Friday, December 30, 2005

Chanike and YOU!

I am about to be bitter and irritable.

Over at DovBer's, Doobeedoo kindly offered us this bit-o-learning:

Since Adam Harishon saw [after he sinned] that the day was becoming shorter, he said, "Woe is to me! Perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark on me and returning to emptiness, and this is the death that was decreed upon me from Heaven." He immediately sat and fasted eight days. When he saw the winter season [or, winter solstice], and saw that the day was lengthening, he said, "It is the nature of the world." He went and celebrated eight days. The following year he made both these [the eight days of fast] and these [the eight days of celebration] as holidays. He established them for the sake of Heaven, whereas they [the heathens] established them for idolatry. (Avoda Zara 8a)

This reminded me, immediately, of the class at Leo Baeck College where Rabbi Chaim Maccaby (yes, that's his real name), delivered a lecture on the history and customs of Chanike, and then cheerfully told us "And it works! The sun always comes back."

I do have to admit to a couple questions here, the main one being who the heathens Adam haRishon is being compared to are. Are these contemporaries of his? How many people are running around at this point, and have the others already gone off the (very short) derech? But I'm going to think about that later, now I am going to talk about Chanike...and...YOU! Or at least me.

The Judeoblogosphere is hopping right now, with the signficance or lack thereof of this holiday. One thing that's been made very clear is that the dreidl does not actually date back to the days of Maccabees. I am devastated. (Actually, I'm kidding, and there seem to be some people out there who really are upset by the news, so I'll shut up.)

I love Chanike. For sheer fun it is hard to beat. Not too much in the way of ritual requirements. Good food. Gelt. Candles. Not as hectic as Purim. Not as depressing as Tisha b'Av. (Rather the converse, in fact.)

But Chanike is also the Jewish holiday that provides me with the most occasions for aggravation about the perception and role of all things Jewish in American life. I have never wanted to sock anyone over Purim, or Sukkot, or Yom Kippur. Chanike--oy, Chanike.

I was raised on the mantra that this is a very minor holiday, that had odd fortune of ending up playing opposite Christmas, and has thereby had its meaning misunderstood, and its importance inflated by analogy. This has some truth to it, as does the observation that this couldn't have happened to a more staunchly anti-assimilation-themed holiday. Oh, the irony.

What I notice as an adult, is that Chanike produces a bizarre reaction in many non-Jewish and some Jewish Americans. Reactions of embarassment, defensiveness, cutesyness, and a mad drive to syncretize.

Does anyone remember the Friends episode with the Holiday Armadillo? In some sort of attempt to prevent his son from being influenced by Santa, Ross ends up dressed as an armadillo. Chandler is Santa. Joey is Superman. I do not remember the exact details. What I do remember is a series of gags which basically revolved around the hilarity of Jews having this other holiday...sides splitting...and the line to the effect of, "If Santa and the Holiday Armadillo are in the room together for more than a few minutes, the world will end," which would have been funnier if there wasn't every indication the producers thought it might be true. At the end, there's a final gag about how Ross and Monica don't remember the candlelighting broche, and then--and this was what amazed me most--as they finally begin to sing a Chanike song together, the camera rushes out of the room, and hovers outside the window, apparently getting a decent distance between itself and a brother and sister, and a small child, celebrating the holiday of Chanike with no Christmas gags in sight.

Yeah. It's kind of like that.

I see people--fairly sane people--leaping on the whole misbegotten 'Chrismukkah' thing like it was a liferaft. "OH THANK GOD! THIS SOLVES THE PROBLEM OF THEM HAVING THIS OTHER HOLIDAY!" Because the Balabusta has a mixed Jewish-Catholic family, people send her every BLOODY Chrismukkah thing that comes their way. I just got a detailed gag e-mail which details plans to merge Christmas and Chanike into the 15 Days of Chrismukkah.

Ah, people, come on. Can we just leave the holiday alone? It's not hurting anything. It just sits and simmers in too much olive oil.

You want to know what fuels this? Honestly, it's that there are NO other "Winter Holidays". Seriously. When I was in college we did this whole annual event--beautiful--called 'The Festival of the Light and Dark', which was a big intercultural winter festivity thing. What you notice is this: There's Christmas, which is the reason for the season. Then there's Chanike. Then there's Kwanzaa, which is usually considered the third of the Big Three, but was consciously placed where it is to fall into the Christmas season, and so, in my mind, is not a totally separate phenomena, although it has a separate ritual and concept.

Then there's the Solstice--except that, honestly, the people who celebrate the winter Solstice as a pagan holiday are disproportionately from families that are or were Christian within a generation or so, and they often observe Western Christmas customs that were originally pagan customs later syncretized to Christmas, so calling it a separate holiday, culturally, is kind of borderline.

And then there's...Diwali. Which is really a fall holiday that sometimes comes late, like say November, and no one knows a thing about it outside the Hindu community, except that it's got LIGHTS, and is LIKE THE OTHER WINTER HOLIDAYS. And then there's...ummm...welll...every Muslim holiday gets celebrated at this time of year sooner or later. 52 year cycle. And we had a Sikh participant, who just sort of gave up and played gorgeous prayer music because we really wanted her to be there, and there' ELSE.

Chanike is the ringer. And it makes people nuts, because if they could just figure out how to corral it, we could have a totally pleasant holiday season, and no one would have to feel any awkwardness about people being different from one another. Except for Hindus. And Muslims. And people who celebrate Kwanzaa. But the impression I get is, strongly, that if the Jews would just bloody cooperate, we could get somewhere with this monthlong celebration of twinkly lights and good will toward men.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Culture and Condiment

No, that's not an undiscovered Jane Austen novel, it's an annual Chanike (following some discussion of the spelling of the holiday over at Mirty's, I've decided to go with the phonetic Yiddish transliteration--phonetic for how I say it, anyway) conflict that happens at my house every year.

I like latkes. The fella likes latkes fine. The only problem is, the fella likes latkes with ketchup.

Now, I was raised in a home, where we eat latkes with applesauce and sour cream like normal people. My mom sometimes even makes applesauce out of apples, the real stuff (although out of the jar is also nice). I love sour cream like a maniac, so this a particularly nice holiday as far as I'm concerned. Chanike rocks. Get me more applesauce and sour cream. Keep grating.

I like latkes. I've made latkes for the fella's family on Christmas Eve, and I made carrot latkes for Thanksgiving one year. I sometimes just make them when it's not even Chanike for no apparent reason.

Latkes are lovely.

Oh yeah, there was a reason for this post. The fella. And the ketchup problem.

He defends this weird condiment decision by insisting that it is, in fact, completely logical, rational, and normal. He argues like this. Latkes are a potato product. A grated, fried, potato product. Therefore, as one would put ketchup on a french fry, or even more similarly, a hash brown, you should be able to put ketchup on a latke.

A couple of years ago, we went on vacation together to England and Ireland, and fairly easily fed ourselves throughout on those incredible huge B&B breakfasts. It worked out well. He got all the pork--sausage, rashers, etc., and I got both eggs, and any fried mushrooms, and we split the toast. When we went to Ireland, there was the addition of 'hash browns' which the fella rejected because they were damp and eggy, and not hash brown like enough. I tasted. Kugel. Actually, I think it was once known in Ireland as 'boxty', but basically, kugel. I ate it.

I try not to be judgemental about the ketchup. I actually know of other people, including at least one Jew, who eat them like this. It just seems WRONG, though. He's tried them with applesauce. He doesn't like sour cream. But faced with a potato product, he just reverts to ketchup.

The children will eat them with applesauce. And that is ALL I have to say on the matter.

Post Christmas Report Extras

About the Hungarian Horntail--the whole world was out, so we sent horse books instead. I'm trying not to feel too defeated by this--I did TRY.


We got to SEE presents being unwrapped, at machetenim's house outside Army base in Europe, via Google's streaming video service. I was amazed. We could see--jerkily, and a little light-smeared, but SEE, the fella's parents in Hawaii and his sister's place in Italy. We could hear them, and type messages to them. Also, the fella's brother-in-law was able to conference in from Afghanistan, and type messages while watching his kid unwrap her Christmas presents.

It was very, very cool. I had no idea you could do something like this on such a low-tech set-up.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Bird and Fish News

My mother brought the birds Christmas gifts--snacks and toys for the parakeet, and then snacks for the cockatiels as well, so they wouldn't feel left out. Everyone is having snacks for Chanukkah right now.

The friendlier one rode on my shoulder for a while this afternoon. The other one stayed on the cage, and they beeped back and forth at each other. "Chirp? Ya still okay over there?" "Chirp. Yeah, fine."

I have to change the water at least a couple times a day--they mess it up quickly. They're very happy to get fresh, and will swoop down on it and drink several sips to celebrate getting the new batch. This is new--the parakeet has actually been seen drinking maybe three or four times. And we have had him for years. Maybe he hydrates secretly in the dead of night.

Also in pet news, I went in to school today to clean my classroom and make plans, and also to feed the fish. The fish, thank God, were OK, the janitors feed them over break, but are on break themselves now. Luckily, these fish seem to need nothing much to survive just fine. I gave them some food, which they ignored, as usual. They don't pay attention to their food, I think it just all mushes into their little biosphere and when they feel like it, they eat something. The building was not too cold, which was my big fear. I put some more water in the tank.

Last night I dreamed they were dying because I'd left them without food, and someone had dripped paint in their tank. But then I also dreamed that someone had moved dozens of tanks of fish into my classroom. Stress dreams.

Tomorrow, I update my resume, and possible check out the YMCA.

Sharon's Diet

Will people just stop going on about how we need to put Sharon on a diet? WORLD LEADERS are getting in on this.

Yes, Arik could stand to lose a few pounds, but come on! Cheney gasps and turns blue, and the world hardly bats an eye. On a regular basis he does this. Sharon has a tiny little heart attack, and the world goes nuts. Bush starts sending low-cal salad dressing recipes, like an Israeli doesn't know from salad.

Some points:

The man's 77 years old. He was born in 1928.

For a Jewish man of that generation and region, just getting to 77 is a little miracle by itself.

How many wars?

OK, maybe a medium-sized miracle.

He looks perfectly all right.

Can we stop trying to put Sharon on a diet? Leave it to his doctor. He's got work to do, and may need a doughnut to get through it.

Also, is this the best those nuts with the kabbalistic curse can do?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

7 Pounds of Ham, Dear Lord, 7 Pounds of Ham

I must love this man or something.

I asked what he wanted for Christmas Eve dinner, and he said 'ham and yams'. So we went to the grocery store, and I got stuff for lunch tomorrow, and yams, and I told the fella, 'go get the ham you want, honey', and he came back with a seven pound 'butt cut' or something like that. Seven pounds of ham.

So we went home, and I fixed other food (including an artichoke for me, since I couldn't have the ham, clearly.) And I put the ham in the oven, and I gave it two and ha half hours, and the fella carved, and carved, and carved. 7 pounds of ham.

Then we ate dinner.

Now, of course, we've got maybe six and a half pounds of ham, six pounds if you take the bone out. It's an almighty lot of ham.

Did I mention that my mother doesn't eat any mammals, at all, let alone chazer, and my father really isn't a ham eater? We've got a lot of ham here, but the poor fella is the only one who will eat it.

Unfortunately, it smells GREAT. I have no problem with most of my California quasi-kosher. I don't care about cheeseburgers, and I don't care about shellfish. I buy kosher meat and eat vegetarian when I'm out. No problem! But pork, oh, occasionally I do miss that. Shar siu bow--Chinese barbecue pork buns--ham sandwiches--crispy bacon--and this stuff smells awesome.

(People, lose no sleep over this. I won't eat it. But I am sniffing the air as I stuff freezer bags full of ham into the freezer.)

Tomorrow is turkey breast, salad, pasta, mashed potatoes w/garlic. And cookies!

Monday is leftovers and the Chronicles of Narnia.

The Slim-Fast comes out Tuesday. But the fella has to go on eating ham sandwiches for the foreseeable future.


Still Life With Cockatiels

Things are a little crazy at the Balabusta's right now. We need to get ready for a quiet at-home Christmas Eve. We have the Balabusta's parents coming tomorrow for lunch. We have ants (they're back), and we also have two cockatiels on loan from a friend who is spending Christmas in Montana with her family.

The cockatiels are interesting. It's a pair of females, one quite sweet, the other very protective and prone to biting anyone who annoys her. (Luckily, they can't bite very hard. Or so far, haven't.)

Unfortunately, they have a tendency to SCREAM. Everything is top volume if you're a cockatiel. "HELLO!! HOW GREAT TO SEE YOU'RE UP! THIS CAGE IS SMALLER THAN THE ONE AT HOME! HI! HOW ARE YOU? DO WE GET MORE SEED SOON? WEEEEE-OOOOOOO!" and so on, throughout the day. Also unfortunately, the new house is smaller than the one we had the last time they were visiting, and getting away from the happy shrieks is getting harder. The fella is hiding in the computer room with the door closed.

yesterday I let them out of the cage for a stroll--the wings are clipped, so aside from short flights at low heights, they do stroll. They walk around on the floor, wingtip to wingtip, like little girls holding hands and check things out. The sweet one walked up my leg, and eventually sat on my shoulder.

They're afraid of our parakeet, who is about a third the size of one of them, but far more agressive. The first time they came over, I let all the birds out at once, only to find that the 'keet had thrown the 'tiels out of their cage, and was sitting in it all by himself while they stood on the floor, shaking with dismay. I rousted him out of there, and instituted separate exercise times.

They're a lot messier than the parakeet. You can leave him with the same paper for some time, and all that happens is seed husks and tidy droppings pile up. The 'tiels will soak the paper in about an hour and need more. They also need their water changed. A lot. And they need a night light, because one of them is prone to night terrors otherwise. (Yeah, make fun. I nearly had a heart attack the night I was wakened out of a sound sleep by a bird screaming as though she was being murdered, and flapping hysterically.)

I don't know what they make of our house. No dogs. The Dread Green Monster in his cage across the room. Piles of cardboard on the floor (I cleared part of the garage.) No mom. I reassure them she'll be home soon, but I don't think they get it. They do remember us, though, I think, and they know that when we've had them in the past she has always come back to get them.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Eliyahu's Flight Plan

Here's the issue: I learn today that Norm Mineta has signed an agreement with Santa Claus, making the North Pole an Open Skies partner of the U.S., freeing Santa from filing a detailed flight plan on his trip across American skies.

Now, I'm checking the list of Open Skies partners, and I do not see "Israel" or "Olam ha-Ba" listed anywhere, and I'm wondering about Eliyahu ha-Navi and his Pesach mission around the world. Would it be useful to Eliyahu to represent an Open Skies nation? Does Eliyahu fly? I've always assumed that he must, but perhaps this was due to too much Santa confusion when I was small.

People, let me know. Because it seems to me that, especially since JORDAN's got Open Skies status, it's really unfair--anti-Semitic even--to think of Eliyahu having to file a house-by-house flight plan. Although, granted, his stops are more clustered than Santa's--entire states where he only has to make a couple dozen stops--but still--should we start a petition or somethin'? Pesach is only a few months away.

Running Barefoot Through Sephora

On the way back to El Cerrito from my therapist's office, I stopped in at the downtown Sephora in San Francisco and worked my way up and down the perfume aisle.

This is incredibly relaxing. It's no-threat shopping--I never buy perfume without a lot of careful consideration, so I won't be tempted to splurge--too much money, too much whatever. I arm myself with dozens of those little spray-on strips, and go on through. When asked by the salesladies if they can help me with anything, I say I'm playing.

(I do actually buy stuff at Sephora from time to time, so I'm not a complete and total nuisance to them.)

Notes from this run:

The Devil may wear Prada. The Devil probably makes other people wear Prada's perfume. Unpleasant.

Bulgari Rose Essentielle is really, really rose. This makes it excellent in my book. Maybe too romantic for day wear, but generally fabulous smelling.

24 Faubourg is ungodly expensive, but nice.

Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune smells like the best orange in the world, although I think it's actually supposed to be grapefruit. I like citrus.

My actual perfume that I splash on every morning is Clinique's Happy. The current bottle is running low, and I'm considering a changeover to Happy To Be (I swear, I don't know who names these things), which is a bit more acrid, but still CITRUSY. Happy Heart is too sweet by me.

Vera Wang not too memorable, but nice. Attractive bottle. I really go for the bottles on these things.

My hands smell like a flower garden. Sometimes you miss the little strips.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Saints Preserve You!

More updates on the panties-at-the-pilgrimage-site story.

Miriam at Bloghead has another take on the Amukah underwear abandonment.

Miriam writes of the 'gullible women' abandoning underthings at the grave of Yonatan ben Uziel "All of which just goes to show once again how quickly it's possible to slip from religion to superstition to sacrilege."

And right here on Balabusta in Blue Jeans, Barefoot Jewess writes "I also find it so incredibly sad that women are that desperate that they will do anything for a match, including something so immodest. I smell desperation and not too much dignity. I wonder if the Rav would think that was worth blessing."

This story interests me a lot, and I didn't have a negative reaction to it at all. My immediate reaction was that it was charming. My next reaction was to spend a while online, hunting for pictures of Amukah, and reading up on Rabbi Yonatan's accomplishments.

Since no one in the immediate blogosphere seems to share my reaction, I spent a little time wondering where it came from, and why I respond to this story in the way I do (which might be best summed up as "Go ladies! Go, Rabbi Yonatan! Rock on!)

First, of course, I'm Irish-American with deep Catholic roots on my father's side of the family. Saints come with the territory, as does an understanding of the importance of ritual, whether or not you half believe in everything you're doing any more than half the time. (Sorry, this subject makes me talk like Andrew Greeley.)

I know dozens of people, my grandmother included, who were annoyed and unsettled by the removal of Saint Christopher from the Vatican's official calendar of the saints. Christopher is the patron saint of, among other things, drivers of cars, buses, and cabs, transit workers of all kinds, travellers and sailors, and protects against lightning, hailstorms, flood, sudden death and the toothache. Also surfers, which makes him an important saint in Southern California. (I mean he protects surfers, not protects against surfers. That wasn't quite clear.) The Second Vatican Council revised him out of the calendar, on the thin and shaky grounds that he may have no historical existence. My grandmother, who credits him with her success at teaching two children to drive on the freeway without incident, is unimpressed with this kind of logic.

Ireland is dotted with wells, stones, and Neothlithic mounds that are still used in various rituals, as they have been for a looooooong time. Many/most of these locations are now associated with Catholic saints.

I'm being lighthearted about this, but the role of the saints is a serious issue. In the Irish language, you greet someone (sometimes in a sort of memory-game form), by wishing that God and Mary and Joseph and Brigid and Christopher and all the saints...the old people can go on for a while past that...will all be with you.

And I LIKE this sort of thing. I am not much of a rationalist, or a theologian. I believe in symbol and story as an adequate and elegant way of forming an understanding of things beyond human understanding. I don't much care if you call it superstition.

I have never liked the drive in Judaism to insist that only what is rational and theologically sound is Jewish. (Even less do I like people who insist that what is superstitious is halakhically necessary, so make of that what you will.) When I started to dig into layers of Jewish tradition--tekhines and segulot and saints' tombs--that echoed my other tradition, I liked them. Does liking equal believing, or taking with complete seriousness? No. But I do like them. I think they're important. I think they're an inheritance, a kind of experiential midrash.

When I hear about the panties at Amukah, I think of women in the Irish countryside dipping in holy wells to get pregnant--and when I think of that, I think of Chassidic stories about women conceiving after secretly dipping in wells in Soviet Russia. Can these things be harmful? Can they be turned against those who believe in them? Yes. They shouldn't be. They can. But I also can't help thinking that leaving your panties on ben Uziel's tomb reflects something--a deep desire--that maybe can't be expressed in forty words or less on JDates. And a sense of connection that infuriates unsympathetic rabbis who can't control it. But a man who devotes his afterlife to making matches should understand what's in the heart of a woman hanging her bra on a tree to find her true love.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Tidings of the Season

And a very merry Chanumas to you too.

A Bracha on Your Panties

Some days the world just seems to be making a little too much sense. And then you see something like this. Thanks to DovBear and Mississippi Fred for mentioning this one.

Apparently, young single women are trekking to the grave of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, who reportedly has great powers to find people spouses, and leaving their panties and bras behind.

According to Jewish tradition, anyone who is unmarried will meet their soul mate and marry within a year if they visit the final resting place of Rabbi Yenothan Ben Uziel in northern Israel.

But Rabbi Israel Deri, who is in charge of protecting holy sites in the north, has told the newspaper the women's prayers will go unanswered.

"Having consulted with the chief rabbis, I can say with certainty that not only are these women guilty of a profanity but they will also never gain benediction," he said.

I think Deri is overreaching. Clearly ben Uziel cared a great deal about finding matches for people. Clearly, these young women very much want to find matches for themselves.

Why they feel that donating their underthings to the late rabbi will hasten this is not clear to me, but heck, they could be throwing them at the Rolling Stones instead. The Balabusta herself once donated a pair of panties she was wearing to a lesbian performance artist she met at a women's arts conference, who needed them for a play she was putting on. (The Balabusta is too nervous to do well on stage, but thought her underwear should go instead.) Deri can't possibly know. I'm willing to bet there is no Gemara covering whether you can leave your unmentionables on the grave of a revered rabbi or not.

I think it is very much up to ben Uziel to determine if this is appropriate behavior that warrants his blessing or not. Neither Deri nor the chief rabbis get to decide for him.

I hope that these girls are back soon to drop off NURSING bras. You know, this would make a great scene in a novel...

Hungarian Horntail Elusive, Kwanzaa Still On

OK--the Balabusta has now officially searched a couple dozen websites. This toy is, er, going to be hard to acquire. Wow.

In other holiday news, the Balabusta's mother reports having bought Nordstrom gift cards for the Balabusta's first cousins on the Irish Catholic side of the family, only to realize, on putting on her reading glasses, that one says 'Celebrate Hanukkah' and the other 'Celebrate Kwanzaa'. Since they do neither, clearly not appropriate. A return run had to take place. The replacements say "Merry Christmas". We hope Bill O'Reilly will approve, although he's not getting anything from any of MY relatives.

It's been that kind of day.

Wishing You A Hungarian Horntail Holiday

A young person related to the fella wants a certain toy for Christmas. She's gonna get it, too. I have spoken. Never mind that it seems to be on backorder in most of the Western world. I will GET ONE!

Wish me luck, I'm going in...

Ushpizin--saw it!

OK. The Balabusta saw Ushpizin, and wants to blog a bit about it, but in the interest of not upsetting anyone who hasn't seen it and is sensitive about having the good bits revealed, she is providing this disclaimer/spacer. I'm not going to reveal anything major, (although the only major reveal is no surprise--a joy, but no surprise) but if you don't want any details at all, go away now and come back when you've seen the movie.

You going?

You gone?


You out of here?


The Balabusta can review now.

Briefly, for those of you living in caves with no access to the JPost, Ushpizin is an Israeli movie, starring Shuli Rand and his real-life wife, Michal Batsheva Rand. Set in a haredi neighborhood in Jerusalem, it follows the lives of a ba'al teshuva Bratslaver couple, Moshe and Mali. Right before Sukkot, the couple is too broke to afford a sukkah, let alone a nice etrog, or food for the holiday. They also want to have a baby, and after five years of marriage are apparently beginning to lose hope.

They pray, and miracles happen. Moshe's yeshiva, which denied him money for the holidays unexpectedly comes through with a thousand dollars. At the same time, a friend of Moshe's 'finds' a sukkah no one is using, and helps him drag it home and set it up. The couple rush to make a beautiful holiday, and as a crowning touch, Moshe buys a thousand-shekel etrog.

At about the same time, two friends of Moshe's from his disreputable former life decide not to go back to prison after a leave, and take off, somehow ending up in Jerusalem, where they track down Moshe and invite themselves for Sukkot. These men, secular, criminal, and at times plain obnoxious, trigger a series of events that moves the rest of the movie to its conclusion.

The Balabusta's thoughts:

It's gorgeous. I cried. (Almost, when Mali leaves, and for real, serious tears, during the forest scene.) I don't cry at movies, it takes powerful emotion or powerful schlock, or both, to make me tear up.

Aside from one or two moments which I think may have been an editing thing, I didn't find fault with the portrayal of the Judaism or the community. Now, the Balabusta knows jack about Chassidim in Jerusalem, but given that I spent a lot of Kadosh murmuring 'say WHAT?', it looked right to me. There are a lot of small, subtle details that make the portrayal work--the way Moshe finishes Havdalah and happily offers his friends a cigarette--the way one of the guests tries to shake Mali's hand and is evaded. What people do seems to make sense throughout.

Mali is terrific. I mean, Michal Rand is really good, and the character is fabulous. I tried to think when I'd ever seen a realistically drawn, tough, beautiful, plus-size observant Jewish woman in a movie before, and have concluded that the answer is that until now I had never seen a realistically drawn, tough, beautiful, plus-size observant Jewish woman in a movie. The scene where Mali drives the rioting guests out of the courtyard and into her apartment brandishing a kebab skewer--with the kebab still on it--is worth the price of admission. It's an amazing scene. It's an amazing character.

That said, I could have wished for maybe one more female character. There's aon old Dykes to Watch Out For strip where one woman explains to another that she doesn't watch movies unless they pass the test. The test is that a. two female characters have to b. talk to each other about c. something other than a man. She explains that the last movie she was able to see at a commercial theater was Alien, since the two women in it discuss the alien. Ushpizin flunks the test. The only other woman who speaks during the movie is a neighbor who comes by on an errand, and says nothing important. Moshe has a rabbi, a friend, a neighbor whose sukkah he may have stolen, a chevrusa--Mali is apparently alone in a world full of men. I can think of a lot of reasons she might be portrayed like this, but it did bother me.

The chemistry between the Rands onscreen is amazing.

The scene where the guests first show up at the yeshiva, holding their hands over their heads because they don't have kippot is hilarious.

Anyway, I liked it. Would be interested to hear what others made of it.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Diamonds Are Not A Fella's Best Friend

The fella, I've discovered over the years, hates diamond ads.

Really, really, hates diamond ads.

Every so often, an ad for Zales or some such diamond retailer will come on the TV, especially at this time of year. The Balabusta will usually not look up, because the Balabusta is not in the market for diamonds. The Balabusta has no money, and already owns a nice pair of cubic zirconia studs which work with 'classic, understated' outfits. Also, diamond ads are quite boring, usually only featuring heterosexual couples by open fires looking happily at one another. There is no snappy dialogue or pretty scenery.

The fella will go berserk. He rages at diamond ads, regarding them as a diabolical plot to convince men that love can and should be bought by the carat. He feels targeted and exploited. He shouts threats at the happy Zales customers on TV.

The Balabusta has tried to explain that he will never have to buy a diamond if he doesn't want one. She has explained that she loves the beautiful non-diamond jewelry he buys her. She has explained that should the fella and the Balabusta become engaged, she would not want him to spend money that could go for a nice wedding or a down payment, or groceries, on a diamond.

She has also explained that, should it ever come to buying a diamond, maybe a solitaire necklace when we are middle-aged and rich, the fella should be careful not to get African diamonds from iffy sources, and hold out for one with a nice serial number showing it came from a unionized Alaskan diamond mine staffed by happy elves.

None of this has helped much. He has a manic response to the whole diamond-ad thing. It is apparently genetic or something. Or perhaps requires therapy.

On the flip side of all of this, the Balabusta has an acquaintance who, when she got engaged, very much wanted a BIG ROCK to show off. She was twenty-four, the boy not much older, and an expensive engagement ring out of the question. But she wanted a BIG ROCK.

The Balabusta greatly admires the solution they came up with. They went to Imposters, or some such place, and bought a beautiful ring with an enormous, high-quality, fake diamond. It was a lovely, garish, piece, which would have cost a couple years' salary for the chassan if it had been real. The bride wore it with great pride, flashed it to squealing girlfriends (all of whom had been filled in on what it really cost) and was perfectly happy.

We should all be so smart about what we really want.


I'm on vacation. This is very good.

Yesterday was a bit weird. The Caroliers were in the school lobby when I arrived. The Caroliers are the best and brightest of my school's music students, and there is a tradition that they stand in the lobby before school on the last day before winter break and play carols. The Balabusta stayed and applauded, and had mixed feelings. The kids are very good, and deserve praise, and the music was pretty. But, er...HAS NO ONE REALIZED THIS IS A DAMN PUBLIC SCHOOL, AND THAT WE CELEBRATE AND MARK NO OTHER HOLIDAY BUT THIS?

I swear. The school is at a least a third Asian, but we do nothing for the Lunar New Year. We have a decent-sized Mexican-American community, but do nothing for Mexican Independence, or Cinco de Mayo. We have a big Muslim population, but we didn't even bother to provide the kids a place to go besides the lunch room during Ramadan, even though one of my fellow teachers brought it up a bunch of times. We do NOTHING for Black History month. The Caroliers haven't even been taught that traditional sop to wintertime multiculturalism, 'O Hanukkah'.

But we have this lovely tradition of Christmas songs to see us off to break. And while the Balabusta mutters and snarls about this, the truth is, she's on BREAK.

Very nice. Can't stop smiling.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Romans 6:23

You don't have to look it up. The quote is: "...the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." At least according to the gift bag the Balabusta picked up today at the mandatory teacher induction Christmas party for her public school district.

The Balabusta is in the process of doing a slow but full-scale Christmas freak-out/meltdown. Please understand, the Balabusta has got a weird relationship with this holiday, due to heavy Catholic cultural influence, plus Yiddishkeit, plus pop cultural overload, which all give conflicting messages very fast and make the Balabusta's head spin around, while she tries to simultaneously attend Midnight Mass, ignore the whole thing, and dodge the hordes of downtown shoppers as an incessant backbeat of "Feliz Navidad" and "The Little Drummer Boy" pounds in her head. As a result, she is finding all of DovBear's discussion of the evils of stupid Bill O'Reilly and his War Against the War on Christmas stuff very comforting.

So anyway. Kids in my morning core mad because they don't get a Christmas party. Kids in my afternoon core greedy for cookies. Left school, got lift to mandatory teacher induction Christmas party. Ate little quiches, and spicy jalapeno artichoke dip, and drank spiced wine. Was given a number and sent to pick a gft bag, which simply said Joyous Christmas on the front, but later turned out to have the Romans quote on the side. Contains a rather nice ceramic flask which looks like an eggplant, and some little eggplant soy sauce dishes. Unsure as to what the hell I will do with these things, but I suppose it's the thought that counts.

One of my paraprofessionals brought me a mug with snowpeople on it, and the other a bag of Chanukah gelt. The one coming tomorrow is Muslim, and hopefully has forgotten there's a holiday coming up...

Anyway, I left the mandatory party, but had to go to the school's staff Christmas party because the gentleman giving me the lift wanted to drop by. Went to second party. All the Jews gathered around the ham--the Balabusta had spanikopita--and discussed travel plans.

Got lift to BART. Took BART to Del Norte. Went to Staples and photocopied STUFF. Went to friends' home. Helped them pack kitchen stuff for upcoming move. Collected fella. Went to Target, bought cookies. Bought copy of Harry Potter DVD, since too much trouble to rent at this point. Went by McDonalds, got fella four cheeseburgers, came home. Balabusta made sandwich for self. Now blogging.

If I can just get through tomorrow without actually collapsing, I'll be home free.

By the way. The Balabusta has a vague memory of the Smothers Brothers having a routine featuring "MacNamara's Integrated Band". Does anyone have lyrics?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Christmas Concert

Today I had to take my class to the school Christmas concert. Trust me. The cute Christmas card I got in my mailbox from the principal was NOT sufficient payback for this. Maybe if there had been money inside.

The problem is that my school does not DO assembly well. I actually have fond memories of high school Christmas assemblies. We would decorate the gym and the classes would sing 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' competitively. One year my French class had to perform 'The First Noel' in French. The whole thing was, as far as I'm concerned, teetering on the brink of public-school propriety, but it was fun. (The Balabusta has less fond memories of an elementary school she attended, where they had an overtly religious, over-the-top play.)

The school I teach at's Christmas concert isn't fun. There's no welcome, no lights, no decorations, no NOTHIN' except being marched out of class and down to the multipurpose room (triples as lunchroom, gym and auditorium) to sit in darkness and listen to the school band play a medley of carols. Fun, fun, fun. 'Jingle Bells', 'Adeste Fideles', 'Good King Wenceslaus', etc. A few band pieces I didn't recognize. Forty-five minutes.

The whole thing wrapped up with a 'sing-along Christmas Pops' thing, consisting of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town', 'Silver Bells', 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' and 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'. The music was fine, the sing-along flopped. First, I do not think they made it real clear to the kids that they were supposed to sing. Second, no one knew the words. You know how many twelve-year-olds know the lyrics to 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas'? The Balabusta doesn't. She was hopelessly murmuring 'From now on, our, whatever.'

Like I said. Not fun.

I've been avoiding the Christmas cheer at the school anyway. I did not sign up for a Secret Santa. I did not show up for the Cookie Exchange.

It's dark, and cold, and I can't wait for it to be Friday at 2:55 PM, because that means we're on break.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What is it with Narnia?

The j. has devoted its cover story to the amazing news that The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is a Christian allegory, and is being marketed as such to church groups. They feel that Jews Should Be Informed.

I'm seeing various other Jewish sites and sources getting interested in this. I do not get it, people.

Yes, the Narnia books are a Christian allegory. It is possible to read the whole series, love it madly, and not know that--a friend of mine, pagan, was suddenly hit with the awareness of who Aslan is meant to be in the middle of a pleasant evening when we were in college, and was quite stunned. She's recovered, but she'd loved the books for at least ten years or so without noticing. Still, Lewis was a Christian writer, and his faith runs through everything he wrote--science fiction, fantasy, theology, all of it. He was also quite a nice person, by all accounts.

So what? It's not possible to read Western literature without getting a hefty dose of Christian imagery. Lewis writes with specific intent, that's all. And honestly--I adore Harry Potter, say, do not get me wrong here, but the goblins in Gringotts are actually written and drawn as anti-Semitic caricatures straight outta the Ring Cycle, and every term brings another huge Christmas extravaganza, celebrated by absolutely everyone at Hogwarts, without the slightest hint that not everyone at the school is a nonpracticing Anglican. The message there is clear--we can be multicultural as long as everyone's the same. Compared to that serenely assimilationist message, an actual Christian allegory--complete with talking badgers--seems positively easy--it's a great story, rooted in a faith I don't share. NO PROBLEM!

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is not The Passion of the Christ. Here's one way you can tell: no one is going to walk out of theaters thinking the Jews killed Aslan. Here's another way you can tell: Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite. C.S. Lewis was an anti-fascist.

Now, if you want controversy, wait until they do the other books, and have to decide how to show the Calormenes. That will be interesting.


Yesterday the Balabusta and the fella ended up helping out a friend who was cooking an SCA feast. We helped make ravioli dough this week, and lent our freezer to the storage of pasties and tartelets, and then yesterday we helped make salad, and frumenty, and chicken fricassee, and some really trayf stuff...all good, so the Balabusta is told, and she really enjoyed the frumenty and the spinach tarts. Not so much the dishwashing.

Anyway, today everyone was home, and in between desperate lesson planning, the Balabusta made brisket in the Crock Pot with onions and apricot jam and garlic and some beer. And glazed onions with honey and mustard and paprika and stuff--baked in the oven for an hour and a half. The recipe says 50 minutes, but the recipe, as a dear friend of the Balabusta would say, is on crack. And mashed potatoes made with mashed potato mix because the fella likes them supernaturally smooth, and the Balabusta cannot be bothered. The leftover mashed potatoes have been put aside, and will be incorporated, maybe, into latkes tomorrow.

All good. The onion sauce is very good, and very easy to make.

Light returns

Just a little before the Solstice, even.

The fella fixed the light switch in the bedroom. We had slowly gotten to the point where you had to flip it several times to get the light to come on. Sometimes it would stay on for a while and then plunge you into darkness. Sometimes if simply wouldn't come on.

The fella replaced the switch, only shocking himself once, and left a note, asking who my electric sugar bear is, attached to the new one.

He is a good fella, and we are glad to have him around, especially since the Balabusta has not the faintest idea how to fix electrical things.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

At The Sign of the Red Crystal

A red-crystal knight forever kneeled
to a lady on his shield...

(10 extra-credit points from the Balabusta for recognizing the source of the mangled quote above).

So anyway, how about that Red Crystal Thing?

Personally, the Balabusta has got issues.

Basically, if I understand correctly, this week, signatories to the Geneva Convention made it possible for Magen David Adom to potentially get to be part of the International Red Cross by adopting a red diamond shape as an official symbol, thereby providing something that's not a cross or a crescent or, more importantly, a magen david, so the Jews will have something to use without offending Arab nations, who are notoriously sensitive to this kind of thing, this kind of thing, of course, being any recognition of Israel, Jews, or anything related to them. Apparently, this generous concession squeaked through despite Syria throwing a fit about how they wanted to drive ambulances through the Golan Height.

Apparently at 2 AM, the whole thing got put to a vote, and it passed, 98-27, with 10 abstentions. MDA gets to continue to use the magen david when at home. Abroad, they get to display the magen david boxed in the aforementioned red lozenge thing. Neither cross nor crescent is going to be restricted to a red lozenge.

Per JTA,
Jewish groups welcomed adoption of the red diamond and hoped that the development would lead to the MDA’s full membership in the international organization.

Why? Why the hell are we welcoming something this offensive? I would be delighted if we simply put religious symbols aside, and the whole organization adopted the Red Rhombus. But we are not talking about that. We're talking about a way to get around the fact that any recognition of Israel or Jewish symbols is intensely distasteful to the Arab world, and they have the votes to make it stick.

A conference to admit MDA to the international movement is expected sometime in 2006. If accepted, MDA would be eligible to request funds from the international movement and would have access to training, information and forums from which it’s now excluded.


I understand what's going on here. I understand how this works. Somehow, this time, it simply sticks in my throat too much. One more round of the same game. I'm NOT thrilled. They have not even actually allowed MDA into the International Red Cross, they've forced a conflicted vote to approve a symbol that can substitute for a Jewish symbol so maybe MDA can get in after nearly sixty years of being kept out for no reason except anti-Semitism. The world goes on acting as though this is normal, acceptable, even meritorious behavior.

I am half-sick of shadows, and not real excited about the Red Thingie of High Excitement. Feh.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

It Blew Me Away

Okay, so this is the thing that got me thinking about Michaelangelo and the brain-contorting feeling of realizing that many people do not have your perspectives or experience.

Over on DovBear's site, he has a comment up about a post by The Gabbai.

In the comments, someone asks DovBear a question, and he responds:

By the way, have you knowingly had someone of differing sexual preferences at your Shabbat table with your kids?

No, but only b. I've only met two openly gay people in my life, and though I hung out with both of them at different times for diferent reasons, (business related) neither was even slightly interested in meeting the wife and kids.

And I went "woooooaaaah. Weird." This blew me away. If you're not familiar with the site, DovBear is a smart, hard-hitting Modern Orthodox Democrat with attitude. I know he's at least grown enough to have some unspecified number of children. That's about all I know about him, actually.

Honestly, coming from my background and experience--San Francisco Bay Area, raised in the 80s and 90s, within the local Jewish community--I can't imagine, can't actually get my head around, the idea that a grown person could only have met two out gay people in his life so far. It's wildly exotic, really kind of amazing to me.

I grew up around, and am still meeting, gay Jews and gay gentiles, gay lawyers and doctors and rabbis, gay folks I love, and gay folks I could do without, leather daddies and lipstick lesbians, and cute college political dykes, and seriously scholarly Jewish boys and girls who run their shuls. Gay moms and dads, gay clergypeople, gay Zionists, and gay morons who march against Israel. This is not due to any serious sophistication on my part, or major lifestyle decision I've made, these people are all just HERE, people I've met in a vast variety of ways. Coworkers. Parent's friends. College friends. Neighbors. People I meet through hobbies. Folks I meet when I volunteer. Lots of people, you know, are just GAY. One in every minyan.

I don't think about this a lot, except when I'm confronted with the real knowledge that many people just don't know a lot of gay folks. Articles. Blogs. Ignorant silliness by social commentators who should know better.

Familiarity kills stereotypes and irrational fears. When you've danced at the wedding, admired the baby, and been too scared to bring a salad to the oneg because they keep REAL kosher, you can't fall into vague, scary, NAMBLA-tinged notions about 'those people'.

Of course, DovBear does not seem to have fallen into these notions, which leads me to believe that being smart will suffice for real-world experience in some things. But it still blows me away. Two out gay people? Ever? This isn't scorn, just astonishment. I can't imagine. I can't get there from here.

They keep telling me San Francisco is not the whole world. They may be right, but darnit, it OUGHT to be.

Arabic-speaking Parrots and Hang-Gliders

Totally random news from Israel--the Gaza zoo was robbed of a lion and two Arabic-speaking parrots.

When this was first read to me by a coworker, I heard it as 'Arabic-speaking parents', and was imagining people who'd brought their kids to the zoo being grabbed by the Kalashnikov-toting lion thieves, but apparently it is 'parrots'.

I wonder what the parrots can SAY in Arabic. Did they know too much?

Seriously, for some reason this annoyed me. It's a ZOO. People should not go around with Kalashnikovs stealing animals from the zoo. I realize it's Gaza, and much worse stuff than that is going on, but somehow this just seemed like an unnecessary piece of nastiness.

Unless it was Mossad, and the parrots were compromised agents. Do they also speak Hebrew?

See also the tale of the Very Lucky Hang-Glider who was saved from Hezbollah. If I was the mother of one of the soldiers involved I would have a real yearning to beat Mr. Wexler to death with his own glider. Yeeesh.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Things That Matter

You know, on some deep fundamental level, I think people have a tendency to assume that everyone is just like them.

Most of us do it. I think that's why people often argue deep matters of morality by telling their opponents "You know I'm right. You just disagree because it's politically correct to say otherwise." Or, "Really, you agree, you're just afraid of what people will think of you if you break with the flock."

When the assumption that everyone in the world is just like them is broken, people freak out. There are a lot of examples in the world, but the one that occurs to me just now happened to me in college. I was twenty. Raised in a Classic (High Church) Reform shul and an activisty whole-wheat eating Jewish home (with an Irish Catholic ex-cop father). Not exactly from Crown Heights. I majored in early modern European history. I was doing a paper for an art history class. (About which I used the line "If it ain't Baroque don't fix it," too many times.)

I'm in the library flipping through a book of Renaissance art photos, when I suddenly come across a section of Michaelangelo's Sistine chapel frescos, in sections. Suddenly, I realize something.

You know that picture? Of the fierce, bearded old man pointing a finger? Leaning down from on high, with his eyes full of fire and intensity? The Michaelangelo one? OK. I thought that was Moses. For years, I figured it was Moshe. The fierceness. The beard. The whole--you know--manner.

I never saw him in context, I guess. Or never pieced together something my brain couldn't cope with. Suddenly, in the Mills College library, at the age of twenty, I realize that the scene is The Creation of Adam. And that the bearded bloke is....


Oh no.

Oh, it can't be.

That's not ALLOWED, is it?

It must have been. This was a commission for the Pope.

Of course, it's God, reaching down to zap life into Adam.

Never realized that.

My heart was pounding. I actually slammed the book shut and pushed it away from me. I sat in the carrel and trembled. I was completely horrified. My entire world view had just twisted around the sudden realization that in the canon of Great Western Art, it was apparently OK to actually paint a picture of God. As a person. With a face. Like, a nose. And ears. And, you know, clothes and stuff.

That the Renaissance Italians I studied and kind of flattered myself I knew about would think this was normal. Acceptable. Non-frightening.

That the Christian-raised feminist theologians I hung out with really meant it when they said they'd been taught God was an old man with a white beard. Like, literally.

That I was not LIKE people who could look at something like this and not feel themselves in the presence of something blasphemous and potentially dangerous.

Eventually I managed to stop rocking and chanting the Rambam's principles and get out of the fetal position (OK, I'm exaggerating a lot there), made my way home, and spent the evening trying to explain what had happened to me to non-Jewish friends who were very nice, but obviously didn't really believe that I could have been raised so differently from them that this actually shocked me.

Anyway, that was more than ten years ago, now, and it sure was an interesting cultural experience. It's an occasional reminder to me about the truly surprising variety of human experience and perception.

There actually was a reason I brought this up. Next post.