scarlettina: (Jewish: Star)
Tonight is Kol Nidre, the holiest night in the Jewish calendar, the night that begins Yom Kippur--the Day of Atonement. I am not at synagogue tonight and won't be tomorrow because I didn't plan properly. I had dinner around sunset; technically my fast has begun. And so I'm thinking hard about trespasses and forgiveness. And other stuff.

I recently had a devastating falling out with someone I love. The trespass was his; it's been hard for me to get over it, more so as I learned of its magnitude. I'm mourning what we had, what I lost. He keeps apologizing. I've been thinking hard about those apologies and what I've come to is that there's apologizing, and there's asking for forgiveness, and they're two very different things.

An apology is an expression of regret: I'm sorry I did thing X. I have acknowledged the apologies. I understand that he regrets what he did.

There has been no request for forgiveness. I looked up the word in the dictionary to be sure I understood its technical meaning. Merriam-Webster's says that to forgive means:

to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone) : to stop feeling anger about (something) : to forgive someone for (something wrong) : to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed).

I'm still angry. I still feel betrayed. I still hurt so much. Mostly what I am, though, is sad. Disappointed. Bewildered. Exhausted. Every time I think about the trespasses committed, I get upset all over again. He hasn't asked for forgiveness; perhaps he believes that my response is justified. I certainly do. I don't know how to let it go, perhaps because I know that some of the circumstances that precipitated the trespasses haven't changed and most likely won't. I don't know what to trust anymore. I miss him terribly. But I know that I'll never be comfortable with the new state of affairs he has created. I don't need another source of pain.

On Yom Kippur, we are supposed to admit our trespasses and ask for forgiveness: of G-d, of ourselves, and of others. We are supposed to make a clean start to the new year. Make a clean slate.

I have been vain. I have been selfish and inconsiderate. I have been covetous and jealous. I've been impatient and unkind. I have been angry and hostile. I admit all these things and I do regret them. I ask G-d and the people I love to forgive me of those things.

Am I worthy of forgiveness if I can't find it in my heart to forgive someone else? I don't know. I'm not perfect; I don't expect others to be. I suspect that G-d doesn't expect me to be perfect either. But there are some things I do know: I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. I hope that those I love will give what they've received in turn. I deserve to be a priority -- someday, I hope, someone's first priority, though I know that such particular prayers sometimes just never get answered. Sometimes the answer is "no."

When I was a little girl, a Hebrew school teacher told me that she'd seen her father cry in synagogue every year on Yom Kippur. She said that he stood in fear of G-d as he asked forgiveness. As an adult, I've stood in synagogue on Yom Kippur and wept, mostly in regret for things I've done. The first time it happened, it surprised the hell out of me, but I couldn't stop, and didn't, for more than an hour. I asked for forgiveness. I promised to strive to do better. At the time, I didn't know if I was promising G-d or myself. In retrospect, I think I was promising myself by way of G-d. One way or another, it was cathartic, and I suspect that Yom Kippur, in part, is intended to be a catharsis. It's sacred time set aside for reflection and resolution.

So tonight I reflect. Perhaps resolution will come tomorrow. Maybe forgiveness will come. For myself, I hope. But if I am to hope for forgiveness for myself, it's only just to try to find my way to forgiveness for him. I don't know when or how that will happen. Or even if it will. If nothing else, I need to find my way there for myself, because carrying all this anger and resentment can only be self-destructive. Maybe it's just too soon. I'm still so raw; I feel like I'm just one big gaping wound. Forgiveness doesn't just happen and it can't be forced. So if I ask tonight for forgiveness for myself, then perhaps I'm also asking for the time and strength and healing to find it for another. Some day.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Star)
Note: This is an expansion of a Facebook post. In an effort to get myself back on the LJ wagon, I'm taking a shortcut of sorts.

I'm a regular watcher of Finding Your Roots on PBS. After tonight's extraordinary episode (Season 3: Family Reunions), I went to the site and found a fascinating article on Jewish genetic genealogy that explains some of the baffling results from my Ancestry DNA test: namely, that thousands of potential family matches showed up. Some of this may be due to the fact that my maternal great grandfather was the father of 23 children (between two wives; yes, really). But that can't account for all those results.

It turns out that the reason for those thousands of results isn't the fact that Great Grandpa Pinchus was prolific. It's that "working with Ashkenazi Jewish autosomal DNA (atDNA) for the purpose of cousin matching has unique challenges due to the fact that the ancestors of Jews today have historically been an isolated population, typically marrying within their own group. The resulting lower degree of genetic variation means that any two people of predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry are likely to share stretches of matching autosomal DNA that would usually imply recent common ancestry between them, but the genealogical relationship is most often untraceable. This is because rather than a single recent common ancestor contributing this matching atDNA, it was inherited from multiple, more distant ancestors. The contributions from these multiple shared ancestors can add up to enough shared atDNA to mimic a relatively close cousinship."

Technically speaking, this means that Jewish genetic cousin matching is very difficult indeed. Those thousands of matches I received may not actually be relatives at all. Though the Ancestry DNA test results include a lot of information about the results and the test methods, they don't explain this particular issue. Disappointing. Intuitively, the information in the quote above does make sense. And, in fact, after investigating 20 or 30, I have found almost no one who shares surnames with me, or has trees that even might touch mine. I just uncovered one surname that might be a match, but it's a fairly common name (Schwartz) in the wrong part of the European map. I'll still write them; anything is possible. It's on a branch of the family that I have very little information about that's not anecdotal. But it's one out of thousands.

The above-linked blog post explains my voluminous results. It's a little disheartening, I admit. I had hoped for some contact with other descendants of Great Grandpa Pinchus. I may yet have one more route for investigation and when I have time (that copious "spare time" of myth and legend) I want to pursue it.

It's interesting stuff, though. The article is fascinating, even if you're not Jewish, and well worth the reading.
scarlettina: (Writing)
Years ago, a friend of mine gave me a chapbook of short-short stories he published. One of them was, ostensibly, a Jewish story. But for some reason, the character kept referring to "shavath." I couldn't figure out what the character was talking about. I asked the friend and he said the character was talking about the Sabbath. I said to him, "Oh, you meant 'shabbat.'". No, he responded rather defensively, he meant "shavath!" That's what a rabbi told him--shavath! I'd never seen or heard or referred to the Sabbath in any way except as "shabbat" or "shabbos," and that's what I told the friend. "Well," he said, "you're wrong." Whoa! thought I, and dropped the subject. Clearly, having grown up Jewish, I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about. Not having been ordained, I couldn't possibly challenge a rabbi about something this basic. Or maybe he had misinterpreted a reference that the rabbi had provided to him.

Another friend just posted on Facebook, asking for a particular phrase in Italian Hebrew. I asked if she meant Ladino, since that's what many Western European Jews speak. No, she said; a little later, she edited the post and rephrased her question. She wanted a character to say a particular phrase in Italian Hebrew for authenticity. I did some quick Google searches, found some references for her and pinged a friend who is more observant and more fluent than I am in Hebrew. The Facebook friend seemed to be genuinely grateful.

What I didn't say to this friend is that I wondered that she hadn't done her own research first. The Googling I did was educational to me and I learned things I didn't know--like there is an Italian analog to Yiddish and Ladino called La'az. It was very cool to learn about. But I found some information within three clicks. On the other hand, she didn't ask for the language--she knew enough to make a distinction between Ladino and La'az, even if she didn't initially appear to know the name.

But here's the bigger issue that's been bugging me. This writer wanted a phrase in Italian Hebrew "for authenticity." And all I could think was that language is a product of culture. You've heard the old saw that Eskimos have more than 20 words for snow? I don't know if it's true or not, but conceptually the idea is sound. And the corresponding concept exists for every other language on the planet. Language and culture have a symbiotic relationship; each grows from the other organically. So if the writer was looking for a phrase "for authenticity," then I hoped that she was researching other things about this character's background as well--for authenticity of behavior, of environment, of personal history.

I didn't say the last bit because it occurred to me that when she thanked me for the references, she might have been grateful, sure, but she might also have been being patient. As I said, she knew enough to make a distinction. My own recent experience with research for fiction has shown me that what's new to me may be well-known information to others who have studied the subject before. I didn't want to get presumptuously pedantic. I didn't know where this writer had been with her subject, so I left the conversation there and went on my way. (It's taken a while, but I'm learning when to step away from Discussions on the Internet. And I don't have to correct everyone who's wrong on the Internet either; sometimes, it's even me. [shock!])

But I couldn't help feeling a little possessive and a little defensive, myself. This was my culture--or a similar one--she was writing about. (Was she? I didn't know context or anything else.) What about the rest of the details?

I will admit that this is one of the reasons I'm always a little nervous about writing characters from other cultures and backgrounds. What if I get the research wrong? What if I make a perfectly innocent misstep (like the friend who got defensive)? I've done it before, in other contexts. We don't know what we don't know. Asking questions, using Google, using the library all help. At the same time, a lot of policing goes on these days; I could get pilloried for an honest mistake, one that even may have come out of trying to do effective research. I didn't want to be a police officer on the subject for this writer, which is another reason I stepped away. I knew the limits of my knowledge and tried to provide a more knowledgeable resource.

It's hard, though. Complex. I want to help her make sure she gets it right. At the same time, all those other questions I had? A natural reaction, but not necessarily a helpful one. Knowing when to walk away, when to say so much and not more, is challenging. Getting the research right is hard, too.
scarlettina: ("So Many Books...")
A lot of interesting stuff has been popping up on my LiveJournal and Facebook feeds lately, so I've decided to aggregate them here for my reference and yours if you are so interested.

I don't know how many of you follow the delightful and thoughtful [livejournal.com profile] jimhines but if you don't, you might want to consider it. He's been running a guest blog series on representation in science fiction and fantasy, and some of the latest essays have hit pretty close to home. Links are included below.

Nancy Jane Moore's essay "No More Dried Up Spinsters" gets into the issue of representation of older, unmarried women in SF and fantasy. What's missing, she says, is vibrant, independent women of a certain age who don't need a man to be complete and who aren't done living by a long stretch. (As one of those women, I'm here to say "I feel ya, Nancy Jane.") It's an excellent essay, well worth reading.

She notes, about halfway through her essay that "Catherine Lundoff has put together a great list of older women characters in SF/F, which she’s updating regularly. But to get a good list, she has defined 'older' as women 40 and above." I have made a point to mention, in the comments, Sian Katte and Arian, Factora-Consort of Alizar, from [livejournal.com profile] calendula_witch (Shannon Page) and [livejournal.com profile] jaylake's novel Our Lady of the Islands, as they are perfect examples of the kind of women we're looking for: experienced, independent, with agency and not in need of any man in particular.

Gabrielle Harbowy's excellent essay "Next Year in Jerusalem" gets into the issue of representation of Jews in science fiction and fantasy. As in Seattle, we are few and far between in the genre (though I will note, on behalf of [livejournal.com profile] kradical, that some of the Star Trek tie-in novels feature a couple of prominent Jewish characters and, on behalf of [livejournal.com profile] mabfan, his most excellent Hugo Award-nominated story "Kaddish for the Last Survivor" which you can read at the link--among others of his work--has Judaism at its heart). Steven Silver has compiled an extensive list of Jewish science fiction and fantasy and includes links to other sources as well.

Lastly, Alis Franklin's essay, "Fat Chicks in SFF" gets into another area with which I have some passing familiarity. I was surprised that she hadn't encountered Mary in Spider Robinson's Callahan stories, a character that made me loyal to Spider as author to this very day (and thereby hangs a tale for another time). But she's got a point worth making.

Finding myself in my genre has been challenging, and I'm grateful to Jim for giving space to allow these voices to be heard.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Cartoon Menorah)
I slept in this morning (despite Zeke's best efforts to dislodge me from the bed), and had a fairly late breakfast. At around 1 PM, I met [livejournal.com profile] varina8 at the Museum of History and Industry because they were offering free admission--it's Free First Thursday, so it seemed like a great opportunity to explore the museum's new location (at South Lake Union) and facility.

The new museum building is just gorgeous--broad and light and airy, with clerestory windows that let in the soft sunshine. The exhibits are well-deployed and much more modern than in the old facility. The top floor has an exhibit about maritime Seattle and features a beautiful march of windows that overlook Lake Union. You can see some of the boats from the Center for Wooden Boats, and watch as seaplanes swoop in to land on the lake at the Horizon Air water terminal.

One of the reasons that we went was to see a particular exhibit they were offering: Shalom! Open for Business: Tales of Jewish Merchants in Washington State. The exhibit was terrific. I learned about how big a role Jewish merchants have played in Seattle's growth and development. I was struck in particular by how influential the Sephardic community is in Seattle--struck but not surprised, since one of my earliest encounters with the Jewish community in Seattle was to attend a Sephardic Passover seder--one of my fondest memories of my early days here. Strolling through the exhibit was fun partly because, well, Jewish history and Seattle history, but also because of the number of business names I recognized. (Costco was founded by Jews! Many of the first fish mongers in Pike Place Market were--and still are--Jewish. Three Girls Bakery? Jewish!)

After we finished with that exhibit, we strolled through the maritime exhibit and then went downstairs to the cafe--which has a very nice menu--for some lunch. We poked through the gift shop, where I picked up Starvation Heights (Powells.com), a book about the quack, swindler and murderer, Linda Burfield Hazzard, whose notorious "sanitorium" was the last destination for many of her victims. It's a fascinating story that I've heard about as oral history and as snippets in TV documentaries about women serial killers; I decided I wanted to read what's considered one of the authoritative narratives of her grim and terrible tale.

We concluded our visit with watching an entertaining multimedia presentation about the Great Seattle Fire (including the notorious glue pot in which said fire began).

All in all, it was a lovely way to begin the new year. If you're local and you can catch the exhibit (it closes January 20), I highly recommend it.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Cartoon Menorah)
Several friends have mentioned to me this week that they had attended Chanukah parties. These friends are all far away. No one locally is having Chanukah parties; such a small percentage of my local friends are Jewish, and most of them are involved with their families. No parties were in the offing. So yesterday, as is so often the case when I want to have a Thing, I decided to have a Chanukah/latke party this afternoon for myself, which is what I did.

I invited about 10 people over, only one of whom is actually a member of the tribe (that being my most fine and precious [livejournal.com profile] suricattus). She brought delicious home-made apple sauce. EB and CH brought Martinelli's Sparkling Cider. [livejournal.com profile] varina8 brought veggies and hummus. I made and served many latkes. I lit my chanukiah. I read everyone a charming little picture book called "The Hanukkah Mice." And I enjoyed the company of my friends. It was a goodness.

Janna reading The Hanukkah Mice

And now the house is quiet and still, and smells like latkes. It was quiet and still before the party and I felt terribly lonely. I don't quite feel that way now, but I'm not ready to go to bed. Perhaps I'll read for a while and then hit the sack. I hope the kitties come to sleep with me. It's always better when they're both there.
scarlettina: (Christmas ornament)
1) Had a really great holiday weekend. Attended [livejournal.com profile] varina8's Post-Apocalyptic Solstice Gathering. Had delicious dim sum on the day before Christmas with a group of friends at Jade Garden in the International District and then saw Life of Pi with [livejournal.com profile] oldmangrumpus. And then had dinner on Christmas Day with [livejournal.com profile] grubbstreet, his lovely bride, and a cast of delightful irregular regulars. I feel as though we rang this holiday weekend for all it was worth.

2) Having observed the traditional practice of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas, I am delighted to learn that "a lost Talmudic tractate has been discovered that answers age-old rabbinic questions about the appropriate way for Jews to fully accomplish the obligations associated with eating Chinese food on December 24th/25th." In something of a rare occurrence, I have, for once, correctly practiced a mitzvah, according to the rabbis. I await the discovery of the Tractate Cinema to be sure that I've accomplished both mitzvot appropriately.

3) I am down to the last two calendar pages in my Moleskine calendar notebook for the year. They are remarkably blank. I don't know whether to make a point to fill them up or to keep them blank to ensure some quiet time for reading, cleaning, and contemplation, all of which I'd like to have. I look to next year's notebook with anticipation, all clean and pristine, yet unblemished by a year's worth of jostling about in my pocketbook and note-making in restaurants and coffee shops, among other things.

4) Life of Pi was an absolutely beautiful movie. Visually it was just stunning and the story, with its twist ending, is remarkable. While I don't think anyone is going to be nominated for an acting Oscar, I wouldn't be surprised to see a raft of technical award nominations for the film. Ang Lee has created something quite special and used 3D in the best possible way. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.

5) There's still a whole list of movies I want to see. Let's see: Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Argo, Flight, Hitchcock, Anna Karenina, The Sessions, Chasing Ice. I've already seen Skyfall which I thought was one of the best Bond films we've had in a while, Lincoln which was remarkable and which I may have to see again, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey which was overlong, self-indulgent and yet still entertaining and well worth seeing (though I don't expect to see it again in the theater even though Richard Armitage alone is worth spending the money to see). Previews and Streisand made me want to see The Guilt Trip for its sheer ridiculousness, but given its Rotten Tomatoes rating, I don't think I'll be able to make myself do it. I'm also trying to find a way to make myself find Silver Linings Playbook more appealing since it's getting all sorts of Oscar buzz, but I haven't been successful so far. It has been suggested that I see Holy Motors; I need to learn more about it first.

Plus one: Rest in peace, Mr. Jack Klugman. I grew up watching "The Odd Couple" on television, with Klugman's joyously schlubby presence the perfect foil for Tony Randall's fuss-budget persnicketiness. I grew to really respect him not for his comedy but for the humanity he brought to his dramatic roles. He was a terrific actor and I loved watching him whenever the chance presented itself. Thanks for hours of entertainment, Mr. Klugman, as well as for your activist work connected to the Orphan Drug Act. You made a difference in the world, an admirable legacy indeed.
scarlettina: (Default)
This morning in his link salad, [livejournal.com profile] jaylake included a link to a National Geographic piece about language loss, a magnificent photo essay/slide show showing people who speak vanishing languages, including words from those languages. Most of the languages shown are Native American, though they are certainly not the only languages we are losing in the world. I'd encourage you to look at it because, really, the portraits are extraordinary and the effect of seeing these people and sampling their words is quite moving.

Looking at the words and images reminded me of my first, extraordinary Passover here in Seattle. I was working at Wizards of the Coast and was invited to seder at the home of a coworker. Her parents were Greek immigrants, and so I knew that I would be attending my first-ever seder in the Sephardic tradition. I figured that the foods would be different from what I'd grown up with as an Ashkenazic Jew. What I hadn't expected was to hear an entirely new language--and providing the same experience myself, though unaware that I would be doing so. My coworker's parents spoke Greek and Ladino, a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew, much as Yiddish is a mix of German and Hebrew, a language that has been designated in danger of extinction. It was beautiful and musical, and I was completely enthralled listening to it. It sounded a little like Portuguese, and a lot unfamiliar; I couldn't get enough of hearing it. What I didn't expect was how delighted her parents were that I could say prayers and read in Hebrew. They asked if I wanted to make one of the blessings that night or, well, pretty much anything I wanted to. They wanted to hear me read and speak Hebrew*, as they'd never heard it before, even in synagogue (where, apparently, Ladino was the primary language). I was surprised, delighted, and a little humbled, to do so; I felt like it was nothing compared to listening to their beautiful Ladino and was not nearly as important or impressive--but these experiences are in the ear of the listener, aren't they? We did the seder in four languages that night: Greek, Hebrew, Ladino, and English, and to this day it's one of my most precious holiday memories.

That memory brought on another: of seeing a documentary about the "homeland" that Stalin tried to establish for Russia's Jews in the southeastern portion of the country. The one thing I remember most clearly about seeing that film was a moment of pure, almost instinctive memory. One scene shows a group of seniors singing a Yiddish folksong, Tumbalalaika. I hadn't heard that song in . . . well, probably since I was too small to really remember it consciously, but as soon as they began to sing, I remembered it, and it was a revelation, uncovering something that had been buried for decades--and I could sing along! I didn't sing out loud, of course; in a crowded theater that would have been rude. But I sat there and quietly mouthed the words for as long as the scene lasted. And I still remember it today, a waltzing melody that is sweet and a little sad.

So here I am this morning, hopping through this chain of language and memory. I think that music is as powerful a memory trigger as scent is, at least for me, and for me, language and music have always been closely tied. Which all brings me back to the thing that provoked this post, because I can't help but mourn the loss of the music that's disappearing right in front of us as we lose a language once every fourteen days. On the one hand, with globalization and colonization and forced assimilation, it was bound to occur. On the other hand, hope springs eternal, with things like the Endangered Languages project, which works to preserve languages in danger of extinction. I hope that Yiddish and Ladino will both be preserved and survive. Like so many of the languages profiled in the National Geographic slide show, it's not just a language that will be lost, but a rich culture and heritage, traditions and practices, that we'll never see again.


* It should be noted that my Hebrew is the product of early training and that what comes out of me is either done from memory or read phonetically. Though I have basics, as any good Hebrew school student might, I can't translate or speak it in any meaningful way without significant brush-up.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Star)
Yesterday I posted about Richard Hugo House scheduling a class on Jewish identity on the Sabbath. I wrote them, asking them if this was a deliberate choice, and today I received a response from Brian McGuigan, who manages programming and marketing for Hugo House. He says that it was a deliberate choice--on the part of the instructor, who is also Jewish. He also says, "We will offer it again in the future, probably on a different day as we tend to rotate class schedules."

I don't know why this gets under my skin so much. It really bugs me. It's not like I'm an especially observant Jew.

As I think about it, I find myself going back to wondering if it's regional. A class on this subject would never have been scheduled for Saturdays in New York, Philadelphia, or other major east coast cities, especially with a Jewish instructor. It's like assimilation is more important . . . except that the class is on Jewish identity. And this is part of that.

I don't know. Maybe I'm a hypocrite. I'll take that criticism if it comes my way. But it's the principle of the thing, you know?

Clueless much?

Mon, Jun. 13th, 2011 01:59 pm
scarlettina: (Fountain of smart)
Just received the Richard Hugo House class schedule for Summer 2011. In the listings, I found the following. I was excited at first, and then I noticed a key cultural misstep. Can you see the issue here?

Jewish Identity in Short Prose
This class is for aspiring writers interested in examining some themes of Jewish identity in short prose. We will begin by exploring short works including Yiddish tales and works by writers such as Issac Singer, Franz Kafka, Grace Paley and others. We will form our own classroom-driven definitions of identity and other terms of discussion. The instructor will offer various writing prompts to help students generate fiction or nonfiction.
Instructor: Stacey Levine
Meets: Saturdays, July 16 - August 6, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.
General: $165 Member: $148.50

Really, Hugo House? Really? Scheduling a class on Jewish identity on Shabbat?

I've written them to confirm what I'm seeing. This is right up there with the Chanukah ham (just as clueless, surely, but just as well-meaning? I'll get back to you when I hear from Hugo House). Don't make me tweet about your stupidity, people.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Stained glass menorah)
I grew up on Long Island. My family was one of only three Jewish families in our neighborhood. The families around us were mostly Italian Catholic, Irish Catholic, or German Protestant. Many of their kids went to St. Barnabas parochial school. My brother and I went to the secular elementary school, a typical public school with kids from a wide variety of backgrounds, most of whom nevertheless were some flavor of Christian. My parents chose this neighborhood because, as my mother told me, they wanted us to grow up knowing that "there were other people besides Jews in the world." As if that could ever have been in doubt.

Every Christmas our street would be lined with Christmas-lit houses. In every front window a Christmas tree twinkled. And when it snowed, there would always be at least one Santa snowman. Each winter before my father died, we'd take a walk or a drive, usually the weekend before Christmas, to look at all the displays, because they were pretty and different from what we did at holiday time.

There were Jewish neighborhoods in the town where we lived. At least one of them was the tonier neighborhood to the south, where the houses were bigger, the gardens were meticulously trimmed, and the kids went to different schools than we did. Though my family attended a Conservative synagogue, many of the families who were members were more observant than we were though we went to shul most Saturdays.

I had one friend who lived in that tonier neighborhood to the south whose family kept kosher--in the kitchen and dining room. They didn't keep kosher in the family room, where we often had pepperoni pizza or Chinese food (pass the pork-fried rice!) on paper plates with plastic utensils. And her family had a Chanukah bush. It was a large sort of palm bush that they would hang homemade Chanukah ornaments on: dreidels, boxes wrapped like gifts, paper cut-out menorahs, blue glass balls, white glass balls, and Jewish stars. One year I asked about our having a Chanukah bush. My mother was adamant: Chanukah bushes are Christmas trees in disguise, she told me, and have no place in a Jewish home. My father would never have allowed it and neither would she. And that was the end of the conversation.

Cut to: 2010. Last weekend, I attended the annual Christmas gathering that [livejournal.com profile] ladyjestocost and [livejournal.com profile] bedii throw to help set up and decorate their Christmas tree. I always enjoy this get-together and have fun hanging ornaments. Last night, I attended [livejournal.com profile] varina8's lovely annual pre-Christmas event and discussed with other guests her tree, its ornaments, and how each tree is different from home to home.

I was recently in the local Fred Meyer store, the place festooned displays of Christmas merchandise. On sale were artificial trees about 1.5 feet tall; piled nearby were small glass balls in blue and white and silver. And I had a moment. I'm an adult. I can do what I please. Having a Chanukah bush would make my mostly secular Jewish lifestyle no less Jewish than it already is. And then, in the back of my mind, I hear the admonishment: Chanukah bushes are Christmas trees in disguise and have no place in a Jewish home.

Being Jewish in Seattle has always been something of a struggle for me. It's easy for me to keep whatever measure of tradition I want to keep in my own home, but being out in the world here is difficult. Seattle is the only town I've even been in where I've been accosted on the street for being Jewish (in liberal-as-hell Capitol Hill, no less). I've been given a hard time by employers about taking time off for the high holidays. The Seattle Jewish community is pretty insular, so I've often found myself in the position of being a sort of ambassador, and taken whatever teachable moments I could as opportunities to share and educate. And for many local Jews, I seem to be a little too ethnic, a little too East Coast somehow for their comfort. I've found my own small circle of local Jewish friends, but it's been challenging and not always comfortable.

So there I was in Fred Meyer looking at this little tree with the echoes of my mother's words in my head. And I went back and forth about buying a little artificial tree and setting it up. I couldn't do it. I wanted to, but I couldn't do it. I went through this last year, and the year before. I'll probably go through it again next year. And maybe, someday, I'll set up a little Chanukah bush. But for now, I'll skip it. I'll enjoy my friends' Christmas trees and walk through neighborhoods looking at the displays of lights. But then I'll go back to my little mostly secular Jewish home, enjoy my pretty little Chanukiah, and find comfort in it. It's what my parents would have done.


=================================================

List of things I want to write about, updated:
--The movie "Black Swan" Done
--Ripping my CD collection to my computer and the resulting discoveries
--Christmas trees, Chanukah bushes, and me
--Perspective and politics
--Sophie and Spanky--mainly some pictures because I haven't done that in a while Done
--The creation of art (words, pictures, or jewelry) (or lack thereof) in my life right now
--What comes next
scarlettina: (Jewish: Animated menorah)
Yes, Chanukah was over at sunset, but I found one more thing I wanted to share: a video from this year's White House Chanukah party, in which a rabbi from New Orleans tells the story of the menorah they lit. In the original Chanukah story, a lamp was lit in the wake of devastation. This menorah, too, came through devastation to be lit once more.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Animated menorah)
Tonight we light the eighth and final candle of Chanukah. And to conclude the posts for the year, I'm linking to a story on NPR about a matter of much debate in the Jewish community and beyond: the actual, correct spelling of Chanukah/Hanukkah/Hannukah/Channuka.

Oh! And one more thing: I've presented a lot of Chanukah music this year. The one thing I didn't do, was present my own. I give you "My Dreidel".

My Dreidel
(Sung to the tune of "Maria" from West Side Story)

My dreidel
I just spun a top called a dreidel
And suddenly this game will never be the same again!
A dreidel,
A Jewish toy spun by a meidel*
And suddenly this game is lucky as a game can be!
My dreidel!
It spins round and round over the table,
And it turns up a gimel**... my driedel!
My dreidel, you bring me the gelt*** by the ladle!
My dreidel (sung rapturously nine times)
My dreidel
It spins round and round over the table,
And it turns up a gimel ... my dreidel!
My dreidel, I just can't stop spinning . . . my dreidel!


* Yiddish, meaning "girl"
** The symbol on a dreidel that means you've won the whole pot
*** Yiddish, meaning "gold"

Happy Chanukah everyone!
scarlettina: (Default)
1. I'm hungry. I ought to have breakfast. Breakfast will fix the hungry.

2. One of the great ongoing battles in my life is my habitual accumulation of clutter. I spent a portion of last night trying to declutter the kitchen table in hopes of having a cleared and cleaned kitchen table within the next day or so. I do so much living and working at this table that you'd think keeping it clear would be easy but...no. I made serious progress and got rid of two thirds of the clutter piled upon it. The third that is left is stuff I need to do things with: bills to be paid, magazines to be read, CDs to be burned to my hard drive, and so on. I'll pay bills after I'm done here on LJ this AM. I can burn CDs while I'm working today and I'll probably do quite a bit of that. I may actually get this table fully decluttered before day's end. That would be something.

3. President Obama is going to be on Mythbusters tonight and, in an act of great indulgence to me, [livejournal.com profile] oldmangrumpus is having a couple of people to his place for latkes and viewing. This should be entertaining, especially given how little entertainment or satisfaction I've had from the White House lately (not that I look to the White House for entertainment--that's not what it's there for, but there's been so little satisfaction that entertainment would make a consoling substitute). Looking forward to the company and the viewing.

4. With regard to satisfaction from the White House, I've actually had less than none lately. I don't know what the hell is going on up there. I am not optimistic about the next two years in Washington, D.C. and I'm deeply disappointed. That's all I'm going to say for now. ::grumble::

5. It's been a very pleasant Chanukah. My brother gave me, among other things, a lovely sterling silver pendant of two cats, one plain and one studded with marcasite chips--Spanky and Sophie! I've been wearing it constantly since it arrived.

Bonus item: Selected Shorts at Symphony Space is holding its annual short story contest. I have an idea for it and may attempt an entry. You writer types ought to consider entering, too.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Cartoon Menorah)
Many of my friends know that my vocabulary is sprinkled with a little Yiddish--a language that's a sort of combination of German and Hebrew spoken by Eastern European Jews. That's my heritage, as my family came from Russia, Romania, and Austria-Hungary. What many folks don't know is that Jews from Western Europe--think Greece, Spain, especially--have a similar heritage language called Ladino, a kind of combination of Spanish and Hebrew.

Although I knew about Ladino for years, I never heard in until I moved to Seattle. For my very first Passover here, I attended a seder at the home of a coworker whose parents were Greek. They spoke Ladino. I was so excited to hear it. It was beautiful, musical in a way I couldn't have imagined, and I was delighted to listen to it spoken all night long. As it turned out, my coworker's parents had never had anyone in their home who could sing or pray in Hebrew, so I had the good fortune to be able to share my (modest) knowledge of the language enough to contribute substantially to the proceedings. Ultimately, our seder was in Greek, Ladino, Hebrew and English, and it is still one of my favorite experiences of living in Seattle.

Sadly, UNESCO has designated Ladino an endangered language (check out their map of endangered languages--fascinating), so any time I find a resource for the language I'm delighted. For those of you who can read the Hebrew alphabet, here's a link to the Four Questions in Ladino. Read it aloud and listen to the sounds; you'll definitely hear the language's pedigree.

Tonight's virtual Chanukah gift is a Chanukah song sung in Ladino with a swingy, Latin beat: Ocho Kandelikas (Eight Candles). Enjoy!

scarlettina: (Jewish: Ceramic dreidel)
For the fifth night of Chanukah, [livejournal.com profile] scarlettina gives to you Eran Barron Cohen (Sacha's brother) doing an awesome version of "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel". I especially like Hebrew graffiti and the rap in Yiddish at the break.



And if you're curious, here's the transliteration and the translation of the rap:

Chanuka, oh chanuka, a yom tov a sheine,
A lustige, a freiliche, nishtu noch a zeine,
Ale nacht in dreidel shpilen mir,
Heise frishe latkes, esen mir.
Kumtz kinder, geshvinder,
di chanuka lichtelech untzinden,
Zingts Al Hanisim, un dankts far di nisim,
Un lomir alle tantzen tzuzamen.


Chanuka, oh chanuka, a beautiful holiday,
A joyous one, a merry one, there is no other like it,
Every night of Chanuka we play the dreidel,
And we eat piping hot delicious latkes.
Come children, come quick,
let's light the chanuka candles,
Sing 'Al Hanisim', and thank God for the miracles,
And let us all dance together.
scarlettina: (Jewish: Stained glass menorah)
It's the fourth night of Chanukah and, tonight, I'm moving us back to Jewishly-themed virtual gifts. Here are the LeeVees performing "Latke Clan." These guys feel to me like Judaism's answer to Barenaked Ladies which, in my book, is a good thing. The video is home-shot and not special, but the song is a snappy little tune.

Here, enjoy:
scarlettina: (Movie tix)
Tonight I'm going to part thematically from Jewish virtual gifts per se because I'm so excited about this that I just can't wait to see it: Julie Taymor's The Tempest, with Helen Mirrin as Prospera and Djimon Honsou as Caliban. Here's our third-night virtual gift: the movie trailer.

scarlettina: (Jewish: Little Dreidel)
So we all know that one of the ways people celebrate Chanukah is by eating latkes, right? Yummy, delicious potato pancakes are one of the reasons it's awesome to be Jewish. :) Why potato pancakes? Well, because they fry up so golden brown and tasty. Well, the point is: they fry up. We eat foods fried in oil because of the Chanukah miracle, which is centered around...oil! So we eat latkes and sufganyot (a sort of Jewish jelly donut) and so on.

Tonight's virtual Chanukah gift is a link to a recipe for really strange but delicious-sounding latkes: Indian Latkes with Curry-Lime Yogurt from Epicurious.com. I haven't tried these myself, but they sound very tasty. Maybe I'll try them this weekend when I have a little breathing room.

Anyway, happy second night of Chanukah!
scarlettina: (Jewish: Cartoon Menorah)
Happy Chanukah, everyone! Tonight we light the first candle of Chanukah. We commemorate the miracle of the lamp that burned for eight days instead of just one in the wake of a battle for Jewish identity. As Jewish holidays go, it's not all that important a holiday, but I love it. I love lighting the candles and beating back the darkness. I like the idea that as the Temple was rededicated, so are we.

As I mentioned here a couple of nights ago, last year, I offered up a virtual gift for each night of Chanukah. This year, I'm going to do it again (I think two years means it's a tradition--we'll see.)

Tonight's virtual gift is getting so much play elsewhere on the Web that I feel like I'm being scooped, so here it is. Matisyahu, the Yiddishe rap/reggae star, has released a new song to celebrate the holiday. As always, he's hip and reverent at the same time, and is making some great music--it just happens to be thematically Jewish. As the kids say, check it:



And because we should tell the Chanukah story, here: you should read, you should learn. There's also a more historical, more complex way to look at it. As with so many Jewish holidays, it boils down to: They tried to defeat us, they failed, let's eat!

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