things that we decide must be done now, even though they have zero to do with making a home kosher for Pesach. Cleaning the bookshelves MIGHT be a necessity--alphabetizing the books by author is not.

Sneezy shows up throughout the cleaning process. Take 17 cleansers of varying strength and use them all in one small enclosed area at the same time, with the window closed. Sneezy is the end result. He also brings along his cousins Rashy, Itchy and Coughy. He also brings his friends Cut and Bruised.

Because Sneezy has come to visit you also might find yourself acting as Doc. Bandaids are a staple if you are making Pesach. So are aspirin, ibuprofen and the like. And allergy pills for sure. Dispense medications with care. Some may turn you into Sleepy, and you just don't have the time for that. Doc also deals with inanimate objects that get ill this time of year with no provocation at all. Some things you can heal on your own; others will require calling in a specialist for. When you get the bill for those specialists you are going to be acting like Grumpy.

Many times you will find yourself acting like Bashful. Bashful is too shy to say what he wants and needs. Bashful hopes that everyone will notice his efforts and ask what they can do to help. Bashful frequently turns into Grumpy because he doesn't just come out and say "Do this, do that."

"That's only 6 dwarfs" you say. Yup. Because the last dwarf in the Syndrome will only show up around Friday night eruv Pesach, or maybe on Pesach itself. That dwarf is Happy. Happy shows up when all the cleaning and pre-preparation is over. Happy shows up when you look at your home and say "I did it." Happy shows up when the family is gathered at the table and is smiling and eager in anticipation of the Seder. Happy shows up when a husband or child says "Something sure smells good." Happy shows up when you finally have the time to reflect and look back and see that all your efforts were for a very important reason. Happy is why we put up with Bashful, Sleepy, Doc, Sneezy, Grumpy and Dopey. Oh yes, Happy is also what shows up when you realize you are done for this year and it's a whole year before you have to go through all this again.

Just keep in mind that all good fairy tales end with "And they lived happily ever after." Yours will too.

Chag Kasher V'Sameach

The Things That Come Out of Some People's Mouths

My sister sent me this via email and it was too good not to share. Grab a coffee, sit a minute, and lighten your mood for the day.

Reservations of an Airline Agent
(After Surviving 130,000 Calls from the Traveling Public)
by Jonathan Lee -- The Washington Post

I work in a central reservation office of an airline. After more than 130,000 conversations -- all ending with "Have a nice day and thanks for calling" -- I think it's fair to say that I'm a survivor.
I've made it through all the calls from adults who didn't know the difference between a.m. and p.m., from mothers of military recruits who didn't trust their little soldiers to get it right, from the woman who called to get advice on how to handle her teenage daughter, from the man who wanted to ride inside the kennel with his dog so he wouldn't have to pay for a seat, from the woman who wanted to know why she had to change clothes on our flight between Chicago and Washington (she was told she'd have to make a change between the two cities) and from the man who asked if I'd like to discuss the existential humanism that emanates from the soul of Habeeb.

In five years, I've received more than a boot camp education regarding the astonishing lack of awareness of our American citizenry. This lack of awareness encompasses every region of the country, economic status, ethnic background, and level of education. My battles have included everything from a man not knowing how to spell the name of the town he was from, to another not recognizing the name as "Iowa" as being a state, to another who thought he had to apply for a foreign passport to fly to West Virginia. They are the enemy and they are everywhere.
In the history of the world there has never been as much communication and new things to learn as today. Yet, after I asked a woman from New York what city she wanted to go to in Arizona, she asked, "Oh... is it a big place?"

I talked to a woman in Denver who had never heard of Cincinnati, a man in Minneapolis who didn't know there was more than one city in the South ("wherever the South is"), a woman in Nashville who asked, "Instead of paying for your ticket, can I just donate the money to the National Cancer Society?", and a man in Dallas who tried to pay for his ticket by sticking quarters in the pay phone he was calling from.

I knew a full invasion was on the way when, shortly after signing on, a man asked if we flew to exit 35 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Then a woman asked if we flew to area code 304. And I knew I had been shipped off to the front when I was asked, "When an airplane comes in, does that mean it's arriving or departing?"

I remembered the strict training we had received -- four weeks of regimented classes on airline codes, computer technology, and telephone behavior -- and it allowed for no means of retaliation. "Troops," we were told, "it's real hell out there and ya got no defense. You're going to hear things so silly you can't even make 'em up. You'll try to explain things to your friends that you don't even believe yourself, and just when you think you've heard it all, someone will ask if they can get a free round-trip ticket to Europe by reciting 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.'"

Well, Sarge was right. It wasn't long before I suffered a direct hit from a woman who wanted to fly to Hippopotamus, NY. After I assured her that there was no such city, she became irate and said it was a big city with a big airport. I asked if Hippopotamus was near Albany or Syracuse. It wasn't. Then I asked if it was near Buffalo. "Buffalo!" she said. "I knew it was a big animal!"
Then I crawled out of my bunker long enough to be confronted by a man who tried to catch our flight in Maconga. I told him I'd never heard of Maconga and we certainly didn't fly to it. But he insisted we did and to prove it he showed me his ticket: Macon, GA. I've done nothing during my conversational confrontations to indicate that I couldn't understand English. But after quoting the round-trip fare the passenger just asked for he'll always ask: "...Is that round trip?" After quoting the one-way fare the passenger just asked for he'll always, always ask: "...Is that one-way?" I never understood why they always question if what I just gave them is what they just asked for. Then I realized it was part of the hell Sarge told us about.

But I've survived to direct the lost, correct the wrong, comfort the wary, teach U.S. geography and give tutoring in the spelling and pronunciation of American cities. I have been told things like: "I can't go stand-by for your flight because I'm in a wheelchair." I've been asked such questions as: "I have a connecting flight to Knoxville. Does that mean the plane sticks to something?" And once a man wanted to go to Illinois. When I asked what city he wanted to go to in Illinois, he said, "Cleveland, Ohio."

After 130,000 little wars of varying degrees, I'm a wise old veteran of the communication conflict and can anticipate with accuracy what the next move by "them" will be. Seventy-five percent won't have anything to write on. Half will not have thought about when they're returning. A third won't know where they're going; 10 percent won't care where they're going. A few won't care if they get back. And James will be the first name of half the men who call.
But even if James doesn't care if he gets to the city he never heard of; even if he thinks he has to change clothes on our plane that may stick to something; even if he can't spell, pronounce, or remember what city he's returning to, he'll get there because I've worked very hard to make sure that he can. Then with a click in the phone, he'll become a part of my past and I'll be hoping the next caller at least knows what day it is.

Note: My friend sent me the following in response to this article. "I was in one of those kosher for Pesach superstores. I asked a clerk "Where is the chrain?" He didn't even look up but told me "Take a left turn out of the store and go two blocks and it's there. But it's a local not an express.""

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

There are 51 Other Weeks You Know

Right about now women are in the home stretch heading for Pesach. Even the procrastinators have hit the point where they must pick up their feet and start running. Women are exhibiting all kinds of interesting syndromes. Many walk around talking to themselves. A few keep pads and pencils by their beds so that when they wake up in a cold sweat, having just remembered what they forgot to do/buy, they can jot it down. Quite a few are so full of caffeine that they appear to be permanently revved up. And quite a few of us I would imagine have tackled jobs that never, ever should have been tackled before Pesach, resulting in some weird physical and mental manifestations.

Despite stern conversations with myself before I began my Pesach routine, I added a new condition this year also--it goes by I.D.I.O.T.M.O.M. and stands for I Did It Only To Myself, Only Myself. Somehow I got ahead of myself this year--the house was cleaned and my kitchen is turned. This couldn't be right, I told myself. I didn't do something "vital." Having forgotten how to sit down and relax, I "accidentally" started a new project in the middle of Pesach making that no one else can help me with because I'm not yet sure what I'm doing, and I have no one to blame for this mess but myself.

I decided to rearrange all the pictures on all the walls. I'm in denial mode at the moment and have decided that this was caused by an excess of exposure to chemical substances. Right about now those pictures are going to go back up on the walls just where they were, if I can remember that. I'm adding a note to the lists for next year--don't bring on being an IDIOTMOM. Home decorating can wait until the summer.

And just as an additional note: my inanimate objects struck again yesterday. The battery in my cell phone died completely and needed replacement. On my way to the phone store, the muffler on my car came partially off, and I ran over it with my tire. The entire muffler had to be replaced. I still don't have the phone's new battery and I'm frankly a little bit leery about taking that trip again, given yesterday's results.

Chag Sameach!

Sunday, April 13, 2008


Things are absolutely under control in my house. Lists are being checked off at a furious pace. I've planned and planned and planned. I'm not due for my first nervous breakdown until Wednesday, and I've even allotted extra hours for it. So what could possibly go wrong now? I've got writer's block.

Somewhere in all the washing and scrubbing I washed away any good ideas that might have been ruminating. And somehow I'm just not in the mood for ranting about some of the stupidities that have entwined themselves in our lives. Ranting is not on the schedule. Even humor has deserted me. It's hard to be funny when you've spent the day getting high on Spic and Span fumes.

Perhaps at some point this week the urge to write will descend back upon me. Until then I'm not going to push it. So, this was the long way of saying there probably will not be any new posts this week. And should I not see your friendly face on the blog, let me now wish you
a Chag Kosher V'Sameach. May you celebrate in health and in joy and may you create wonderful memories of this chag that will remain with you for a lifetime

You Can Do It!

To all those making Pesach this year, paste on your smiles. You're going to make it. If the Ribboneh Shel Olam could create the world in 6 days, finishing up Pesach should be a snap. A lot simpler to buy fruits and vegetables then to create them to begin with.

Ever wonder why cars come with more than one type of drive? Mostly we only use the plain D for drive. The others are reserved for more difficult terrains, the ones that go steeply up or down. The ones to be used when we are traveling at faster than normal speeds. A well known fact among women is that we, too, come with more than one drive. Time to pick up the speed a little and head up that steep hill. Put yourself into Drive 1. When you crest that hill you're on the home stretch, and your destination is clearly visible.

Have a safe and happy journey. Just remember that a car driven in overdrive for extended periods of time can develop problems. The engines of most cars are not made to be used at full speed up a 90 degree incline for hours on end. Build in some down time for your engine. Keep up with your routine maintenance. Now is not the time to test for the limits of human endurance--you just might find out.

And keep repeating, because it is true, the Pesach will be a beautiful yom tov. What could be better than a holiday that requires you to sit down at a table for hours and imbibe wine?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Maybe Your Grass is Greener

We all like to kvetch about making Pesach. And buried somewhere inside of our minds is the idea that others might be having it easier. Well, maybe we also need to note that some people are having it harder, a lot harder.

There's a leviah in the neighborhood today. The woman who is going to be sitting shiva will first get up on Thursday morning. And she still needs to make Pesach. Whatever you are worrying about getting done, keep in mind that you should be thankful that you can do it, even if it is hard. Some people have it a lot worse than you do.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

18 Things to do to Avoid Cleaning for Pesach

From what I've been reading around the blogosphere, there are some people who would rather chew nails then clean for Pesach. That is certainly one option. Here, then, some things to do that will occupy you so that you have no time to clean.

1. Chew nails--hey, I told you it was an option.

2. Find all your children's report cards going back to kindergarten. Read them carefully, allowing time for weeping and laughing. Scan the cards into your computer. Make a file for each child. Make copies of the files and send to your children, so they too can laugh and cry.

3. Try on every single outfit you own--every one, no matter how old--and decide which outfits leave and which ones stay. Use a full length mirror. Make sure you are eliminating at least one outfit because of what follows.

4. Make an emergency shopping trip, because you now have "nothing" in your closet to wear.

5. Having kept at least one outfit in navy blue, sit down at your computer and write complaint letters to every stocking manufacturer you can locate on the Internet complaining that no one makes navy pantyhose anymore.

6. Being just that tiniest bit wound up too tightly, take the entire pile of your husband's undershirts and take a book, any book. If you can clearly read the print in the book through the shirt, rip up the shirt. Rip hard. Use scissors. Amazing how the aggression dissolves. It also leaves you with an excellent pile of shmattes to use for the dreaded C word.

7. Take all those gloves that have no mates, cut off the fingers and make finger puppets for all the young children you know. This may necessitate a trip to a craft store. Maybe even two stores, which is even better. If you use a rubber glove you have worn out cleaning you can tell the kids that the puppet is wearing a rain coat.

8. Sit down with that great pile of unmatched socks that has been growing over the year. Take your children, yarn, magic markers and any odds and ends you can think of and make sock puppets. Place puppets into a bag and hold for Pesach. Should children become bored or restless at any time on Pesach, hand them a puppet to babysit.

9. Decide that the blue handle on your broom does not match your decor. Go shopping at Home Depot or Lowe's for metallic paint in a color to match your house and paint your broom handle. If you are really desperate to avoid cleaning, paint your mop handle as well. It should take at least 24 hours for the paint to cure, meaning you have no broom and no mop and can't possibly clean.

10. You know that book that you have always meant to read but never did? Like War and Peace? Or 300 Ways to Use Tuna fish? Now would be an ideal time to educate yourself.

11. Schedule a dentist's appointment for this week. Somehow, sitting in the dentist's chair makes cleaning far more appealing.

12. Make all your pre-yom tov calls to family and friends today. This way you can actually spend some time talking. No call should last less than 10 minutes.

13. Sit and play the "What If" game. What if you had all the money in the world and could buy any house you wanted to? What would it look like? Design the kitchen in that house right down to the knobs on the drawers and this activity should take you through at least next Pesach.

14. Go through all of your picture albums, putting the pictures into correct chronological order. Trying to figure out who the man standing next to your Uncle Moishe is at the sheva brochas in your Tante Malka's house might take the better part of a day. You might actually have to take a trip to Tante Malka's house taking the picture with you, but hey, she needs a break too.

15. Decide to knit/crochet a baby blanket for your nephew Chaim's wife's sister who is expecting a baby Rosh Hashanah time. This requires a trip to a yarn store to compare colors and prices of yarn. Don't hurry over selecting the yarn; the decision is too important to make quickly. Go home and think about your choices and then first return to the store to get the decided upon yarn. If you are lucky they will have sold out of the yarn you want and you will need to go through the decision making process all over again.

16. Take that pile of advertising circulars that you have been saving to look at "some day" and go through and carefully clip every coupon. Only after clipping all of them may you look at the expiration dates. That most of them will already have expired or been for things you don't use is besides the point. Clipping is not cleaning.

17. You know you want to join a gym; you know you need to join a gym. Go and comparison shop what each gym offers. Take advantage of their introductory free first session. If you hit enough gyms in one day, you will be so charlie-horsed that getting up your front steps will be enough of a challenge, never mind cleaning.

18. Sit down and read through a blog. Read through every blog you can find. Read all the archives. Avoid those blogs that give you tips on how to clean

Men who might otherwise get pressed into service helping with the cleaning also have many things to choose from that will keep them too busy to help. They can always attend a shiur, attend more than one shiur on what needs to be cleaned for Pesach. They can begin a new sefer to learn. They can alphabetize all the receipts they are saving for tax purposes. They can organize their tools according to size/color. They can comparison shop for which garage will give them the best price/service for their next oil change on the car.

The possibilities for procrastinating are endless. These are only a few to get you started.

Sameach B'Chelkoh

A comment on the posting "A Word About Real Life" got me to thinking. What is it about the two words "real life" that seem to set people's teeth on edge? In that posting I made the point that the holidays are a part of real life, not separate from it. Perhaps we should also look at how "Just you wait" correlates to "real life."

Children are always being told that everything they learn now is first going to be of benefit to them when they get to "real life," as if they are not now alive and living. We tell them "Just you wait." Singles seem to be told by their young married friends and by their "elders" that they are not yet living a "real life." Balderdash!

Just you wait for what? From first breath to last, we are all alive, and therefore we are all living a "real life." Are our lives identical at every point? No. We go through stages. But each stage is "real life." And one stage is really not more privileged than another. For those who are in a different stage to mock--gently or otherwise--those who are not yet at that stage is a patent absurdity.

The pasuk asks: Aizeh oshir? The answer is "sameach b'chelkoh." Who is rich? The person who is happy with their portion. We can, of course, interpret the posuk literally, and assume that it is talking about money and possessions. But there is another equally as valid application of the posuk. We can talk about our portion of life, that part that we are living now, that level we are at. Who is the rich person? The one who lives life to the fullest, who appreciates all the aspects of the level of life they are at. The one who explores all the ins and outs of the level, who takes advantage of all the opportunities of that level, who doesn't waste time in talking about the "what ifs" of the future, but who acts on the opportunities present now. The "oshir" is rich in the possession of experiences. The "oshir" understands that another level of life will come along later, but he doesn't waste the time he "owns" now.

While it is true that we change levels in life over our lifetimes, we take the "possessions" we have collected along with us. What we have learned in one level is useful to us as we move through other levels. No knowledge is every truly wasted, for it enriched us at the point when we acquired that knowledge, and it is there for us to use if we need it later on. To pass through a level of life and to do nothing during it, that is not to be "oshir." To find no beauty, no purpose to a level we are living in is to be an "evyon." To look only at what others have but not see what could be ours now, that is to be an "evyon." And yes, to look at what we have now and then at what others who have not yet experienced our level and station in life have, and to pass judgement that their level is less valid, less good, less worthwhile, that too is to become an "evyon," for we lack the riches of understanding what life really is.

We are all dreamers at one time or another. We think ahead to what might be in the future. But to live as if today doesn't count is foolishness. If today were to be the last day of life alloted to us, whatever stage or level we are on, what would our "cheshbon" consist of? Would we be able to say that we took advantage of every minute and did all that presented itself? Or would we say that we did very little while we were waiting for "real life" to begin?

A Word About Real Life

Right about now, when women meet each other, the first question always seems to be "How are you holding with making Pesach?" This is usually followed by a few groans and a grimace or two. One woman answered this way: "I thought I'd be further ahead but real life keeps getting in the way." An interesting choice of words.

Just what is "real life"? One way to look at it is that real life is what happens when the alarm clock goes off. It's getting children ready for school, it's getting yourself ready for work. It's doing laundry and shopping and all the myriad activities that having a home require. "Real life" is making and returning phone calls, checking e-mail, opening the regular mail. "Real life" is getting your taxes in before the 15th. "Real life" is having the car's oil changed, and dentist appointments and haircuts. "Real life" is weddings and brisim and funerals. I won't deny that "real life" constitutes all these things. But there is more.

"Real life" for frum Jews is making minyan in the morning. "Real life" is davening mincha, only you are on the "B" train or the bus. Real life is shul and learning. "Real life" is not just plopping items into a shopping cart but stopping to check if they have a reliable hechsher. "Real life" is minhagim that say "do things this way" and, yes, some chumras that say "do things a different way." "Real life" is writing out tzedaka checks and scheduling chesed visits. "Real life" doesn't just run on the alarm clock, but also on the calendar. "Real life" is having a full schedule of holidays, with all their requirements. Sad but true, for some people yom tov is not about "real life" but about something extra thrown in to put a monkey wrench into the functioning of "real life."

I can complain with the best of them, but I recognize that there is nothing "unreal" about preparing for chagim--they too are part of real life. They aren't an extra thrown in to drive us crazy. An attitude change can help. It's not that the billions of details and work will disappear, but the burden becomes lighter if you don't look at it as a burden but as a privilege. Aren't we all lucky to be here and to be able to make Pesach so that our families may have the joy of the yom tov? And yes ladies, you may give yourselves a pat on the back, even more than one, for stretching the definition of "real life" to include all the things that frum Jews do. When the question asks "Why is this night different from all other nights?" one answer is "because I was privileged to help to make it so."

Take a breath, square your shoulders and soldier on. "Real life" is about a week away. You'll make it--we always do.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Word From R'Moshe

What foodstuffs people will keep in their homes over Pesach could fill an encyclopedia full of differing opinions. Some people hold that no "echt" chometz can remain in the house. Some people hold that flour falls in this category and will not keep it over Pesach. My uncle's minhag was to buy 15-20 pounds of flour before Pesach and sell it with the other chometz. I knew lots of people with the same minhag. Some people won't keep even closed boxes of pasta products over Pesach; some throw out only opened boxes. Some people keep bread in their freezers; others won't. Some keep cereals, some don't. I'm not here to discuss or to argue how you hold and what you hold as regards chometz over Pesach.

I am, however, reminded of what R'Moshe Feinstein said many years ago: "Az muh farkoift nisht kan chometz, demults vos farkoift men?" If you aren't selling chometz, then what are you selling? Just a thought.

A Cleaning Reminder

In case this item is not on your cleaning lists, I offer this reminder: your cars need to be cleaned for Pesach. The amount of actual chometz that can be found on the floors of cars and on the seats and tucked into the seats and in the trunk always amazes me. I'm not the only one to drive my car nor am I the only passenger. I can't eat and drive at the same time (and no comments about chewing gum and walking please) but others obviously have eaten in the car. If you load your groceries into the trunk of the car crumbs and small pieces can walk right out of the bags and take up residence. Unless you are planning on selling your car with all the other chometz, this has to be done.

But I also offer this. Find a good carwash and let them take care of this chore for you. The one we use is $6.00 for just the outside, $8.00 if they include vacuuming the inside and $10.00 for the total inside works, including cleaning the insides of the windows and the inside of the trunk. They have the equipment and the manpower and it is money well spent. Just a note: when they clean the inside of the car they will throw away any loose papers and bottles and whatnot that they find. If something in the car has value to you, put it in the glove compartment or take it into the house.

A Kosher Complaint

We don't live in Brooklyn. When we were first married we did, but even 36 years ago the housing prices in Brooklyn, in the frum areas and in the up and coming frum areas, were higher then in other places, and you were getting less for more. I also avoid shopping in Brooklyn whenever possible, particularly in the "frum" stores. As I've posted before, the clothing stores are severely overpriced. But I also don't shop in the food stores. I have good reason to avoid them, and price is only one of the reasons.

I work in Brooklyn and, arriving early for work, decided to take advantage of the time and finish up a bit of Pesach shopping. I went into one of the kosher grocery stores. Mistake on my part. Not only was I exposed to ready prepared saltwater (subject of a different posting) but I was subjected to enough bad manners to last me a lifetime.

I was standing in front of a shelf looking for a product when an elbow unceremoniously moved me out of the way so that the owner of the elbow could reach up and get something off the shelf. No "excuse me" no "could you please move over." Little children were running up and down the aisles with no mother in sight. The noise level was way above normal. And then I got in line to pay for my purchases. Or at least I tried to.

Pushy person #1 broke into the line in front of me. When I politely told her that she was cutting in she threw at me "I have a school bus coming so I have to come first." Huh? And then the person 3 behind me screams "Rivkale!" and runs up to stand with her friend in front of me. "We're together" she throws at me. So, am I going to make a ruckus in a public place? Am I going to reduce myself to these people's level of bad manners? I couldn't get myself to do it. I was fuming, but doing so quietly. Until a third person tried to cut into the line. I had had enough. I walked up to the front and placed my basket on the counter by the checkout clerk. The store manager was also up front. The clerk rather snippily told me that she was already checking someone else out and what did I think I was doing? Firmly but quietly I told her I was leaving and perhaps someone needed to put back on the shelves the items in the basket. And I walked out the door.

I try to imagine the behavior I saw in this store happening at Shoprite or King Kullen or any of the supermarkets in our neighborhood. Just wouldn't happen. I always thought that it was only in Israel that no one had "savlanut," patience. Apparently there is no patience in Brooklyn either. We spend so much time worrying about whether our children will have fine midos. Perhaps we should start with the basic concepts of good manners. Things like "please" and "Thank you." Maybe we could teach "Excuse me please." Who knows, maybe we might even get to "I'm so sorry."

By the way, if this had been the only time I had run across rudeness in a Brooklyn store I might have just brushed it off. But it wasn't the only time. It seems to be the rule, not the exception. For those readers who practice their manners in public, frustrating isn't it to be in the minority? And for those who don't, you might want to consider that road rage could very easily translate to store rage. Some day someone is not just going to walk out quietly.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Continuing Battle Between Humans and Inanimate Objects

Hmmm, let me see. The dryer died a few weeks ago and had to be replaced. I made the mistake of thinking that would be the kaporah for this yom tov season. Today I had actually carved out two hours as be-good-to-me time. My household goods clearly did not concur with this decision on my part. Instead I spent the two hours running from store to store because 1) the mop broke, and all I did was pick it up 2) the blinds over the sink breathed their last, and all I did was spray them with cleanser 3) the shade in my son's room ripped 4) the Shabbos clock in my room is heading into rigor mortis and 5) my computer printer requires major surgery, from which I hope it will recover, but the prognosis doesn't look all that good.

So there you have it, the reason why there are no new postings right now. I figure I might as well self clean the oven today and see what comes up. Clearly the inanimate objects that reside in my house were looking to see some new faces. Maybe I should explain to them that two's company, three's a crowd and five is pushing their luck.

I'll see you all when I see you, my objects willing.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Stones and Those in Glass Houses

There's an old English saying that "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones." The meaning is fairly obvious but it seems to escape some people. It goes hand in hand with "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

A recent conversation about shidduchim brought these sayings to mind just now. The question raised was about something physical that might set the questioner apart from the others out there and how to handle that for shidduch purposes.

First let me say this: everyone has a "something" that might be different from the others out there. Some of these differences are more obvious than others, but they all exist. When we try to weed out shidduchim based on obvious "somethings," that isn't protecting us from a darn thing, because the unseen "somethings" are still there.

Which family is totally disease free in its history? Really? And do you know what the future might bring you? Pick a condition--strokes, high blood pressure, heart problems of all kinds, diabetes, cancers of all types, endocrine problems, stomache disorders of every hue, arthritis in all its manifestations, allergies etc.--and somewhere on everyone's family tree the problem existed, exists or may exist in the future. How about Alzheimer's and the various forms of senile dementia? And what about the many and varied mental and emotional disorders? What about the various learning and behavioral disorders? How about just wearing glasses? Or being prone to tooth decay and various other mouth disorders?

There are no perfect people out there. And yet, when it comes to shidduchim, there are those who require perfection in others, who turn down shidduchim based on what they see as a problem, because they can actually see it. And most of the time it is not really any grounded worry about that problem being passed down through the coming generations that is the problem. The problem is that age-old one: What will the neighbors/friends/relatives think?and the other problem that is also an age-old one: I deserve better.

There are members of Klal with hearing and vision and mobility issues. They may need hearing aids or the types of vision lenses that preclude their every driving a car, or they may walk with a gait that is different from ours. They may suffer from obvious skin disorders. They may have scarring. They may smile crookedly. And off some people run in the opposite direction. They are "throwing stones" with a vengeance when they do so.

A young man in the community where I lived before I got married had suffered from leukemia and was in remission. "Everyone" thought he would never get married. Well, yes he did. To someone who looked at him, not his disease. They were married about 15 years when the leukemia came back and took his life. At the time of his death there were people who wondered aloud why his wife had married him. She had to know something like this could happen. And this was different how from the young woman who married a "perfect specimen" only to have him have a heart attack and die when they were married only a year? Or get hit by a car? Or have rage problems so serious that he put her in the hospital for 6 months?

Just what is it that we think we can guarantee ourselves when we throw stones? The newspaper ran a story many years ago about a couple who purchased the safest car on the market and added all the extras to make it even safer. And when they had a fatal accident in that "safe" car, it took the fire department longer to extricate their bodies from the wreckage because of all those safety features. They were dead anyway, despite all their elaborate machinations to keep safe.

Some people live in clear glass houses, where everything seems to be open to vision. Some people have built their glass houses out of opaque or colored glass so that looking in by others is much harder. Some people have painted over their glass so that seeing through it becomes impossible. But the one thing all people share in common is that their houses are made of glass. It might be hard to see through to the inside, but cracks can develop in every last one of them. It might be really easy to see through the windows of other's houses and to throw stones. But when they throw stones back there is no reason to be surprised if your own windows crack and break. We all live in glass houses, and not a darned one of us should be throwing stones.

Spring Has Sprung

With all the preparations for making Pesach I almost lost track of the fact that spring has arrived officially. My desk is downstairs by the sliding doors leading to the backyard. We have a fairly large piece of property, particularly in the back of the house, and our yard backs up to real, honest to goodness woodlands. Because of this we get a surprisingly large number of animal visitors in our yard. I finally took a few moments this morning to survey the spring landscape.

Bulbs have pushed up their tops all over the yard. Bushes are re-greening after a winter of resting. The fallen winter leaves look out of place on the newly refreshed grass. And our animal visitors are starting to come back once again.

Robins and sparrows in abundance. For years we have always had a nesting pair of Cardinals in the woods that use our yard as their take home food store. They are back again this year. Soon enough the pair of blue jays should be returning. It always amazes me to watch these two pairs of birds square off over who gets territorial rights to our property. In the end they seem to make "separate shopping hours" and share the yard. This morning I saw an anomaly--an owl flying through the still bare trees during the daytime.

The squirrels are out and scavenging. I sure hope that the chipmunks that moved in last summer will come back. They are amazing to watch in action. And then there are the raccoons and the opossums and the rabbits, not yet ready to make an appearance.

Through the glass doors I can already hear the first strains of the bird symphony that will play all summer long and into the fall. And just now there is a robin standing on the patio near the doors and staring at me. What, I wonder, does he think about human beings? Are we a part of his spring landscape, just as we think of him as a part of ours?

Near the bird feeder a small group is busy pecking at the leftover crumbs. I've already prepared for them the latest offering--an amalgam of echt chometz that needs to leave the house. Finely crushed matza and some oat bran and a handful of this and that, with a little peanut butter for flavoring. It's not quite yet time to put up the honey water feeder for the hummingbirds but soon, soon. I love to watch those birds hover, flying backwards around the yard.

Spring. A time of renewal, a time to lighten the spirit after the dreariness of winter. A time when the world is painted anew in vibrant colors. Take a moment. Stop and look at the new landscape unfurling in front of us. Take a moment to say thank you that we, too, have lived to see a renewal of our own flagging spirits. In spring all seems possible. Go for it!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On Hungarian Cooks

A comment (see below) on a prior posting brought to mind an old "machlokes": Are Hungarian women the best cooks?

"Finally, any thoughts on the notion held by some that Hungarians (broadly defined, let's say, not by the borders of the present day state of that name) are 'the best cooks' ? If there is something to that generalization, how much credit would you give to the relative abundance there for it? Such things can be hard for non-Hungarians to swallow.... :)"

Oh boy, how to put this. Let me cover myself by stating first that anything written here is my own opinion. You can only argue fact, not opinion. You cannot say that an opinion is wrong, only a fact. So yes, I believe that Hungarian women, in the broad definition of Hungarian, are in general, the best cooks. I base my belief on personal experience, based on having eaten a lot of meals over the years by balabustas of various ethnic origins. Cooks from other ethnic origins are not bad cooks. Some have a few dishes that are truly inspired. But for across the board excellence of cuisine and variety of cuisine, the Hungarians win.

This is not a new machlokes. The Europe of the 1800s and early 1900s was rife with ethnic and nationalistic strife, yes even among the Jews. The Western Jews looked down on the Eastern European Jews. The Eastern European Jews looked down on the Western European Jews. The various Eastern European Jews looked down on those from countries, regions or cities not their own. We like to think of the whole Jewish population of Europe as being some sort of unified whole; nothing is further from the truth. The conflicts were about religious observance and the conflicts were also about cultural observances. Some countries were considered more "advanced" then others. Some countries were considered on a higher level culturally. Whether or not this was true across the board, the differences were there.

The old Austro-Hungarian Empire unified a huge slice of middle Europe. While there were ethnic differences, there was much of a shared culture. What is today Hungary and Romania were officially a part of that Austro-Hungarian Empire through WW I, as was part of what is/was modern Czechoslovakia. (And yes, it is why you get many Czechs who claim to be Hungarian, because their grandparents were, indeed, Hungarian.) Hungarian was the official state language of the area known as Romania; it was taught in the schools. Also prevalent throughout the Empire was a type of cuisine we now like to call Hungarian. There were specific dishes native to the geographical areas of Hungary and Romania, but there was also an adoption of the cooking styles and dishes and ingredients of the general Empire.

Compared to the countries of Eastern Europe, the countries of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had access to a wider variety of cooking products, particularly for those families with money. There was a larger variety of produce that could be procured because of the more temperate zones extant in the far western reaches of the Empire. "Cooking well" was a much bigger deal in Western Europe then it was in Eastern Europe.

Now bring this "machlokes" into the present. Women my age are definitely the product of European influence when it comes to cooking. And those of us with that general Hungarian background were exposed to a wider variety of dishes and ingredients then the women coming from the furthest Eastern countries. In general, those from the general Hungarian areas were economically better off than those from the countries further east. That's not to say that there were not poor people in Hungary--there were. In general, however, the Hungarian communities had more to work with. The further east you go, the less the influence of the Western and Middle European countries that you see.

The sheer volume of "traditional" pastries and cakes of the Hungarian cooks is astounding. The number of sauces and condiments shows a clear France into Austria into Hungary progression. The huge variety of meat dishes, and fish dishes and side dishes and vegetable dishes outnumbers those of countries further to the east. There is also evidence of some of the more Eastern recipes that found there way west into Hungarian cooking. In short, Hungary and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a sort of cross-roads for Jewish cooking in Europe.

When I look around at the women in my extended family, from both my mother's and my father's side, I see balabustas of cooking excellence, Hungarian background all. The only one of the cousins who is not a "great" cook married into the family and came from______(I'm not looking to start an all-out war today).

And in some cases today, those women who do not self-identify as Hungarian nonetheless may have an Austro-Hungarian bubby in the background somewhere who gifted them with the "fine cooking gene."

So yes, in my opinion, Hungarians are the best cooks. Go ahead, take a shot at me. Centuries of practice in dodging bullets should keep me safe.

Please note: I am not including the various Sefardi cooking traditions here. There are some truly inspired cooks in this tradition, many of them. I am limiting myself, however, to an ashkenzic comparison.

Playing the Game of Who, When and Where

As families, we all tend to go through stages. In the beginning of our married lives we still go home to our parents for yom tov and for that occasional Shabbos. Then we hit the stage when going away is more difficult than just staying home. Packing up a large family and traveling what can be long distances becomes a real undertaking. And as our siblings also have large families, all of us descending upon our parents becomes a logistical impossibility--there just isn't room for everyone in Babi and Zaydie's house all at the same time. Babi and Zaydie become the visitors, not the visited.

And then comes another stage. This is the one where you, yourself, have married children. And then the fun begins. Let's say you have 3 children. That also means you have three sets of muchatonim. Much as you might want your children at home for every yom tov you now have to share them with the muchatonim. But let's say that the muchatonim also have 3 children each. Three sets of your muchatonim have 9 sets of their own muchatonim. Now make that 5 children that you have and that your muchatonim also have. That makes 25 sets of muchatonim in the mix. Who goes where and when becomes a logistical exercise worthy of a 5-star general. Logic says that your five married children--that's 10 adults--who also have children--let's say they only have 2 each right now--are going to be 20 people that you need to house and feed. Now add in your parents.

Most people simply do not have the size of house that will accommodate this size of a group. You can't exactly separate the males and females and set your rooms up dormitory style when you are talking about married couples. And there are also the schedules of the muchatonim with their other married children that have to be taken into consideration.

If everyone all lives in the same area, within walking distance of each other, then sleeping is not the issue. Only meals need to be divided up among the various interested parties. But how many of us live this way? I informally polled my friends to see how many had their married children, all of them, in walking distance. The answer was none of them did. Here and there there was a child in the neighborhood, but many were spread out across the city, across the country and across the globe.

Before our children get married we like to dream that everything will always stay the same way it is now, and even marriage won't change things. Our kids, all of them, will always be at our table for yom tov. It's true that yom tov should be about families coming together to celebrate. But how they come together, and when, and where is not always as simple as we dreamed it would be. Perhaps there would be fewer hurt feelings and less resentment if we looked at the mathematics of who spends yom tov by whom. Or maybe we need to look at the physics of yom tov--the principle that one object cannot occupy two different spaces at the same time. Yom tov is sometimes about sharing.

Friday, April 4, 2008

A Post Just for D

For a while now D has been asking me, okay bugging me as to why I haven't written about borscht, and yes, even about P'tcha. Being willing to do anything to escape cleaning out yet one more cabinet, this post is for you D.

There are any number of dishes that my mother cooked when I was young and which she doesn't make any more. A few of those dishes are only vague memories--a few I am glad are only vague memories. Where did those dishes come from, the ones like P'tcha and g'linglach and yes, even borscht?

Necessity is the mother of invention. In the days before refrigeration and a butcher shop on every other corner, meat was not necessarily an everyday staple of eating life. Meat was darned expensive, beef meat in particular. Shochtim and kosher butchers did not have the luxury, which they do today, of selling the non-kosher or difficult to determine if kosher parts of a cow to a non-kosher meat processor. Because cows were expensive and because they did not shecht very many of them, shochtim took the time to 'treiber" the veins that are questionable. Rabbanim were shall we call it "more lenient" about what parts of beef and chickens could be routinely used.

Example: chicken feet, the "fisalech," were used to make chicken soup with and then were served to be eaten. If you were lucky they were de-clawed. It was also why gerglach and pipiklach were used to make soup with--it wasn't that they tasted so incredible but that they were relatively cheap when "real" chicken meat was expensive. And it was also waste not, want not. The butcher sold the "real" chicken meat to those with money, and those without got the "peripherals," if they were really lucky. Plenty of those with money who used all the parts as well.

Another example: cow bones. The bones were used in cooking because they lent an intense beefy flavor to dishes without having to actually use beef. The marrow from the inside of the bones was considered a delicacy and getting some of this "marach" to be spread on challah was the equivalent of having died and gone to heaven. Those who could afford beef also used the bones, but those who couldn't afford beef were thankful for the bones and their beefy ta'am, again if they could afford even this part of the cow. I use only marach bones in my cholent. Yes, I know all about the cholesterol in marrow--this is cholent we are talking about!

P'tcha is otherwise known as calves-foot jelly. It was and is made using the hoofs and lower leg bones of a cow, although sometimes chicken bones are also used. The bones are cooked in a quantity of water, along with spices and carrots, and then the resultant broth is carefully strained and put into the refrigerator to jell. Even without refrigeration but only a root cellar, if the ratio of water to bones was okay, the broth jelled. A meichal sort of. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground: either you love this dish or you hate it. While my mom and dad loved this dish, we kids were less than enthusiastic and so it disappeared from our house to be replaced with "real" meat. The dish is surprisingly high in protein and low in cholesterol, if made properly.

G'linglach was made using cow's or lamb's lungs--I told you they used most every part of an animal. I was a very little girl the last time my mom made this, but I truly hated it. But when I mentioned it just now to my mom she waxed nostalgic and sighed that the lungs aren't used any more--she loved it.

And then there are sweetbreads. Oh do I love 'em. But as no one else in my family will go anywhere near them I have to wait for a wedding smorgasbord where the baal simcha has ordered them. Mostly they don't. Sigh. Of course, being that they are made from the thymus or pancreas, usually of a calf or lamb, some people run the other direction. And they are not exactly a health powerhouse either.

While caterers still sell it, chopped liver is one of those items that is not as popular as it once was. Once upon a time chopped liver or braised liver in onions was a "rich" forspeis or appetizer. After all, an animal only had one liver. To make this dish for a group required a whole lot of money. They are also a real pain to kasher. And you don't really want to know how much cholesterol there is in liver.

Now to borscht. Russian in origin, borscht comes in two varieties: sweet and sour. The sour is the more common of the two. While we think of borscht as only being beet-based, hence the pinky-red color, there is a variation called "shav" which is made from sorrel and is green. Some borschts are fleishig, some pareve and some milchig, depending on cooking method. The fleishig borschts, the ones actually cooked with meat and beets and all the other vegetables, are eaten as is. Think of them as pink chicken soups. The pareve borschts were made with beets and other root vegetables, plenty of onion and garlic, and then were "inter-ge'shloggen" with beaten eggs. (Note: making it this way today is asking for trouble. The soup has to be cool enough when you incorporate the egg mixture not to cook the eggs in pieces, leaving you open for possible salmonella poisoning.) The milchig borschts were made the same as the pareve borschts but were inter-ge'shloggen with a combination of eggs and sour cream. Sometimes they were not inter-ge'shloggen but instead had a dish of sour cream served as an accompaniment to the soup. One key ingredient in the sour borschts was vinegar. Not only did it add some "snap" to the flavor, but the vinegar served as a preservative for the soup. The pareve soup base could be stored in barrels in a root cellar and would not spoil even though not refrigerated. The sweet borschts, to which sugar had been added instead of vinegar, would not keep for storage.

Many other things that we eat without thinking about came about because of the lack of refrigeration or the desire to waste no part of anything. Pickles were a way to keep cucumbers when long storage was wanted. Sauerkraut preserved cabbage for long periods of time. Corning meat by using a salt coating and smoking resulted in our cold cuts, but was originally done because corned meats could be kept in storage longer then fresh meat without spoiling. It's ironic that today corned beef and most cold cuts are expensive delicacies.

The dishes I mentioned in this posting are still, some of them, enjoyed by Jews. Some of them have moved into the realm of history: perhaps interesting to know about but oh are we glad we don't have to eat them. Like everything else, what we eat may change over time. Some dishes we serve, even if we don't particularly care for them, because they are a link to an age gone by. they are our preserved history, both literally and figuratively.

B'tai'avon D.