Monday, May 17, 2010

THIS Shavuot

Until Shavuot people didn’t know how to slaughter and prepare the meat in a kosher way. In addition, they had to kosher their pans and utensils. If you have ever helped anyone kosher a kitchen you know it can be a weeklong event. So on Shavuot people turn to milk and milk products with don’t require this type of preparation.
In the “modern world” cheesecake and blintzes are some of the celebratory fare for the day. I love cheesecake, but it doesn’t love me. I am lactose intolerant. This seems like kind of a cosmic joke-one I’m not in on. Maybe G-d wants me to know that the world doesn’t revolve around me. (A little fact I’m already onto, thanks so much.) Maybe it just G-d’s sense of humor… I don’t know. When I think of all those giant glasses of milk my grandmother tried to coax down my throat…and her frustration when I wouldn’t or couldn’t finish them. Sometimes she would put extra cream or sweetened canned milk in them, thinking that would somehow make them more appealing. And although I know she meant well, I have to tell you that making milk milky-ier or more creamy is clearly not the way to go for someone who doesn’t like milk. Maybe she should have added some coffee. In fact, she did let me finish her coffee in her giant cup, lots of milk and sugar when I was a kid sitting in her lap. It was different time, I guess because people would look at me cross-eyed if I offered a child coffee in this day and age.
I saw this as an extreme kindness. Sitting on her aproned lap in her warm and cozy kitchen sipping cooling coffee from a mug that may have been a cereal bowl it was so large, and her coaxing me to see if I could see the flower. A rose was painted into the bottom of her cup. Hmmmmmmm.
The problem of being lactose intolerant, and I use the term “problem” for lack of another, won’t keep me from enjoying Shavuot, or cheesecake for that matter. (I have one in the freezer right now! I take a little pill, well two, and hope for the best. But I digress.) I am happy to have a service to go to and besides being happy to celebrate the giving of the Torah, I will also be able to participate in yizkor service and say the memorial prayers for my family members, including my grandmother.
I think my grandmother gave me something I couldn’t see except in retrospect. She used to take down my hems before the new school year, having me try on dresses in the afore mentioned kitchen; she would rub my frozen feet when I came in and me sit in a strategically placed chair my feet warming in the oven; she made me a farfel stuffing once when it seemed like I just would not survive the cooking smells of waiting for the turkey to be done, and I miss her. Most importantly, she gave me a place in my life that was completely safe. She also gave me clear rules and made her feelings known when she thought I (or anyone else) hadn’t behaved well.
Maybe receiving the Torah is a little like that. We can only really appreciate it in retrospect. I mean besides the fact that we weren’t there, we don’t dwell on who we would have been without it anymore than I had given a lot of thought to who I would have grown up to be without my grandmother’s care and direction. I love her and miss her, but most days I take it for granted. Maybe we fall into a false sense of feeling like it’s all us…especially in culture where we so value independence.
This Thursday we all have a chance to celebrate the giving of the Torah. I suggest that a little meditation on how it impacts our lives, who we have grown up to be, is well overdue. The Rabbi calls it the forgotten Jewish holiday, because people tend to gloss over it. Would you receive a gift without sending a thank you card? If so shame on you. If you can’t come to service, at least give it some thought. Also, call your grandma.

Monday, May 10, 2010

To Kosher or Not To Kosher?

That is the question. Where it is nobler to suffer the slings and arrows of judgmental people from either camp…or to quit, to stay, or just to dream (of snappy comebacks). Literary allusions aside, the question is a loaded one. While some keep kosher and always have, some come to it later on their own terms or seem to just grow into it, with plenty of variations in between. In every variation people weight in, I am sure.
My experience when I moved to a new town, where unfortunately kosher kitchens are few and far between, and kosher stores are nonexistent, was one of questioning. People asked not only if I kept a kosher kitchen (a fair enough question if you’re the Rabbi’s wife) but also asked, “why?”
It took me a bit to realize that this was a rhetorical question at best. It was often followed by a litany of negative comments such as: “Why would someone keep kosher in this day and age?” Why indeed. Sometimes a question is not a question. Another, less eloquent comment was: “That’s just stupid.” If this were an isolated incident, I likely would have let it go. So, why all the hostility?
Why I keep kosher is not important. (Okay, it is but that’s another article.) But if you don’t, at least respect my choice and commitment. I have never said that people should do as I do. Maybe this should-ing and some shame was the expectation and my experience was one of a ‘get them before they get me’ mindset. I don’t know. I never asked. I was little bit of a chicken and didn’t want to listen to anymore ranting and rhetoric. Besides last time a rather embarrassed looking spouse had to step in and put an end to it.
After some meditation on this particular phenomenon, I have come up with questions of my own: Why should it be wedge between us?
I haven’t thought about this for sometime. Since moving here I have been occupied by things such as arranging and unpacking, making friends and services, holidays and helping people. In the mean time, I tried to get the local market chain to add a kosher meat section, to no avail. We can get most other items as they tend to be mixed in at the local grocery stores. So far we’ve coped by running out to a near city about an hour and twenty minutes away. I’m glad to say the owner has been really supportive about us phoning in orders-which makes pick up a matter of minutes. We drive over and there is a box, closed with packing tape and out name magic markered on the top waiting for us in the cooler. He also has let’s me put in more than one order at a time and we pick them up for the local people. Soon we might need a larger car, especially around the holidays. Also, one of the women had me over to help kosher her kitchen. Her two year old holds up products in the market now and declares whether they are kosher or not. She has also orchestrated “hechsher hunts” for children to help them identify food that they can eat.
While she did all these things on her own, she tells me that I was influential. (I am flattered.) But I am not sure of what, if anything I did. Maybe the mitzvah has a pull all it’s own. Maybe that’s what everyone is so afraid of.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When is a question is not a question?

When is a question is not a question?

We all do it. Further, and more incisively, we all hear it in conversation directed at us. The most universal of these is, “Are you wearing that?” a close cousin to the more cutting, “Is THAT what you’re wearing?” The over use of this has made it more recognizable, even comic, but what about the more subtle ‘question that is not a question.’
At a recent Chanukah party one of the children asked me, “Is this all we’re eating?” Which really means, I don’t want latkes; I want you to offer me something else. Since I was busy serving a room full of people, I did not. Also, I had some preparation as she asked me this same question last year, and possibly the year before. She also asks me at the Seder, only this version is, “What else are we having?” usually during the second course. I’m not sure, but I have taken this to mean-I don’t know if I should ask for more soup or if I should wait and see if I like the meat course. It’s subtle enough that her parents and grandparents don’t correct her. (Although they don’t correct her about much, so I don’t know if this is a good measurement or not.)
I had a friend in the brief space between high school and college whom I sometimes traveled with. “Are you ironing your clothes to go to the beach?” She wanted to know. Since I was standing in front of the TV next to a full sized ironing board, my dependable and often used Sunbeam steaming away as it rested, and an opened suitcase on the floor next to me, I am pretty sure she wasn’t just curious. “Yes,” I answered, taking a moment away from my folding to look around at these artifacts then back at her over my glasses in answer. “Duh,” I wanted to add.
“Why would you iron just to pack for the beach?” she asked. “I would never iron all my clothes just to go to the beach…” she explicated.
“I would never wear a blouse I found under the couch out to dinner.” She had preformed this a few nights previous, shaking the dust and dog hair off before donning said shirt and it was as good a comparison as any.
“It fell there!”
“Clearly,” I answered and raised my eyebrows.
“We could never live together, could we?” she sighed.
“No, we could not,” I answered and her face fell. The receiving end of that comment was clearly a different experience for her than making it, which hadn’t seemed to bother her at all. Besides, the thinking goes, if it is in the form of a question you haven’t really said anything, right?
My friend was a smart girl. Well, she still is smart, but not my friend anymore. Unfortunately, she also asks questions under the disguise of asking what you would prefer and then tries to argue you out of it. After telling her several times that I don’t like this, it makes me feel manipulated. She not only couldn’t stop, but also defended this habit.
“I’m Italian,” she said, as if this explained everything.
“I’m not,” I answered. Sometimes the problem with being told you are smart your whole life it that one tends to start thinking of others as not so smart. Not only not the case, but not a great relationship maker. In all honesty, sometimes I didn’t care how we did things, one way or another; it was more the feeling of having my opinion discounted or my own choice wrench away from me, after being asked for them, that made me feel manipulated and disrespected. “Why not just SAY what it is you want?” I asked once. Then we could either agree or disagree, I thought. It would save a lot of time, not to mention feelings and eventually a relationship.
More recently my husband asked me, “Are you going to take the GPS?” when we were setting off on a short trip to a nearby city. I was a little prickly anyway as we had had a disagreement the evening before.
“Do you want me to bring the GPS?” I asked. He was, after all, the one driving. He nodded. “Why not just say so?” I said under my breath.
“What’s that?” he wanted to know.
“Nothing.” I muttered………… Uh oh.