***LOTS AND LOTS OF TRIGGER WARNINGS RIGHT HERE*** Continue reading
Hi all you lovely loyal literati! Happy Festival of Lights! I think it’s high time for an actual post, don’t you? (Also, side note, what is it with the changing of the layout again?)
The other day I received an email from my high school alumni association, but it wasn’t your standard money request email. Or the unfortunate-yet-not-really-unexpected Death Notice. (What, your former place of education doesn’t tell you when grandparents of former/current students die? Must be a Jewish thing…)
Instead it was a Dedication Invitation, that started with “Come Say Goodbye to our Old Building!” The rest of the email was boring so I didn’t read it, but I didn’t really want to.
For the last few years, my old stomping grounds were slowly giving in to the inevitable demise of its 50+ years, as new stomping grounds were being broken, dug up, filled, and built up a couple miles down that-a-way *points in random direction, possibly in a northwestwardly fashion*
Yeah, the building was old and quite possibly the textbook definition of the opposite of “state-of-the-art”. In fact, if you opened a dictionary to look up the phrase “crotchety old building” – you’d see a picture of my high school.
The outside was brown brick, with bronzed letters spelling out the name of the school, and the various organizations that were also housed in it.
There were three stories, with the bottom story depressed into a hole in the ground that was affectionately dubbed “The Moat” and which, many many times, students tried to flood. I think the best attempt was that one time when students put blue tarp on the ground and called it a day.
The walls were yellow, the lockers were an uglier shade of yellow, the classroom doors were pale-green, and there were benches around the perimeter of the second floor with extremely-worn forest-green fabric. Even the trim around the windows in the rooms were green. The donation plaques in each room were a very dark shade of green, although some people refer to that color as “black” (but we all knew better)…
The only bit of character that the school had was a mural on one of the walls that had the words “Knowledge” and its Hebrew counterpart “Da’at” in bright reds, blues, and oranges.
But it wasn’t much to look at.
There was history in the building, to be sure. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Jewish teenagers wandered the hallways, and maybe even learned something too. Personally, at least 30 members of my own family received the equivalent of a GED certificate there.
But, being the bastion of co-ed Jewish/General education for pretty much the entire Chicago-area Jewish population (and some out-of-towners, too) – well, that’s a lot of pressure. There needed to be guidelines, structure, a format to the well-roundedness that would be applied to anyone who walked up the metal stairs and through the two sets of glass double-doors, even if only for a semester.
And yeah – that happened. Kids were kicked out all the time. For reasons varying from getting caught* drinking and doing drugs, to wearing vaguely inappropriate clothing. Like, a shirt that hit 3 inches above the elbow. Or pants under a skirt.
Because everyone was expected to leave school with not only a deep-rooted association with sunsets and science labs, but as a replica, a copy, of those thousands of students who came before. We were continuing the well-honed tradition, the belief, that we could retain our Jewish identity and still interact with the world out there.
The only problem with this was that we didn’t all have the same background coming in. The other only problem was that we were expected to question and question and question authority, until our questions were exhausted and we felt satisfied with whatever answers we had been given. Which is not the problem. The problem was that many times the answers weren’t all that satisfying.
Of course, there were the others who were more easily molded into the type of person we were expected to become. Who accepted the expectations without questions or doubts or second-guessing, and currently live the life that was predetermined for them.
And then there were those who questioned some of the information we were taught – out loud or quietly. There were those who rebelled secretly; others did so out in the open, by wearing clothes that were not deemed “acceptable”. And there were others who epitomized “fake it til you make it” before it was a thing on t-shirts being sold for $15.
Some of us just wanted to march to the beat of our own drums, regardless of whether we accepted the answers or not. I preferred skipping down the hallway, but that’s me.
The problem with marching to a different beat is that you no longer fit into the mold, and you are therefore singled out. For detention, for expulsion, for long talks with administrators about “what would your grandmother think?” Or, you were just given looks of disapproval.
There was one time in particular when I realized what was happening. I had expressed my desire to not go to Israel for a gap year, and received laser-eye daggers from the dean.
And it wasn’t just the administration who made us feel unwelcome. Because the school was small, and everybody knew everybody. In my day there were maybe 350 kids in the entire school – large by other Jewish school standards, but tiny when compared to the public schools in the area. If you had been singled out, everyone knew, and there were some students who made it their business to remind you of it. Constantly.
So why would I return? Why would anyone who had similar (or worse) experiences feel the need to come back to say goodbye?
We already said our goodbyes – the day we graduated. There is no lingering sentiment, or memories that need to be revisited. If anything, we would go just to help with the destruction of the building.
And I know that if I had gone to public school I wouldn’t be where I am today, and blah blah blah. But why would I go back to something that holds more not-so-great memories than great memories?
But there is also a third option – to run from it AND learn from it. And that’s what I’m going to do.
I went to that square building and came out a misshapen quadrilateral. I understand and I appreciate the education that I received. But I still question the methods and motives of certain administrators, and I don’t need to say goodbye.
Besides, I don’t have anything appropriate to wear anyway.
Currently Grooving On: music by fellow alum David Draiman
*To get caught you had to be A) really stupid, B) really desperate, C) both.
A few years ago a friend of mine asked me why we fast on Yom Kippur. Which is a serious question in normal standards, but he happened to ask me this at 3:30 in the morning while we were driving home after working a night shift.
In my sleep-deprived and exhaustion-laden state, I was mentally preparing myself to give him something resembling a half-ass answer, when I was rudely interrupted by errant sprinklers hitting the windshield and scaring the bejeezus out of me. So instead I burst into hysterical giggles, which made him start laughing, because we were in a matzav kapit.
A brief pause for translation:
matzav – Hebrew; literally “situation”
kapkit – Hebrew; literally “spoon”
A slang term that means you are so whatever, that even mentioning the word “spoon” will set you off in uncontrollable fits of hysterical, and sometimes maniacal, laughter.
Of course, I’m writing about this which means some part of my subconscious still wants to provide him an answer, despite the fact that we don’t work together anymore.
Also it’s a question that many people ask each year, regardless of age and level of religious observance.
So, disregarding the fact that he may not even read this – why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because the Torah says so.
kind of such a cop-out answer; there are lots of things written in the Old and New Testaments which lots of people don’t do all the time. Let’s be honest – it’s the kind of answer that parents give to their toddlers after a 35-minute Q&A session.
It’s also the kind of answer that he wouldn’t approve of, and would result in an eye-roll and “no, really”. And I would have to either delve deeper into that answer or provide another one.
So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement.
True; that is the literal translation. It’s a day to atone for our sins and purify ourselves. But do we really need to devote an entire day to apologizing for past wrongdoings?
I remember a situation many years ago when I was at a friends’ wedding. It turns out one of my former high school classmates was also there; we hadn’t seen each other in about 7 years. After genuine surprise at seeing each other, and the obligatory “hey what have you been up to?” had been exchanged, he looked me straight in the eye and said “I’m sorry I was such a jerk to you in high school.”
It took me completely by surprise, but I readily accepted because he was really sincere. (Also because he wasn’t one of the worse ones, but we’ll let that pass)
People are capable of apologizing for things they did or said throughout the year, and many times those apologies are done on full stomachs. Sometimes those stomachs are full of alcohol, but the point remains – we don’t have to fast to apologize. And we don’t need a special day to apologize either.
So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because Yom Kippur is a day for our soul
Yom Kippur is the day where our souls are weighed and judged, and everything we did during the past year is held against us (for good or bad). As such, souls are purely spiritual and don’t need food or water to sustain themselves.
Because this day is primarily for our souls, we put our physical needs aside for one day. We don’t eat or drink, or wear comfortable shoes, or shower (you get the idea) to show how serious we are about this whole thing. And the more religious ones spend the entire day praying for our souls even though by the end we are so deliriously hungry we can’t concentrate on the prayers we’re saying, much less stand up
So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because fasting makes us weak
Physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically – across all boards we are not strong. Blood sugar plummets, mouths go dry, spots appear in our vision, extremities get light and shaky – we become very uncomfortable and start to behave rather stupidly.
Without complex carbohydrates and dihydrogen monoxide, our synapses don’t fire the way they usually do – and that’s when it isn’t 90 freaking degrees outside and the AC doesn’t work.
Studies have shown (and dystopian YA novels have confirmed) that weakness is a bad thing. It is not good to be perceived as weak, because then you are seen as young and stupid. You are not trusted with certain pieces of information, because if you are weak there is no way you can deal with [fill-in-the-blank here].
Just like in most coming-of-age novels, the person in question must go on a journey of some kind whereby they undergo a transformation of sorts in order to prove to the naysayers and haters that they really are capable of understanding what is going on around them.
Most of the time, said journey involves admitting the said weakness. And that makes them strong.
When you admit that you are weak, it shows understanding of yourself, and that in turn shows strength. It shows that you have turned a corner (or whatever phrase you want to use here that means the same thing). You’ve matured; you’ve grown up; you’re a real boy/girl/alien life form.
Admitting weakness allows you the opportunity to grow and get to listen in on all the juicy secrets that the grown-ups didn’t think you could handle. Admitting your weaknesses brings you one step closer to adulthood.
It’s also one of the most difficult things that everyone faces in their life. And it does not get easier over time. One only hopes that, as time goes on, we don’t have to do it as much because we learn from past mistakes, which means we have less to feel sorry for. But even so, we still have to apologize for the things we did do.
So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because we are adults and understand that we are accountable for our actions
There’s a reason that fasting the full day only starts once you celebrate your Bar/Bat Mitzvah. It’s because you are now responsible and accountable for your actions and therefore must admit when you did something wrong. (Up until that point your parents fasted for you in addition for themselves, so chalk that up to parental love and devotion.)
Now I had no idea what I was atoning for when I was 12, even with my stellar Jewish-Day-School education. And despite the inter-linear translation now available to me I still don’t get it. But that doesn’t remove me from the ritual or revoke my responsibility.
But there is something that I never liked about apologizing in public and as a group, even though it makes us strong like a mighty faggot.
It’s because apologies are only as powerful as they are individual. When you apologize en masse the apology becomes diluted. Especially when the list of transgressions is decades-old Hebrew that most people don’t understand, much less actually transgress, leading many rabbis to translate and put them into a modern context.
So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because it’s embarrassing
Atoning in public where everyone can see and hear does seem a bit forced, and there is no small amount of embarrassment involved. I know it’s how Nooshkin feels when I make her apologize for being not nice to her friends, especially in front of said friend’s parent/s and whoever else happens to be there. But we live in a day and age where if there are no witnesses then it did not happen, and this idea is not novel.
Observing Yom Kippur in public, and not in private, shows our strengths and weaknesses to everyone in our community, and it allows us to acknowledge theirs as well. We fast and pray (and wander the empty streets of a pseudo post-apocalyptic Israel) together.
As adults we carry that responsibility with us, regardless of how uncomfortable we may feel. And, especially in a group setting, there is a lot of power that comes with that kind of responsibility.
So why do we fast on Yom Kippur?
Answer: Because we are Spiderman
We fast on Yom Kippur because we are just trying to do whatever we can to get by, even if it means swinging around in our underwear from time to time.
And I can live with that.
Just like every other Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah (Hebrew; lit. “head of the year”) is fraught with extra-special everything. Actions, prayers, traditions, food, and of course, symbolism.
Except, it’s different from every other Jewish holiday. Mostly because it’s the start of another year. So – take all the excitement of the secular New Year, add a heaping pile of religion, and make sure there are 2 additional equally important and significant holidays that occur around the same time….
Et Viola – the Jewish New Year.
News feeds and inboxes are filled with updated family pictures, personal reflections and introspection on the past year, and general good will towards friends and family for the coming year. Many individuals also discuss their menus, and include pictures of said food. This was happening way before Pintrest and Instagram made it a thing. Because we are trend-setters. Or something.
Some traditional foods included in some way, shape, or form during this holiday are:
Honey: for a sweet year
Apples: because Fall and harvest (and probably a more spiritual reason which I’m blanking on)
Pomegranates: legend says that this fruit contains 613 seeds, which is equal to the number of positive and negative commandments in the Torah. I don’t think this has been proven because I don’t know anyone who has actually counted them.
Carrots: because the word for carrot in Yiddish sounds like something that sounds like money. Also in Yiddish.
Lettuce, half a raisin, celery: because Dad Jokes and Puns
This two-day holiday (which sometimes transforms into a 3-day extravaganza, but more about that headache another time) is also different because unlike other Jewish holidays, there is no story involved with the celebration. It’s just a date on the calendar.
To summarize: this is a major holiday that starts our lives anew, doesn’t revolve around a story, and contains a lot more prayer and ritual. Also, due to the proximity of Yom Kippur, there is quite a bit of early-bird-style repentance involving charity and resolutions.
I kid – there is actually a lot of sincerity going around. And although that is really not a bad thing, it is quite scary when you really think about it. But I don’t want to get into that, because I have to get another batch of cookies from the oven. Also, because it will detract from the main point I’m trying to make (maybe next time I shouldn’t type in 10-minute bursts…)
It is true what has been said, that although holidays and seasons repeat themselves, we are not the same people each time; and, therefore, there are inherently different feelings surrounding each holiday. Especially for me, because so many important events in my life seem to revolve around this holiday…
12 years ago: It was the first holiday I celebrated in Israel. Like every holiday in every religion, Rosh Hashanah is family-oriented. Immediate, extended, and pseudo-families get together and eat way too much food during this two-day holiday. Being the representation of new beginnings, it was very appropriate that this was the first holiday I celebrated in my new home, with family that I had not seen in at least a decade.
8 years ago: It was the last holiday I celebrated with my family in Chicago before getting married. Which is a pretty big deal every possible way you slice it.
5 years ago: I first found out about Nooshkin. She was the size of my thumbnail. I couldn’t eat any of the symbolic food (curse you first-trimester nausea). I had never been happier.
And, this year: It is the first holiday without Nana.
Every year, a week before the holiday actually started, Nana would go to the butcher and buy fresh fish heads – haddock, carp, whatever they had – take them back to her apartment and begin a three-day exercise in love and family. Yes – she made enough fresh gefilte fish for her entire family. All [insert ever-increasing number here] of us. Every year one of us would be the designated delivery person, and our car stank of fish afterwards. That tradition was one of the best parts of the holiday.
But no – I did not make her gefilte fish this year. I probably won’t make it ever because I can’t stand fish heads. Slimy, scaly – guh. *shudder*
But – I still remember the texture and taste of them. And I probably always will.
There’s more that I wanted to write, but it’s almost time for the holiday to begin. So instead I will leave you with this:
May the memories of past years, both positive and not-so-positive, influence your choices for the coming year.
If you decide to set goals* and resolutions for yourself, may they be easily attainable.
Breathe Deep, and Seek Peace.
See you next year.
1 1/3 cups oil
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup honey
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
1) Mix together oil, sugar, eggs, honey, baking soda, salt and vanilla.
2) Add the flour, and mix until it is just incorporated.
3) Shape the cookies into balls, between 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter.
–Because the dough is super sticky, I recommend keeping it cool to make forming the balls easier. You will also probably need to rinse your hands between batches.–
4) Place on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
5) Bake in oven on 375 F (180 C) for 8-12 minutes, depending on the strength of your oven. The cookies should be crackly in the center and nicely browned around the edges.
Currently Grooving On: The Fountainheads “Dip Your Apple” (because as far as parodies go, this is the best)
*I have a decent list of goals and resolutions for myself for the coming year. I will share them because I am following the advice of a good friend (which is “if you tell people about it, then you have to actually follow through”).
Be More Selfish
In the past year I quit my job, started school, and created this blog – for myself. I had not really done that before, and it felt really good. Empowering. Amazing. I want to do more of that. In line with this goal is to take better care of myself mentally and physically.
Utilize and Maximize My Networks
I decided earlier this year to be more vocal in all my networks, and I got my current job because of that. Each one can be beneficial if used properly, so let’s keep up the momentum, shall we?
Make Good Art
On the good days, and the bad days. When there is nothing to say, and (especially) when there is too much. Be creative. Get messy. Make mistakes. And in line with that…
Get Something Published
I’ve got some things in the works. Several things, actually. Okay fine – four things. There, I said it – I have four creative writing things floating around my head, with bits and pieces down on paper (or Google Docs, because technology). And I’m sure there is more where that came from, and I want to get something done.
Isn’t it amazing how, as soon as you complain about something not working properly, it fixes itself? *Sigh* Life.
Anyway, to continue:
Sunday, Day 4, dawned ungodly bright and early. Saying we were used to it would be true, and unfortunate. But, we were on vacation and getting early starts is kind of necessary.
We met in front of one of the many drinkable fountains in the city – it turns out that Budapest sits on a naturally pure water source, so all the decorative fountains have drinkable water! And yes, we saw many people filling their water bottles from lions mouths and, ahem, other bodily openings.
Our guide Zoltan was informative, funny, and native-born Hungarian who lived in the Jewish Quarter despite a lack of religious credentials. The Jewish Quarter, it turns out, is home to many non-Jews because it is so centrally located within the capital. It also happens to be the center of the party scene in Budapest and is home to the famously infamous Ruin Pubs.
(I maintain what I said in my previous post about how nice everyone is – they could be even nicer if they would just be a little quieter while wandering the streets in their drunken dazes)
After 2.5 hours, Hubby, Nooshkin, M&E and I backtracked to the Dohanny Street Synagogue for a look inside. We decided against an official tour and just wandered around taking pictures of everything.
There was even a guestbook that you could sign so the synagogue would always remember and cherish your visit…that’s not weird in the slightest.
During the morning tour, I learned that Franz Liszt was the Shabbat Goy at the Dohanny Street Synagogue and played the organ during services!
How crazy is that?!
Once that was done, we all headed back to our respective abodes to relax and get ready for the wedding!
Which was on a boat in the Danube River with Buda Castle in the background.
The couple was gorgeous, the party went all night, and a good time was had by all. The craziest part was, they hired a second wedding planner who took care of the Kosher food for us and M&E. Actually, that isn’t so crazy once you really think about it.
What is crazy is how everyone seemed smitten with Nooshkin…nope, also not so crazy.
Day 5 was my plan. We were taking a roadtrip through the Hungarian countryside to Nyiradony, which is about 20 minutes Northeast of Debrecen, which is 2 hours from Budapest. It’s the village where my grandfather was from.
More about that in a different post.
Day 6 was devoted to shopping til we dropping. Which we were incredibly successful at (we are kind of professional). And, of course, taking more pictures of the sites around us.
Before we knew it, it was time to pack everything up. While the trip was wonderful, it was also incredibly exhausting – to the point that, fairly frequently on day 6 Hubby and I would look at each other and say “Yeah, I’m ready to go home”
I guess that is the best sign of a successful trip. That, and the swag we brought back 🙂
Currently Grooving On: Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody
Our travels safely concluded, and the laundry finally completed, I can finally get down to the business of posting lots of pictures and causing people to experience FOMOism.
FOMO: acronym, Fear Of Missing Out; commonly characterized by a desperate need to do something, even if that something is staying up until god-awful hours of the night/morning waiting for something to happen, all the while nothing is happening because every normal person is sleeping and is therefore doing nothing. Commonly experienced by high school and early college-age individuals, especially at summer camps.
As mentioned previously, Hubby Nooshkin and I traveled to Budapest for a week to celebrate the wedding of our friends J&E.
I very much recommend Budapest. As far as capital cities go it was clean, modern, and filled with friendly people. The architecture was amazing, there was (naturally) so much history around every corner, and the FOOD! There is nothing like traveling to a country that has its own food culture, handed down for literally centuries. Delicious, even if we only stuck to the Kosher stuff.
BUT – in the summer, the sun sets at 10pm and rises at 5am. Yes, those times are correct. Nooshkin was up super early every day ready to go – Hubby and I needed at least 3 cups of coffee just to get out the door. Also, this wrecked havoc with all our sleep cycles. Needless to say, by the last day we were very much ready to head home.
So, on to the important part.
Day 1 was spent arriving, settling in, and exploring. We stayed at the Nova Apartments, located in the Jewish Quarter. Once we divested ourselves of the luggage we wandered around the neighborhood. We did a little shopping for food, but mostly took in the sites of the city. We also met up with our friends M&E who also came in for the same wedding and stayed up the street.
Day 2 we walked to the National Gallery of Hungarian Art at the Buda Castle. About half of the galleries were closed for renovations, but what we saw was incredibly interesting. The Gallery was only Hungarian artists throughout the centuries, so it was really cool to see non-Italian works from the Renaissance and other eras.
Afterwards we had a nice picnic lunch near the entrance, and took some pictures of the Pest side of the city.
We then slowly made our way back to the hotel and got ready for Shabbat.
Friday night services were at one of the three local synagogues. I was kind of keen on going to the famous Dohanny Street synagogue, but the services started super early and there’s a two-hour minimum stay when you enter. (The synagogue is closed to tourists on Shabbat; so if you go in they want to make sure that you really want to go in, which I completely understand). As it is, the Dohanny Street Synagogue has a significantly different prayer style than most European Jewish communities, so we wouldn’t have been able to keep up anyway.
However, the synagogue we went to was really nice. The interior was a time machine back to the 1700s when it was first built, with super vibrant blues, greens, reds, and golds. Jewish starts and menorahs were everywhere, and each window had stained glass – even the ones on the ceiling.
There was also a playroom which Nooshkin took over. So that was great, because I was able to actually take in the place without worrying about her.
After dinner we headed back to the apartment and passed out from exhaustion – it had been a super long day.
Shabbat morning, after several rounds of breakfast, we took a long walk around Budapest, followed by lunch. Followed immediately by a nearly 3-hour nap.
We then walked to Margaret Island, smack in the middle of the Danube River and spent a few hours wandering around. There were tons of attractions, and although we didn’t get to do everything there was plenty to see: a zoo, lots of playgrounds, a huge fountain with choreographed displays (music included), the famous Rose Gardens (sans roses, due to maintenance issues), and – apparently – the Budapest Summer Festival.
A good time was had by all, especially Nooshkin, who got to see peacocks for the first time. The zoo also had an eagle, and some ravens. Also storks who were doing this weird clacky thing with their beaks, and nobody could figure out if it was a mating ritual or a defense mechanism.
We took the long way back to the apartments, at which point it was starting to get dark outside and we were finally able to fall asleep.
Currently Grooving On: The Blue Danube Waltz (because, duh)