15

In Praise of Holiday Time

Since my planner was empty, I decided to take the evening off from commitments and just watch TV and get some chores done around the apartment. Then, I remembered what I wanted to write about.

Growing up, Shabbat and holiday time was a time to unplug. No computer, no phone, no music…just the noises of people, and silence. And no car either, so your feet were the way to go. I think it started around college, when I was far from home and the work piled on. And that began my less-religious streak.

These days, I try to spend as much time as I can on Shabbat and holidays being observant, but I’ve either got some sort of commitment, have work to do, or just get too bored and realize that I’m an adult and I can do what I want.

But yesterday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, changed that…a little.

A parent of one of my students (at the elementary school, not from college) invited me over for lunch. I knew they were a religious family, but they lived kind of far away to walk so I drove and parked a few blocks away from their beautiful house. I waited for about ten minutes, thinking they might’ve forgotten, or got held up at shul, when I saw a little salmon-colored dot run down the street towards me. That dot became little Michael, who wrapped me in a big hug, and his mother, Sarah, wasn’t far behind, with his little sister, and another couple and their two kids (again, all names changed for privacy). We went inside, made kiddush, and enjoyed a lovely homemade lunch, courtesy of Sarah. The golden ratio of 5 adults and 4 kids (well, more adults than kids is a golden ratio any way you slice it), we enjoyed our food in leisure. No one was checking their email, and only once did a phone ring (it was the house phone, and Sarah ignored it). I ate my fill of challah and honey, salad with pomegranate seeds, fish, stuffed chicken, corn muffins, mashed potatoes, spinach, and cherry pie for dessert, all while enjoying conversations about the plight of Roma in Central Europe, where to find the best kosher food in town, remembering our favorite food products from when we were kids that no longer existed, using FaceTime to keep up with family, and more. After saying Birkat Hamazon, there was no rush to clean up; people just brought in plates, forks, and food items leisurely, and we continued to schmooze in and around the kitchen. I updated Sarah on what we were covering in school, and chatted with the other couple about theater and Jewish customs, and our upbringings, and such. I was having such a casual and happy time that I was honestly shocked when I looked over at the oven clock and it was 5:00 PM, for a lunch that began at 2:00 PM.

Upon walking back to my car, getting in, and driving home, I was simultaneously on a holiday high and kind of sad to be returning from the religious world to the “real world.” When I got home, I realized that I had a meeting I wanted to go to at 5:30, but as I watched the clock tick by, I was like…nah, not a chance. I’m staying in bed and watching the sun set, and doing nothing else (well, at least until dance class at 9:30).

For all those times I hated Shabbat and holidays from preventing me from doing what I wanted as a kid, I started to really miss those days. I don’t know what my future will bring, but this year I really do want to at least try to get back to the comforting way things were back then. I was so busy the rest of the holiday with meetings, school, work commitments, that I barely got any Rosh Hashanah this year. This year, if and when I can, I will do my best to at least get a few solid hours of Shabbat/holiday time each time it comes up. Not necessarily being in shul all the time, but trying to eat meals in the sukkah, going to a Simchat Torah event, and spending at least a little of my Saturdays either meditating, or reading for fun, or just doing nothing but existing, completely disconnected from anything with an on/off button and not thinking about anything that might take up residence in my planner.

Long live happy days of religious bliss, no commitments, and nothing but time on my hands.

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1

Okay, Everybody Freeze

Ever wish you could do that to your life, just to get some extra sleep or some stuff done, just like in those cell phone commercials with Catherine Zeta-Jones?

This weekend’s been so crazy I’ve barely had time to charge my cell phone. Selling jewelry on State Street and then at the farmer’s market, Salsa Saturday at Bandung, grading grading grading, groceries, gym, laundry, Kohl’s, and ringing in the new year with a Rosh Hashanah dinner at the Concourse.

Not like any of that is out of the ordinary for me, but also trying to grade and sell while at the same time not falling asleep, trying to run (literally) on less than five hours of sleep, having to go to two different stores to buy everything, replacing the bed sheets that I accidentally ripped while taking them off the bed (and the accidentally buying queen instead of full), and being woefully late for dinner, almost missing it.

…and back to grading, rereading the play I’m teaching tomorrow, updating my planner…

Hopefully I’ll be back to posting some fun content soon.

7

Rush-a-shanah

Hey y’all. We’ve been having a lot of fun here lately, but here’s a small dose of Real Talk. I know that’s one of the two topics that I don’t normally like to broach here – the other being politics – but I’m just feeling…a certain way, and maybe being philosophical about it here will help. Pardon me if I come off as whiny (or just comment, “hey Jacob, that’s so whiny, man up,” or something) but here goes.

This year, I didn’t have much of a Rosh Hashanah. In fact, I had about one hour of it, on Monday, between 10:30 and 11:30. Fortunately, I got to hear the shofar and say a few little prayers before jetting off to lecture. I got a few questions about why I didn’t petition off for the holiday, but I shrugged it off. I love Rosh Hashanah; some good prayer, some good food, do it all again the next day. Now, Rosh Hashanah’s come and gone, and I’ve spent most of it in classes and meetings.

Today, I found out a few items of bad news. Well, bad is sort of relative, but there were a few things that I found out that did not make me happy. One made me mad, one made me sad, and one just left me confused. I talked to various friends, and they tried to make me feel better, but ultimately, it was all up to me to help myself. I’m still here, writing this all down, so I guess I’m doing pretty good, but I have this overwhelming sense of guilt, that somehow it’s my fault that these things happened, even though none of them directly involved me or could have been controlled or prevented by me. I can’t say much more about any of the pieces of news because (almost) none of them are public knowledge yet, but suffice it to say: God, I love you with everything I’ve got, but why did that have to happen? And why do people feel the need to send vague, passive-aggressive emails? And why, why do I even try, what could I have done differently, why can’t I get a definitive answer, what is wrong with me, what am I working towards?

Okay, so that’s a lot of questions.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m not unconvinced that karma doesn’t exist. I am so grateful about so many things in my own life, but maybe I need to do some more meditation. And eat more fiber.

5

Turbulence: You May Experience Jerks

The title pretty much says it all.

But to give you some context, it started this morning, when I was supposed to be getting ready for class but reading Facebook on my phone as usual, and I came across an article from a newspaper in New Zealand about this. By the time I had thought of a response, I had long lost the link, so I found an almost identical article here, in the Washington Post.

The article I linked above adds some scenarios that I didn’t encounter in the New Zealand article, so I’m just going to focus on the first one. It happened on an El Al airplane leaving New York (Kennedy, presumably) for Tel Aviv. Several dozen Orthodox Jewish men, some of them rabbis, refused to take seats near women, as Jewish law forbids close contact with non-related women, see one of my negia posts for more on that. After getting all the men seated, the plane finally took off, only for the men to stand back up during the flight and congregate in the aisles, rather than sitting next to women. This made life difficult for everyone else on that eleven hour trans-Atlantic flight, especially when the men offered passengers money to switch seats before takeoff.

I have to say, well done rabbis. You sure showed that plane full of people your true colors. Well, your true monochrome, that is. Now, you’ve not only gotten yourselves a reputation for being jerks, but this stunt will absolutely do wonders for the image of Jews, specifically the Orthodox, around the world. The world is not tailor-made for Jewish people; I’ve learned that the hard way, going to school on Jewish holidays and not being able to eat much from menus in places like Applebee’s, Wendy’s or the entire state of Louisiana. You’re right in the fact that it’s just not fair sometimes. But you have to pick your battles, and when you’re faced with being stuck in a giant metal tube for eleven hours with one hundred or so other people who are trying to live their lives, just sit your ass down and make your your seat belt is securely fastened. This whole not-sitting-next-to-women crap has gone way too far. The Talmud says that men and women may touch in unavoidable situations or during goal-oriented tasks, such as passing plates around a table, doing the laundry, or moving furniture. Why can’t travel fall under the same category? After all, nobody goes on a plane just to sit there and do stuff for the rest of their lives; it’s a temporary situation, so open your book, crank some Miami Boys Choir up to full volume and suck it up. The fact that it’s almost Rosh Hashanah makes it even worse. It’s like, you want to get written in the Book of Life? Try acknowledging other human beings.

I actually have two personal stories about this. The first happened in Israel. I was flying back from Cyprus, and my then-girlfriend surprised me at the airport to accompany me back to Jerusalem in a sherut (shared taxi). The principle of the sherut, especially at Ben Gurion Airport, is that you hand the driver your suitcase and pile in, sitting wherever there is a seat. Not a hard concept. It was late at night, and in our sherut there happened to be, other than us and the driver, five others: an elderly couple, a secular Jewish guy, another guy, and a younger Haredi woman traveling alone, which is a rarity. There were plenty of seats in the van, so we clambered into the back row. The couple sat in two of the front seats, and the Haredi lady sat alone next to a window. The secular Jewish guy enters the van and sits right next to Haredi lady, who asks him to give her some space, because she’d rather not sit next to him. He moves, but as soon as we’re all packed in and the motor starts, he lets Haredi lady have it, laying into her for being a Haredi, always wanting her own way, not living in this century, having so many extra privileges for being religious, and so on. Keep in mind that it’s creeping close to midnight, and we’re all tired. Haredi lady says something back to him, and he keeps going. I can barely see her face in the moonlight, but she looks like she’s on the verge of tears, so the other guy and the elderly couple come to her rescue, while we watch bemusedly from the backseat. It basically lasts the whole ride back to J’lem, not letting up until he gets out. Thankfully, he’s the first stop. After he is off, she breathes a sigh of relief.

The second story happened at Kennedy Airport on New Year’s Eve. I was on my way to Vienna, Austria, to meet DAT for the Slovakia Winter Retreat and I was boarding the plane for the first leg of the trip: New York to Zurich, Switzerland on Swiss Air. Not a lot of people fly on NYE, which is fantastic, because there is plenty of leg room. It seemed like I was among the only American on the flight. Everyone else was either going back to Switzerland, a religious Jew connecting to Israel, or a brightly-clothed African who, as I later learned, were all connecting to Douala, Cameroon. I get to my seat, and there is a super-religious Israeli girl about my age sitting in the window seat of the row. In my pajama pants, Edward Gorey t-shirt, and bright green DAT headband, I look anything but Jewish. She very visibly rolls her eyes and starts chattering in Hebrew to her friend who is standing right there. I did not catch all of what she was saying, but she was mostly bitching about having to sit next to a boy the whole time and how much this flight was going to suck. All while I’m sitting right there, pretending to stare off into space but actually listening and understanding most of their conversation.

People are starting to settle into their seats, and a lovely flight attendant comes over to me and asks me for my meal preference. She then asks if the religious girl is also sitting in this row; by this point, she has gotten out of the seat and is standing in the aisle pouting. She then addresses her directly, that she needs to sit down so she can get her meal preference, and the girl either ignores her or does not understand her English. I whisper to the flight attendant that I can speak Hebrew, and I proceed to get Miss Orthodox Jewish Bitchface’s attention by locking eyes with her and saying in rapid and pretty-well-accented (if I say so myself) Hebrew something along the lines of:

“Listen, honey. This nice lady wants to know if you’re sitting here, so you can get the food you want.”

The religious girl doesn’t look so much surprised as she does disgusted that I’m even talking to her (in her own language!) and says something like:

“Maybe I’ll sit here, maybe I’ll sit over there with my friend, I don’t know, whatever.”

I translate this to the flight attendant, who tells me she needs the girl to sit down in a seat because we are preparing for takeoff and she needs to know what the hell this girl wants to eat. Just doing her job. I translate this into Hebrew and convey it to the religious girl, who walks off in a huff with her nose in the air. Turns out I will not be seeing her for the remainder of the flight.

I turn to the flight attendant:

“Yeah, so from the bitchy display we just saw, I take it she’s not going to be eating on this flight. And if she gets hungry, well, tough luck.”

I earn some brownie points with the flight attendant, whose life is made easier by drawing a line through the religious girl’s name on her list. I feel powerful, and a little bad that she won’t get any food, but frankly, with the way she talked about me in front of my face and how she brushed off both me and the flight attendant, she didn’t deserve the delicious hot rolls and free champagne. If you don’t want to cooperate with me, someone who is trying to help you potentially get the food that you want/need, fine. But don’t take it out on a lady who’s just doing her job.

People. Entitled people.

Anyway, gentlemen…you can always swim across.

***

Works Cited

Sullivan, Gail. “Ultra-Orthodox Jews delay El Al flight, refusing to sit near women.” Morning Mix. The Washington Post. 26 September 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/09/26/ultra-orthodox-jews-delay-el-al-flight-refusing-to-sit-near-women/&gt;

1

Honey Cake on a Whim for Rosh Hashanah

I woke up this morning, and I was like, holy crap, it’s Rosh Hashanah.

Well, not now, but later tonight.

And I haven’t done anything for it.

Then I went to class, and when I got home, it hit me: I should totally bake something. Last year, I baked a honigkuchen (honey cake) so I thought I’d bake it on a whim, and thereby establish it as a traditional honigkuchen (ooh aah). I found my old recipe, and with about two hours to go until class, I decided to give it a try.

That’s So Jacob’s Kitchen Presents

That’s So Nom

Episode 2: Between-Class On-A-Whim Honey Cake for Rosh Hashanah

Step 1: Gather ingredients.

Step 2: Realize you don’t have all the correct ingredients midway through preparation, so run out to the corner store to buy the remainder for rip-off prices. Be pleasantly surprised when the store actually has normal prices for things – $5 for applesauce, cinnamon, baking soda, and brown sugar? SWEET.

Step 3: Return home and complete the cooking to the sounds of the Ronnie Spector station on Pandora.

Step 4: Put in oven, for twenty-five minutes.

Step 5: Start your reading for class, occasionally checking on the cake.

Step 6: When the timer beeps, check the cake. If it’s still a watery mess in a tin, close oven door and set timer for another 10 minutes.

Step 7: Repeat step six about 5 times because it doesn’t seem to be baking.

Step 8: If on or about the sixth time you check on it it’s still warmed-up ingredient soup in a tin, call mother and freak out at her. Then put on bottom rack in oven for about 10 more minutes, for the last. fucking. time.

Step 9: Remove hot cake from oven, finally cooked, but realize that the batter has overflowed the pan and it looks like somebody pooped in your oven.

Step 10: Laugh uncontrollably at the fake poop in the oven, then take picture of it and send it to your sister in Washington. Consider leaving the poop outside your neighbor’s door as a prank, but eat it instead because it’s actually not poop but delicious honey cake.

Step 11: Put cake in bag and wrestle with the Cling Wrap (the official baking tool of SATAN) to attempt to cover the hot cake in it to stay hot, but ultimately only pull off a few tiny pieces.

Step 12: Realize that you’re going to be late for class unless you leave RIGHT NOW so wrap that burning hot cake in a bag, tuck it under your arm, and run down State Street like it’s the Superbowl.

Step 13: Arrive in class at exactly 4:00 (phew). Plop cake down in bag, on the table but not yet visible. Proceed to torture yourself and your classmates with the delicious smell of honey, and realize that you are now sweaty, have brown stains on your khakis, and smell like a combination of delicious cake and the garlic sauce you made to go on your salmon last night. Hope no one else notices the garlic emanating from you. Practice saying “honigkuchen” in your head several times.

Step 14: At class’s conclusion, reveal the lovingly-baked honigkuchen to a chorus of delight and confusion. Pretend that you just dashed it off casually while reading Chinese and Japanese performance theory texts as if you are Little Suzy Grad Student. Cut off in hunks and serve on napkins. Serves six hungry and curious East Asian studies graduate students and two confused but relieved East Asian studies professors.

Your results, as always, may vary.

Shana tova, y’all.