Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What I Fasted For on Tisha B'Av

Tisha B'Av is always a difficult day in North America. It's hot. It's long. It has become associated with tragedies far beyond the destruction of two Temples and the loss of our homeland. When I was in university, there was a trend to fast only half the day. Much like the midrash of Nachshon jumping into the sea before God split the waters, the modern State of Israel was the human start to bringing the messianic age. I still believe this, but my belief is tempered. While we enjoy a modern Jewish state, our unity as a people is regularly tested by the actions of those who claim to follow the letter of the law, but forget the spirit. 

Talmud Gittin tells the story of Kamza and Bar Kamza as a prelude to the destruction and exile.

A wealthy man was throwing a party. His servant was sent to invite his friend Kamza, but mistakenly invited his enemy, Bar Kamza. When this man sees Bar Kamza at his party, he orders Bar Kamza to leave. Three times, Bar Kamza tries to save face and make peace: offering to pay for his food, for half the party, and even for the entire party. The man, so caught up in his hatred, throws Bar Kamza out. 

Humiliated, Bar Kamza seeks revenge against the rabbis who were present, but did not stand up against his public embarrassment, informing the Roman authorities that the Jews are planning a revolt. Unsure whether to believe Bar Kamza, the Roman authority sends an animal to the Temple as a peace offering. Along the way, Bar Kamza wounds the animal in a way that disqualifies it as a Jewish sacrifice, but would still be acceptable under Roman law.

When the animal arrives, the Sanhedrin debates whether to still allow the sacrifice due to the precariousness of the situation. Some say the offering should be done to avoid war. Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos says no lest it lead to people bringing blemished animals to the Temple. Others suggest Bar Kamza should be put to death to show his duplicity. Again Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos argues that this is not acceptable because death is not the penalty for bringing a wounded animal for sacrifice.

Angered by the refusal of the sacrifice, the Romans lay siege to Jerusalem. Rabbi Yochanan says, the result of the punctiliousness of Rabbi Zechariah be Avkolos was the destruction of the Temple and exile from Israel.
Our tradition has always attributed this to senseless hatred. But it's only marginally the hatred of the man for Bar Kamza. Instead, the senseless hatred is actually loving the law more than the people. This is the senselessness. 
Our unity as a people is regularly threatened by those in the State of Israel who put their interpretation of the law before the unity of the Jewish people. We have never been a monolithic people when it comes to interpretation, but we have stood together through the good and the bad. Israel must be a place where all Jews can have a comfortable home free of intimidation and fear. Until that day, I will be fasting all day.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Amy Schumer, Body Image, and Yummy Mummys (Warning: link to explicit content)

Sometimes it takes me a few days (or more) to get down to writing. At work, or in the middle of Shabbat prep, I jot notes down to blog later. When we're traveling, I write draft titles to remind me later. And sometimes, ideas strike me on Shabbat, and I just have to hope I'll remember.

Friday, July 17, the National Post had an article focused on eating disorders in the News section. What was different about this article was the age group. Eating disorders are nothing new, though still terrifying to any parent. However, there was a marked increase in the 1970's and 80's. Now, the children who grew up at that time are entering middle age, and taking their eating disorders with them. As the article points out, men are told to "embrace their 'dad bod.'" Women don't have that luxury. Instead, we're told to strive to be a "yummy mummy."

The mortality rate for eating disorders is 10-20%, one of the deadliest mental illnesses. Even with that, eating disorders are sometimes seen as not real illnesses.

Now, everything I read here upset me. I had a friend in junior high who suffered from anorexia. We haven't been in touch in decades, but I still think of her from time to time. Keren and I talk frequently about body image and diet. She worries about a few friends who seem to talk a lot about their bodies in negative ways. There are many women in my family who are as wide as they are tall. Long ago I accepted that I would never be Twiggy. While I wouldn't mind losing some weight now, (mostly because I don't want my parents' health problems), I've always embraced my muscular build, even knowing I'd never fit in skinny jeans (not even as a 10 year old).

I rarely get to the Friday paper on Friday, and last week was no different. As I worked my way through the Friday/Saturday sections, I came to an article called, "The Amy Effect," about Amy Schumer. If you've been living under a rock, you may not know that Amy Schumer is a raunchily funny comedian, who is very attractive and not built like Twiggy. She stars in Trainwreck, a script she wrote. Most of the article focused on her rise as a comedian, but a few things struck me. Most specifically, a comment about her new movie. "In a post called 'Apatow's Funny-Chubby Community Has New Member,' film and TV critic Jeff Wells criticizes the director for casting the 'unattractive' Schumer. Much debate ensues over whether Wells is hot enough to be a critic."

I have a few questions. First, why is Judd Apatow's community called "Funny-Chubby?" Why isn't it enough to call them funny. Back in 2009, when Seth Rogen, part of Apatow's group, lost weight, critics questioned whether he'd be as funny if he wasn't fat. Did his weight effect his acting ability? More importantly, why is it that a woman has to be stick-like to be beautiful. I think Amy Schumer is lovely (Sean agrees. He's always preferred curves.)

Amy Schumer has curves. So did Marilyn Monroe. Amy Schumer also has a biting humour that's taking on accepted norms. (**warning**) One brilliant take is her video "Last F**kable Day," Ms. Schumer happens upon Patricia Arquette, Tina Fey, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus having a picnic celebration for Ms. Louis-Dreyfus' last day of sexual desirability. (The video is filled with explicit language.) It's a point men never reach. This is clear if you google sexy female/male stars. The men's list is filled with men in their 40's, 50'3 and beyond. The women's list barely has anyone in their 30's. Female sex symbols of the past are constantly eclipsed by new, younger women, whereas, men just seem to get better and better. In the video, Ms. Louis-Dreyfus is very surprised she was able to be f**kable throughout her 40's and into her 50's. We're also reminded that Sally Field once played Tom Hanks love interest and then played his mom.

I have to ask, why, when women should be reaching their peaks in careers, settling into their lives, and being ultimately comfortable in their own skin, we need a new attack on women. When will the world actually realize (not just give lip-service to) the fact that real women have curves, and we're all the better for them!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kallah Classes

I am working on a curriculum for a kallah class. For those who don't know what that is, a kallah is a bride. So these are bride classes, although much of it applies to grooms as well. Kallah classes are common in the Orthodox world, but almost unheard of outside of those circles. When Sean and I were married, not only were there no kallah classes in the Conservative Movement, many teachers would have been uncomfortable, at best, or unwilling, at worst, to have a female rabbinical student in the class. I made do with my own learning, but I wish I had explored it further. It's a lack I try to fill when I work with couples. I believe in the laws of taharat hamishpacha and mikveh as a beautiful and spiritual mitzvah that can have personal and couple benefits.

So what's in a kallah class? That's one of the things I'm trying to figure out. Primarily they were given to explain the laws behind the laws of niddah and taharat hamishpacha (family purity). Exceptional teachers would likely include the things your mother never told you, aka a bit of sex ed. For couples with little contact before, and no intimate contact, it was important to prepare them both for the wedding night and beyond. Turns out, that even for couples who are intimate, this can be important. In my search for information I discovered that today many kallah classes include more sex ed. Some include anatomy. After all, it's been a long time since high school biology, and understanding you body is important for anyone. Others speak of taharat hamishpacha as some sort of war against sin or temptation. And there's the full range in between. As with anything, there are wonderful and terrible classes out there. In many ways, choosing a teacher is like similar to finding your mate. Chemistry and a shared outlook on life is important.

Kallah classes are meant to be more than premarital classes. This you can get through Jewish Family & Child. So why a kallah class? I think that one on one instruction or single gender instruction is different than working with couples. There's a different intimacy and comfort level. A good kallah teacher will build a relationship the bride can use in the future, providing a safe space to ask questions without judgement and with no one else to hear.

In doing my research, speaking both with kallah teachers and with married women, I ask these questions-

  • What do you wish you had known then (at the time of your wedding) that you know now?
  • What was the best part of your kallah class?
  • What was the worst part of your kallah class?
  • What surprised you?
So now, I put this out to you, my readers, not just the brides, not just the married folks, but all of you.

  • If married, what do you wish you had known then that you know now?
  • What was the hardest thing to learn?
  • What surprised you?
  • What advice would you give to someone getting married?
  • What was the worst advice you received?
  • What was the best advice you received?
Thank you in advance for your feedback. I'll keep you posted.

Have a good night.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Most Likely to Marry a Rabbi

Thirty years ago I participated in USY Pilgrimage. It was a summer that profoundly affected my life.

I'm to the right of the sign, in the blue shorts and white T. It was 1985. It was the year JTS ordained the first Conservative woman as a rabbi, the culmination of 15 years of work by Ezrat Nashim, a group founded to study the status of women in Judaism. As USYers we didn't know about that. For us, the status quo remained.

I was one of the few girls on the trip who could lead t'fillot. I'd never learned to read Torah, nor really haftarah, but I knew the prayers. (Thanks Mr. Werfel and USY.) This left me in the position of leading what girls could lead (anything that didn't require a minyan). After many mornings of waiting for 10 boys to get to t'fillot on time, I, with a group of other girls, argued for a women's only minyan. At the end of the summer our group, as all groups before and after, gave out summer awards. My group gave me the "Most Likely to Marry a Rabbi" award since I couldn't be a rabbi. It was the first time anyone suggested anything remotely connected to me becoming a rabbi, although it would be another 3 years before the idea would actually take hold. This finally occurred when my suite mate at Brandeis, Brian Meyers, suggested it to me after an evening of group soul-searching among us liberal arts majors. (We believed we were only suited for grad school.) But once the idea took seed it was settled. I knew it was the right decision.

This is the 30th anniversary of that historic event (both women's ordination and my award). Sean & I were proud to travel to New York for the celebration. I also attended a special women's conference to celebrate the 20th anniversary. I'm in the second row, middle, tweed jacket and black turtleneck with long blond hair.

At my Rabbinical School interview I said my goal was to change the world by reaching out and touching one person at a time. Looking over 30 years from that Pilgrimage summer until now, I realize how lucky I've been to have been a part of this!

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Healthy Jewish Deli or The Way to a Grandchild's Heart is Through His Stomach

As we wandered through tonight's epic search for a salad, I found myself thinking of our recent visit to my parents. Visits to New Jersey are usually punctuated with food. There is the trip to the deli, the kosher Chinese take out, the Italian place that has excellent sushi, and, of course, the bags breakfast on our way out of town. If we're lucky, there are additional trips to Carvel (more likely a Carvel cake bought at the supermarket) and or Dunkin Donuts.

We were only in NJ for a few days, and so time to run from cuisine to cuisine was limited. Nevertheless, we managed (arriving Sunday and leaving Thursday):

Monday- Dinner at Lox, Stock, and Deli, the local kosher deli. There was chicken pot pie, kosher bakery cookies, and lots and lots of pickles. Two-thirds of a large menu page was salads. There was also a salad bar and pepper-encrusted tuna. There were "healthy choices."

Tuesday- a trip to Carvel, the best soft-serve ice cream anywhere on earth. I had a medium chocolate soft-serve with coloured sprinkles. American sprinkle are different than Canadian sprinkles. They are softer, less crunchy and candy-like. They are one of the few things I truly miss about the US. We also purchased chocolate crunch, a crunchy chocolate something that Carvel puts in-between the layers of it's ice-cream cakes to make them the best ever!

Wednesday- Chinese food for dinner, lots and lots, and lots of Chinese food.

Thursday- heading out. As usual we ended our visit with breakfast with M&D at the bagel place. An everything bagel with whitefish salad, this time washed down with a Yoo Hoo, another American food. The bagels to go are almost gone.

After tonight's salad quest, I was amazed at how easy it was to find multiple salad choices in a traditional kosher deli.

L'havdil (and now for something completely different)

A devout hasid dies and goes to heaven. Upon entering he sees an elaborate and beautiful feast. Wondering if it was kosher, he asked ArchAngel Gabriel, "Who's the mashgiach?" Gabriel answers, "The Kadosh Baruch Hu, the Almighty Himself oversees all the food." The hasid replies, "I'll have the fruit plate."

Nighty night y'all.

In Search of a Salad

About a year ago, Sean and I went to a delicious vegetarian Indian restaurant in Buffalo.

Today, we tried to go back.

Palace of Dosas is now a comics and games shop. They sell costumes for cosplay. If we had more time, I might have checked out the Dr. Who section that I'm sure they had. As it was, we were already about 30 minutes behind our plan. After calling 2 more veggie restaurants, one with no answer and one closed on Sundays, we headed into the (not yet) sunset in search of a salad.

It turns out that a salad is much harder to find than one would think. Gone are the days when very restaurant was seeking to attract newly health-conscious clients with delicious salads and expansive salad bars. No more is there a page of salads in the menu.


Buffalo is loyal to it's self-titled, deep fried nosh, the Buffalo wing. Healthy, fresh food is not a priority. It is home to the Anchor Bar, apocryphally the birthplace of the buffalo wing, and to Duff's, the supposed best buffalo wings anywhere. Salads are simply NOT on the menu. If any were to be found, they were either a Greek salad, a mix of iceberg and romaine lettuce with a bit of pepper or cucumber thrown in, or a salad heavily laden with treyf.

With hunger growing we searched, seemingly in vain. At the third place we tried, the hostess remembered there was a place with a salad bar not too far away. "I was just there. It's called Steak and something. No, that's not it..." "Sirloin," I asked, "on Maple" (Maple is the street). "Yes that's it!" We had passed Scotch & Sirloin, writing it off as impossibly treyf and unlikely to have what we needed since it looked small from the outside. A bit dejected, we decided to give it a try, stopping at one more location on the way.

Finally, at our fifth restaurant, the hostess replied, "Yes. We do have a salad bar." "Really?" we asked incredulously. "Table for four." We opened our menu.


  • Clams Casino
  • Clams on the Half Shell
  • Deep Fried Onion Rings
  • Stuffed Hot Banana Peppers, with sausage and cheese stuffing
  • Deep Fried Shrimp
  • Escargot
  • Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail
  • Bacon-wrapped Scallops
Every soup was meat based. There was one vegetarian option and 3 fish options not 100% treyf. The (extremely nice and helpful) server came to tell us the specials. When she described a steak seasoned with "kosher salt" it was all we could do not to burst out laughing. We were in the House of Treyf.

It turns out, not only does Scotch & Sirloin have a lovely salad bar, it costs only $9 for unlimited servings. Clearly this is not their big money maker. Plus, I think the restaurant is bigger on the inside. Dr. Who fans will know what I mean.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Universe Conspired Against Me: Missing the End of an Era

I'm catching up on drafts. I listed a few planned blogs throughout the pain of the past months, but many were never finished. So here I am, finishing the ones I most cared about.

I am an Islanders fan. I grew up in Merrick, a stone's throw from Nassau Coliseum. Officially the Nassau Veteran's Memorial Coliseum, it was also known as the Old Barn. It was a beloved old arena, but sorely outdated. For 43 years the Islanders played there. The Old Barn was spartan. Seats were uncomfortable. The noise echoed in an ear-splitting din that made the building shake. But through it all, the Old Barn was beloved. Not only close to the Coliseum, I grew up in Islanders' heyday. Four Stanley Cups and 19 post-season series. Islanders' players also mingled with fans. I remember seeing players at public rinks. They spoke to us from the tunnel. They'd smile at us from the benches. We felt they were our team. We lived and breathed blue and orange. Even now, I have an Isles' jersey in my closet and a mini hockey stick on my office wall.

This year the Isles played their last game (maybe) in the Old Barn. (Rumor has it they may play a few games in the future). For all of its drawbacks, it was wonderful. Small and intimate, it felt like we were all a family cheering together.

December was the last time I was in the tri-state during hockey season. My last two Isles games were here in Toronto. This trip, my brother and I were planning a trek back to the Coliseum for a game. It was a bad idea. I was suffering from sciatica. Russ was good and sick. Neither of us was up for a two-hour trip to Long Island. Still, we were hopeful. Unfortunately for our plans Russell took Dad to a doctor's appointment. That ran late and into traffic on the way back. They arrived home way too late to start the drive to Uniondale. Simple fate prevented me from attending that final game.
Hindsight, even as it was happening, told me it was for the best. Neither Russell nor I belonged in a car that night. We would have driven 3 1/2 - 4 hours sick and in pain. We would have sat in cramped uncomfortable seats. We would have paid for it dearly in the days after. Still, I wish I had the chance. For the first time in a long time the Isles were playing great. It was a pleasure to watch. Reading the stats raised my spirits. After getting so used to disappointment, I didn't know how to react. What I do know, is it was the way the Isles needed to say goodbye to the Old Barn. In the words (slightly edited to the first person) of Joe Delessio, a writer for Sports on Earth, "it might be a dump, but it was our dump."

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Most Canadian Thing We've Ever Done

This post was meant to be posted in February. I typed the title, then got sidetracked. Driving to Ottawa turned out to be a setback, and between that, work, and life I never finished.

Each year since the first Family Day weekend we have traveled to Ottawa for Winterlude. The first year was accidental. I was trailing on business to Montreal and Ottawa. Sean came to join me in Montreal for Shabbat, and then onto Ottawa. We met up with friends there. My family enjoyed the new Family Day while I had meetings. We returned with those friends the next year.  We stay in a suite hotel near the canal, sharing Shabbat. We walked to the downtown synagogue. Saturday night we'd tour the ice sculptures in Confederation Park. Sunday, we'd head to Gatineau. We ate Beavertails and maple taffy. We drank hot cocoa and scotch.

As the years have passed, the group has grown, and so has the popularity of Winterlude. The children are old enough that we travel with our own minyan. One family in the group owns a Torah, and we share the responsibilities for t'fillot and reading. The crowds also grow each year as Family Day has become ingrained in our calendar. This year, motzei-Shabbat we headed out to see the ice sculptures as usual. We were greeted with rope lines to control the crowds. While standing on line (Yes, I know. If I were really Canadian, I'd say "in line.") one of the teens (also American by birth) described our actions as "the most Canadian thing we've ever done." Here we were, standing on line, in the freezing cold, politely without any pushing. There was an occasional jostle, always followed by "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me."

At this moment our friend shared a story. In a class, with a professor trying to illustrate the differences in regional dialects, the professor asked the students "if you were waiting for a bus, what would you be doing?" Generally there were two answers, "standing in line" or "standing on line." One student, a New Yorker, responded differently. To the question, "if you were waiting for a bus, what would you be doing?" He replied, "Pushing." I'm a New Yorker. To me, and to our American friends, this was an unusual scene, but as we looked on we realized, this was the most Canadian thing we've ever done. In true Canadian fashion, we waited patiently. Took in the sculptures, snapped pictures, and headed over to the Beavertails booth.

Moments With My Daughter

Okay, I shouldn't be typing this. I should be sleeping. But then so should Keren, who is sitting next to me. Why? Because we just finished watching Sleepless in Seattle. We'll go to be in a few minutes.

On Friday we were talking about the movie. Before we could watch it, Keren had to see An Affair to Remember and The Dirty Dozen. We did watch An Affair to Remember, but she only saw the grenade scene from The Dirty Dozen. Then Sleepless in Seattle.

Yes, I will regret this when I wake at 8-ish tomorrow morning, but it was so nice to share this time and laugher with my daughter. Even though I know I should be sleeping more, I hate to sacrifice these special moments. They fly by just too quickly.

Nighty night.

Pain & Perspective II

It's been 4 1/2 months since I've been blogging. When I last wrote about this I thought I was back; if not totally well, then better. What I learned was better is not enough. In many ways worse was actually better. When I was worse I could focus solely on getter better. As I healed I returned to regular activity, but I wasn't better. Regular activity left me sore and achey. 10 months later there are still things I can't do. I've resumed driving, but too much leaves me in pain. Long trips are almost unbearable, but no longer unavoidable. My garden is a disaster, with not hope in sight. After five years it was finally at a point where I could control and build it. Next year will be like starting over. Working two days in a row causes me pain. I simply can't sit at a desk that long. Looking at a computer screen, whether at work or at home is a problem. By the end of the day I can't bear to spend more time on the computer, whether email, Facebook, or blogging. Shopping is impossible. I keep trying, but pushing a shopping cart, packing bags, or loading and unloading groceries mean days of painkillers.

There are still adjustments. Mornings are longer and later . I need to do my stretches each morning, but earlier wake up times leave me exhausted. My sleep still isn't what it used to be. For the kids, this meant they were still getting to school late, even on days when I drove them. I've learned to automatically turn by body in bed and slide my legs straight off instead of swinging them down. Two days of swinging my legs causes pain in my right knee (my so-called good knee). I remind myself to change my position often. When cooking, I try to remember to wear crocs and stand on a pad. The floor is simply too hard.

I'd like to think the pain will still go away, but I'm beginning to doubt. I've learned the interconnectedness of my body. I tore cartilage in my right knee. That will never heal; beyond occasional pain it's not debilitating. So, no surgery. I understand and agree. Unfortunately this caused me to walk oddly. That caused the sciatica, which led me to to meds and lack of aerobic exercise, plus (admittedly) some stress eating (more on that later). This led to weight gain, causing more problems with the back and the knee. I've also noticed what I think is arthritis in my big toe. My entire right side now needs replacement.

I've also realized that the worst of it all is exhaustion. It's all I can do to get through a day. I move slower. Tasks take twice the time, and my days are longer. On Shabbat my body shuts down. My body knows, subconsciously, that Shabbat is a day for rest. It's not unusual for me to fall asleep early Friday night, followed by 6-7 hours of sleep on Saturday.

Of course this isn't all, but that is another entry. For now, it's time I took more time for myself, more time to relax, to shut down, to sleep. I need to get back to exercising. I need to revamp my diet, no more grabbing whatever's easy. I have to plan menus making sure the right foods are in the house. Sean and the kids were wonderful, but in the end, if I don't make my meals (at least breakfast and lunch and plan dinner) the are inevitably things I shouldn't eat, leaving me hungry and needy. I need to sleep enough each night, difficult due to pain and the piles of papers and projects that have built up through the past ten months.

Most of all I need to try to put me first. I'll let you know how that goes.