Magic Jewball

all signs point to no


Challah back!

Filed under : Judaism,New York City
On October 31, 2008
At 12:30 am
Comments : 8

This is one of those things that I have no idea if you’ll find as funny as I do. Not even if you were there. But my neighborhood is dotted with little Kosher shops (and they get bigger… they all inevitably expand or move to larger storefronts) and at one certain one, the cashiers are all Caribbean accented ladies who smile at you a lot and hand back your credit card the second after they swipe it. They trust you, you see. This isn’t the funny part, even to me.

The thing is, they know more about Kosher products than you and I ever will. Even if you’re Jewish and Kosher. This afternoon, I went there because I needed a cake. I know, I never buy cakes, but I have no kitchen and it’s hard to come up with one without paying someone else to bake it. And I’m going away for the weekend and must bring my hosts a cake. Believe me, I know you are currently thinking of the Seinfeld episode with the babka, and I did, in fact, get them a babka. This is because I can’t make babka and I don’t want them to say something along the lines of, “mmmmm, these rugelach are WAY better than the ones you make… try to bring these from now on, would you?” Actually, my cousin is British and extremely polite and would never say such a thing, especially if she thought it. She is one of those people who make you want to live the lifestyle of an observant Jew simply because of the way the sabbath goes on. You see, there’s always a lot of food and preparation, every single week, and so five seconds into any conversation, any day of the week, they will say, “do you want to come for shabbos?” Because there’s always enough for you, a room, food, etc. and it’s taken for granted that guests won’t be a burden but rather enhance the host’s life. I think this is kind of the way the South is portrayed in Gone With the Wind, except I won’t be staying for several months or years. But it’s like that. So I’ve had Mammy pack up my trunks to have shabbos in Atlanta. And by Atlanta I mean Bergen County, New Jersey.

Anyway! So I was there and the Caribbean ladies are all in one row, that’s the way it works. The one next to my smiling cashier was on the phone with a customer and it went like this, “A choc-o-late chip challah? I’ll check but what kind do you want? Zomick’s? Bagel Citee? Zadie’s? Oh never mind Zadie’s, there’s no choc-o-late chip. Rita! See if we have a choc-o-late chip, any kind. Oh pull-apart is all we have, she says. You know, pull apart [slight impatience]. Pull-apart challah!” It was kind of awesome the way she had to explain to the Jewish customer what a pull-apart challah was. It almost made me believe that Kingston was actually Bagel City, mon.

Maybe you had to be there. And by there I mean the Upper West Side of the Caribbean.

Todd Rundgren – Bread


Tempus fugit

Filed under : Life in general,Music
On October 27, 2008
At 10:00 pm
Comments : 4

What are the benchmarks of your life? You know, the things that make you realize how much time has passed? Your high school or college reunions? Round decade New Years? For me, it’s Simon LeBon’s birthday. How crazy is that? But once, a long time ago, a young Duran Duran fan was listening to the WLIR morning show before going off to grade school when a caller-in announced the fact that, since it was Simon LeBon’s birthday and since it was his 25th, then it was only fifteen years till he would be forty! Egads! The horror! That was like…. my parents’ age or something close to it. I was amazed and awed by this fact and told all my friends, who were all also suitably shocked. These were cute guys! And one of them might be forty in an amount of time we could wrap our heads around. It was a stunning piece of news.

Since Simon LeBon’s birthday was exactly three weeks after mine, I still had the banner which said happy birthday that my friends had draped across my desk and I hung it up that day. I did not take it down for over twenty years.

You might think that I forgot that (well, clearly I didn’t, I’m recounting it right now), but I didn’t. As a matter of fact, exactly fifteen years later, I was in Madison Square Garden to see Depeche Mode with North of the City (duh, I always see DM with North – we’re going to Zagreb in the Spring!) and I told her this very story. And the punch line was, Simon LeBon was forty years old today! It had happened! Ha! Actually, the real punch line was that he looked fifty, but no matter.

Yes, now you know what today’s punch line is. It’s twenty-five years since WLIR’s morning show and ten years since the Depeche Mode concert. Simon LeBon is fifty years old today. And looks sixty. Happy birthday, Simon! And thanks, anonymous caller, I never forgot you either.

Remember when Simon looked like this? No, me either.

By the way, I just finished Andy Taylor’s autobiography (I know! Who knew he could write? Or read.) and it’s well worth it should you be looking for behind the scenes stories about two decades too late. Also, anything bad about anyone is immediately followed by “But to be fair, he’s just a high-spirited guy! or “But I’m sure I was awful too.” Whatever, Andy!

But, I am here to tell you what you always wanted to know but were never stalkery enough to check. Andy Taylor, Simon LeBon, and Nick Rhodes’ kids are all friends on Facebook. You’re welcome!

Title comes from (well not originally, but for me):
Yes – Tempus Fugit

As far as Duran Duran, I’ve already used my top two songs, New Religion and Careless Memories, so let’s go with #3, the song so creepy the Deftones remade it.
Duran Duran – The Chauffeur


Tales from the kitchen wars

Filed under : Life in general
On October 24, 2008
At 1:00 pm
Comments : 3

I know, I know, I’m terribly lucky to be getting a new kitchen. But life isn’t the easiest at the moment. For one thing, I’ve eaten more sodium these past few weeks than a deer at a salt lick. For another, I have little control over my own surroundings. It’s delightful to come home on the night of the first hard freeze to see that your window has been left open and utterly blocked in. Oh, and all my plants are dead. I didn’t used to have plants but Sarpon gave me some. My contractor cheerfully told me not to worry about being able to reach them to water them. “They’re dead!” Awesome.

My contractor has a way of telling you bad news in a “this difficulty has arisen… but I will solve it!” way that scares you utterly. If it’s that difficult, how can it be fixed? Such as, “your sink is too big for the cabinet! But I will make it fit.” I was really bad at physics but this just doesn’t seem right.

If you know me, and some people actually do, you know I am not a really demanding person. In fact, I’m more a, “well OK, so I wanted it that way and it’s completely different… no worries.” Luckily, my contractor is the opposite. One of my outlets was one foot away from where it was supposed to be. Whatevs! But this upset my contractor so deeply that I began to think he was the one who killed my plants. Later I came home and the outlet had been moved. If Johnson, the only worker still around from two weeks ago, doesn’t show up on time next time, apparently he will be fired. I’d be saying, “don’t worry about it, Johnson… cookie?” I think I probably wouldn’t do too well as a contractor. Today when I left, I made the mistake of saying, “have a nice day!” My contractor shouted back, “if something gets done around here, I’ll have a nice day!” That was when I realized that eating Amy’s frozen meals and having every possession coated with fine dust and having your bathroom suddenly smell like something strange are nothing compared to losing money. Because it costs me the same no matter what. I’m not paying for Johnson. Which is what I told that guy who propositioned me. Rimshot!

You may recall that my contractor is from Brooklyn and has hooked me up with everything kitchen that Brooklyn can provide. The other day, I went to look at granite and while the sales guy called their other branch to see if my granite style was there, the boss engaged me in conversation. He had one of the thickest Brooklyn accents you can imagine and he sized me up and said, “are you from around here? Because there’s something familiar about you.” The conversation went like this.

Me: Well, no, but my father is.
Him: From Brooklyn?
Me: Yes
Him: Where?
Me: Midwood
Him: Get out of here! Did he play handball?
Me: Yes! He was a handball champion! I have all his trophies.
Him: I am getting a weird feeling. What’s his name?
Me: [redacted common Jewish name]
Him: That sounds familiar!
Me, thinking there are probably 200 [common Jewish names] in Brooklyn: OK!
Him: Did he know Frankie Italianname? How about Johnny OtherItalianname?
Me: Uhhhh…
Him: Did he play boxball? How about punchball? What about [names three or four more games that have slipped my mind]?
Me: Uhhh… so about that granite…
Him: What about slapball?

So that was fun. Then I went to the tile store in Borough Park where Sandro Italianname helped convince me that I still liked the original tile I had picked out three months earlier, all the while calling out orders in Italian. I think the Jews were all in their tabernacles. I did not ask him if he played punchball.

Then I went home and my outlet had moved again. I believe Carlos Spanishname did that one. Either that or Alex Unidentifiableaccent-Hotguy. But it was good. I was terribly, terribly upset at that first placement.

As a reminder, kitchen progress (ha!) photos are here. Nothing visible has happened since that last one or I’d give you something more recent. Never mind, put a few things up.

The Alan Parsons Project – Games People Play


Jew & A: Sukkot

Filed under : Jew & A,Judaism
On October 20, 2008
At 11:00 am
Comments : 6

As I mentioned yesterday, this week is the holiday of Sukkot (it began last week, actually) and we have a timely question on the topic. Actually, if you would like me to handle your question without a months long delay, this is an excellent method of making that happen. And away we go!

Irishcardinal asks:

Tell me about Sukkot. I saw a family on campus the first day of Sukkot. The father and small son wore embroidered yarmulkes,and had strings showing below their vests. The mom was carrying what looked like a wooden spear,about the size of a baseball bat,with some greenery attached at the bottom of it–is that anything related to Sukkot? In past years, I have seen a Sukkot hut on campus, but it wasn’t in plain sight this year. My sister wants to know what do people in big cities living in high rise apts. do for Sukkot huts?

The first year I wrote this blog, I described most of the holidays to an extent and then didn’t really want to repeat myself but of course, no one who was reading the blog on day one is still here (I believe they all shot themselves) and most of my regular readers now weren’t around the first year. I have no scientific proof of this but everyone knows that 78% of people like to make up statistics.

Anyway, if you would like to read the first year Sukkot post, it is here but if you don’t, I’m happy to expand upon it in this space plus answer your specific questions.

So! First things first. Sukkot is an eight day (seven in Israel) holiday that commemorates the time spent in the desert after the exodus from Egypt and before reaching the land of Israel. During that time, the Israelites lived in sukkot, or temporary booths. Like the other two main festivals (this doesn’t include the high holidays), Passover and Shavuot, it also has an agricultural component. Sukkot is a time of special rejoicing and is also called the “Festival of Joy.” One reason for this is that there was much trouble when the Israelites reached the promised land and they looked back at the time in the desert as a simple life and a more innocent time.

The yarmulkes and strings are actually daily things and probably had nothing to do with Sukkot. Some yarmulkes do have embroidery. They come in all kinds of fun designs. For instance, the one at left. The strings were probably Tzitzit, which is a four-cornered garment with strings attached at the end that Jews are commanded to wear to remind them of the commandments (all 613, not just the ten big ones). Most denominations that follow this commandment interpret that to mean just men, so few women do this. Most do it just during prayers, as a kind of shawl (Tallit), but many more religious people wear it as an undergarment even outside daily services. Many people let the strings hang out, Modern Orthodox businessmen tend not to. This allows me to tell Brothers 1 & 2, “you have a tzitz hanging out.”

The strings have all kinds of special knots that mean special things. Too many to list here but if you are interested, here is a description from Wikipedia.

The wooden baseball bat spear was probably a lulav and was no doubt accompanied by a baseball sized fruit (OK, it’s smaller but I wanted to carry along the analogy, forgive me) which looks like a lemon and is called an etrog. Together, these constitute the four species (the lulav has some other species attached) which are used in various ceremonies and for certain blessings on Sukkot. The four species are: palm, willow, myrtle, and citron (that’s the etrog). This is based on the Biblical verse, “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook (Leviticus 23:40).” The Talmud, which is the place where the Rabbis asked all the “but what does the Torah mean by blah blah?” questions, is where we learn which plants that line means exactly. The palm branch, or lulav, is the biggest and why the whole thing is called a lulav. The branches of myrtle (hadasim) and willow (aravot) are attached at the bottom and tied together with strands of palm. The citron (etrog) is separate.

As always, there’s the “because the Torah says so” aspect and the, “but what could be the meaning behind this?” question. There are a couple of different common interpretations, other than the fact that, as I mentioned, Sukkot is an agricultural celebration. The first is that the four species represent parts of the body:

Palm (that’s the tall, straight one) = spine
Myrtle (oval shaped leaf) = eye
Willow (long oval shaped leaf) = mouth
Citron = heart

This is interpreted to mean that all parts of the body must come together in the worship of the Lord.

The second is that each represents a different kind of Jew:

Citron, which has a good taste and a good smell, is the person who is both learned in Torah and performs Mitzvot (commandments), i.e., is a good person.
Palm, which has a good taste but no smell, is the person who is learned in Torah but performs few Mitzvot.
Myrtle, which has a strong smell but no taste, is the person knows little Torah but still performs Mitzvot.
Willow, which has neither taste nor smell, is the person who knows no Torah and performs no Mitzvot

All the species are held together closely so as to represent the unity we desire for the Jewish people – all types. But both of these demonstrate essential themes of unity and interdependence. If you’ve ever built a sukkah, you know that this theme is pretty important. I used to hold the nails. The other available job was sitting on the roof and throwing branches onto the top of the sukkah. Yes, I doled out the nails.

So, good segue for the next topic: the hut, which is called a Sukkah and why the whole holiday is called Sukkot. It’s the other main thing about the holiday; the title role, shall we say. As I said, it represents the temporary dwellings in which the Israelites lived in the desert on the way to the promised land. In balmy Israel, it’s a lovely outdoor thing. In the Northeastern US, it’s a reason to buy leggings and a new sweatshirt. The requirement is that you eat every meal possible in the sukkah and even sleep there if you are able. If you live in a big city, there are several options.

1. Some buildings do have sukkahs. Pious B’s does. If you have a courtyard or roof garden and a willing building management, it can be done. You see them quite often.
2. You go away to your friends and family who live in the suburbs. If not for the whole holiday, than the holy days at the beginning and end or the sabbath in the middle. That’s what I did!
3. Most synagogues and many Kosher restaurants have sukkahs. Since there’s pretty much a synagogue on every other block in Manhattan, this isn’t very difficult. Other large cities like, say, Dublin, may not have this convenience.

In conclusion, Rays in six.

Thanks for asking!

Peter, Paul & Mary – Lemon Tree


iPod Song of the Week – Siouxsie & the Banshees

Filed under : iPod Song of the Week
On October 19, 2008
At 9:30 pm
Comments :Comments Off on iPod Song of the Week – Siouxsie & the Banshees

I briefly mentioned that I had been in Albany last week for the beginning of the Sukkot holiday but I didn’t say why, mostly because I didn’t have the time to explain. See, I had a few things to tell the governor about the ridiculous tax New Yorkers have to pay on Internet purchases and… oh, I kid! Despite the fact that I hate that tax mightily and think it’s incredibly stupid, I had other fish to fry. And that fish was my BFF from HS, Christine. Christine didn’t actually go to my high school but rather lived one town over and went to public school anyway. It should seem obvious that she didn’t go to Yeshiva by her name except that that isn’t really her name. And I didn’t invent that just to disguise her on my blog but rather, that was always what I called her. It’s a long story and this isn’t going to be a long post so there we are.

Anyway, Christine and her delightful family live up in Albany now and she is a professor at SUNY (I’ve always had really smart friends; it’s a curse, I tell you). I actually sat in on one of her classes, silently regretting all the times I sat through my own college classes eating, giggling with my friends, or just reading a book (the woman right next to me was doing that last one and we were in the front row!). Just another thing to add to my “when they invent time machines” list.

Christine and I share many 80’s earworms: Squeeze, Depeche Mode, Yaz…. but this is the song that I used to sing at her all the time (I usually sing at people as they beg me to stop) and still makes me think of her, even though I don’t see her very often these days. Siousxsie & the Banshees are known for their darker, grimmer, more Gothic numbers but this one is like a puff of 60’s-pop-tinged whipped cream. It’s light, it’s melodic, and the lyrics about the strawberry girl/banana-split lady always make me want to eat sweets. Kind of like my friend, Christine.

Siouxsie & the Banshees – Christine

Streaming audio available on the iPod Song of the Week page.