Monday, December 22, 2014

I really love my birthday - NSFW or young children

December 23, tomorrow is my birthday. I have always loved my birthday and felt everyone else should love it too. My maternal grandfather, my grandaddy (whom I wrote about here) had his birthday a week before mine on December 16. He was my birthday buddy. This infatuation with my birthday may have to do with being a middle child or maybe it's the Hanukkah/Christmas syndrome of getting lost in the shuffle. Or maybe I just like my birthday, ok?

This will be my 46th birthday. I am now on the upper side of 40, closer to 50 than 40. I feel good, I'm okay with my age and feel as though I am in a very good place.

I have been ruminating on some subjects lately so I thought, in honor of my birthday (see how much I love it, I've already mentioned it a million times), I would share these thoughts.

While watching the miniseries the Red Tent (don't bother), there was a love scene where oral sex was performed on a woman. Suddenly, I realized that this is now commonplace on tv. A woman receiving oral sex is almost a standard of sex scenes.  Now mind you this was Lifetime, so it was definitely more than I was expecting. Did I mention I was watching it with my 13 year old daughter? I must add here because she would if she were writing this she would make me, that yes, I let her watch Ted but only if I watched it with her. That evens itself out, right? Ok, I also let her watch Outlander which includes oral sex scenes, gender balanced since both main characters are on the receiving end.  But that was on Starz and this was on Lifetime. In the same scene, you see the man on top, they are obviously naked and doing it (that is the scientific term) and his butt is modestly draped. So far, so good. But then he starts to move as if he is actually having sex with her. Lifetime, really? He had a hot body so throw us a bone (ha ha, excuse the pun) and show his butt, I mean what difference does it make at this point?

My God, next thing you know Linus will be going down on Sally and you know what? She's gonna fucking enjoy it. In fact, she is going to initiate it. Go Girl!

Everyone always gets embarrassed when I bring this up but when I was initially reading up on the HPV vaccine, I saw an article that said you should get the vaccine for your sons as well as your daughters. Why? Because women these days are much more voluble about their sexual needs and so men, in consequence are going downtown more. Since it is now part of pop culture, it must be a thing.

Which brings me to my next subject, rimming. or as Nicki Minaj would say "he tossed my salad like his name's Romaine". If you don't know what this is, let me enlighten you. It's running your tongue around someone's asshole. Apparently that's a thing as celebrities have posted their support of it on instagram. And of course, it's a trend on television shows. No more delegated to the bedroom of gay men, even a DJ got a "rim job" as it's called, in exchange for concert tickets and a large dose of E Coli.

My 13 year old daughter can rap that Nicki Minaj song like its nobody's business. Just like she and her sister used to sing the head round when you go down song when they were not so far out of diapers. Maybe that is where it all started with that song. I've been told, again by my 13 year old daughter that she knows songs with much more explicit lyrics.

I try and have open and honest conversations with my children about sex. Some people might say too open and honest. But I don't think we have a choice anymore. You either explain it all correctly and in a real context (as opposed to one they will, no doubt, see on tv) or let them be taught how it goes by their friends and the entertainment industry. I have told them all that sex is better in a committed relationship, that women too deserve and desire pleasure and that they need to be smart and safe. Yes, my son knows that no means no and I warn my daughters about putting themselves in iffy situations. We've told them that we don't care if they're gay as long as they're happy.

Only the future will know if I've ruined them or saved them. But as the old joke about the guy who dies of a heart attack during sex goes "at least he died happy."

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Fury: The Update

Hello again.  Since I wrote this blog post, two things of note have happened. One doesn't really matter and the other does. The first one is that I thought Brad Pitt retweeted my post. But it wasn't really him. The second is that my Mimi fainted and fell or fell and fainted.  Luckily, she didn't break anything which is not a good thing to do at her age.  They thought perhaps she had had a stroke (she didn't) but turns out  she has just lost her ability to balance well. She is coming out of the hospital tomorrow and will go to rehab for a week and then back to her place. She will have to use a walker now, not just the cane.  She may want to cut down on her glass(es) of wine but maybe not.
Thursday is her 88th birthday, so Happy Birthday Mimi, we love you very much!

If you read her comment on facebook then you know she had some things to tell me. Here is what they are:

1. Grandaddy's boxing name was Jerry Miller
2. They were married for 44 years (I suck at math)
3.  She wanted me to share this with you as well:

My Great Great Grandmother was paralyzed when she fell out of the window trying to clean her house for Shabbat because her in laws were coming over (insert snarky comment here about they not liking her and nothing was ever good enough.)  She was also pregnant at the time. My grandfather was born prematurely weighing something like 3 pounds and was a fighter even then. He was even in the paper labeled "miracle baby".

As I said in my original post, she died after his bar mitzvah. Apparently, she was already very ill but kept saying that she would stay alive until his bar mitzvah. His bar mitzvah was December and she died in January.

So, the real Brad Pitt, if you happen to read this, you can also wish Mimi a happy birthday!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Real Life Fury

I know that all of you are expecting some kind of rant from me but no. The Fury that I refer to in this post is the upcoming movie, Fury starring Brad Pitt. I really want to see this movie because during World War II my granddaddy, Milton "Jerry" Ontell served in the tanks.

He was born in 1919 in Newark, New Jersey to immigrant parents. By the time of his Bar Mitzvah, his mother was ill and confined to a wheelchair and his parents were divorced. In a sense, he ran free around the streets of Newark with his cousin, my uncle Al Walsky.  Just like the kids in "Once Upon a Time in America" (yes, I get my history from the movies, you have a problem with that?) who ran dice and mixed with gangsters.  He even took up boxing under an assumed name - Jerry Brown.  An assumed name so the aunts whom he lived with wouldn't know what he was up to. I have no idea how many years he was in school but I do know he never finished high school if even middle school. The first time they sent him to school, the teacher sent him home and told him to come back when he could speak English. His mother tongue was Yiddish.

For some reason that I never found out, my grandfather loved horses. Maybe it was what horses represented, freedom, countryside, unconditional love, something completely out of his sphere. When the war started he of course, along with my Uncle Al and their stereotypical like in the movies Italian friend, Tony, joined up.  My grandfather joined the calvary because he wanted to be with the horses. What he didn't know was that the horses from the cavalry had turned into tanks.  According to Wikipedia, horses were still used in WWII but the cavalry became mechanized early on. He was sent to bucolic Fort Knox in Kentucky. It must have been like Dorothy landing in Oz (I love movies, I can't help it), completely foreign right down to the southern hicks.

Before he was shipped out to the European Theater, on a St. Patricks Day in March of 1942, the USO held a dance in Louisville for the soldiers.  Among the young women (and I do mean young), was a 15 year old girl named Emma LaVerne Winkles.  Have to go on a tangent here and explain to you that my grandmother, whom we call Mimi and is still going at 87, hates her name. When we were younger and we would call her Emma (not sure how we found out that was her name because everyone else called her LaVerne), she would threaten to write us out of the will.  I think its a beautiful name and for a long time I even wore a perfume named Emma from Laura Ashley (am I dating myself?)

LaVerne was born in 1926 in Louisville, Kentucky. Her parents were also divorced and she essentially had no relationship with her father although she has told us that he owned a vinegar factory.  She spent a lot of time at her Grandmother's house (who I also knew and lived to a very ripe old age) where her Aunt Bernice also lived. I think Mimi would argue that her grandmother really raised her while her mother was trying to make her way in a world that wasn't exactly overly friendly to divorced single mothers.

On the ceiling of the gym where the St. Patrick's day dance was there were shamrocks hanging with the names of the young women of the dance.  Back down on the floor, there were also shamrocks with their names in a bowl where the men would choose a name who would then become their dance partner.  Apparently, my grandfather, who was for certain impulsive, took the shamrock from the ceiling with Laverne Winkles written on it make sure that she became his dance partner.

After that, it was a whirlwind 2 - 3 week courtship. He showed up the their first date - stone cold drunk. They must have had better dates because on April 3, they were married. There was no wedding night since my grandfather returned to Ft. Knox and was shipped off either the same day or the next one.  Somewhere along the way, my grandmother must have also revealed to my grandaddy that she wasn't 18 years old. In fact, she was only 15. In the end, it didn't really matter.

He went to war, first to Ireland where he complained that all they had to eat was mutton and then to North Africa to fight against Rommel.  Mimi meanwhile, planted a victory garden, went to school and worked at the Woolworth lunch counter. They wrote steamy letters back and forth that used the word "swell" alot. Eventually, one of the girls in Mimi's all girls high school (the same school that my mother, me and both of my siblings would graduate from) told the principal that Mimi was married. They kicked her out of school so she wouldn't be a bad influence on the other girls, teaching them all about sex even though she still hadn't had a wedding night.

Some time in early 1943 or late 1942, a telegram was received reporting that Milton Ontell was missing in action. LaVerne thought it was important to go and visit my grandfather's aunts in Newark. Here she was, a shiksa from Kentucky, about to travel a long way from home for the first time in her life to visit Yiddish speaking aunts who most likely didn't even know a Christian. In fact, one time when my grandfather had holy water sprinkled on him by accident, he was taken home and scrubbed.

Gathering up her chutzpah, she went. I don't know most of the details of this visit until this happened:
My great aunt,  my grandfathers half sister and only sibling, came running up to the door screaming that Milton was home. Of course Milton is home- they answered. He's got flat feet (or something like that) and never went away, what's all the excitement? Truth was that it wasn't that Milton. It was my grandfather. He didn't know that my grandmother was there, only that he wanted to see his family and when the Italian prisoner ship he had been sent back home on docked in the area, he jumped over the side. He was sickly and thin and had to be hospitalized. He spent the rest of the war teaching sharp shooting at Ft. Knox. He earned an NCO rank and a purple heart.

My mother was born in 1944 and was an only child.  Mimi and Grandaddy were married for 42 years and he died way too young at 65. Their life together wasn't easy. Their individual childhoods were rough and lonely. Neither of them even finished high school. They tried the best they could and by the time their 3 grandchildren had arrived, they had both mellowed and thought we we hung the stars and the moon.

Every Friday night, we would eat Shabbat dinner at their house. I had once done a living history project with Mimi and interviewed her about life during WWII. Grandaddy never spoke about it. One Friday night, while we were eating, he began to tell us the story of when his tank blew up. We'd seen the scars on his chest and stomach but never knew more than that. There were 3 of them in the tank, he said. 2 Jews and an anti-Semitic commander. One up in the turret, the other two down in the belly of the tank. There was intense fighting and my grandfather, who I think was the driver, told the captain or whatever to bring down the gunner in the turret. Not long after that, there was an explosion and the gunners head was laying in my grandfather's lap. I'm pretty sure that he was the only who survived that day and also told us that he got out of the tank and went running for shelter saying to himself "this is one Jew Hitler isn't going to get". Obviously, he was wounded and his dog tags lost which is why he had been reported missing in action.

We all sat at the table somewhat stunned. No one had ever heard any of that before.

Which brings me back to the movie Fury. It is the closest I will ever get to understanding what Grandaddy went through in the war. What experiences changed him and the violence that haunted him. Yes, it's only a movie, but for him and thousands more then and too many now, it was also real.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams

The first time I realized that something was wrong was a school morning in the 8th grade where, I literally couldn't get out of bed.  Not that my legs didn't work, not that I was tired. I couldn't wrap my head around facing life out of the protective cocoon of my covers.  This was before prozac and before anyone acknowledged that depression wasn't just someone being sad.  I remember my  mom yelling at me to get up out of bed.  Yelling not out of frustration I realize or anger, but out of fear. I think I did eventually only to walk around the entire day in a daze as if it was me but I wasn't really there.  Like in the movies, when dead people see their own bodies.

I was listening to the news this morning to hear my sister, the news anchor on the radio on WGN and they were intensely talking about depression in reaction to the news that severe depression had caused Robin Williams to take his own life. I immediately sent her a message on what's app saying that it sounds like they were talking about my life.

They spoke about what to do if a loved one or friend seems depressed to you.  What was the right thing and the wrong thing to say.  I'm not ashamed to say that I have thought about suicide in the past when I was at an intensive low. When I was in graduate school, I thought finally I was ready to do it. In the past, it was just thoughts, but this time I actually wrote a note and even scraped my wrists with scissors. Part of me was ready but there was something still there that made me afraid. My quasi-boyfriend at the time, who would later become my husband, was out of town. So, I called my ex-boyfriend who was getting his MSW.  He talked to me, asked me all the social worky questions and moved me beyond, I think, my desire to not be in pain anymore. That is what it was. I didn't really want to die, I think that is the thing that actually kept me alive but I also didn't want to keep going. Life moved by me as if I was walking in water, slowly and out of focus. Sleep was the only thing I wanted to do.

I got help right after that episode and was put on the new drug, Prozac. I also went to therapy for a long time but the drugs, oh the drugs. I suddenly woke up. I once described feeling depressed to being down in a deep hole and looking up at the world around you. I was all alone and in the dark. But the Prozac helped lift that initial fog and allowed me to see my life in its real terms. I have taken medicine for depression every year since then and that was 1991. Except for the times when I was pregnant and nursing, when my body's chemistry was altered, I have depended on it to literally keep me alive. Early on, when my dosage had to be raised, I felt, wow, I'm really crazy. I wasn't and I'm not but I felt the stigma of depression.

I have been lucky, like Robin Williams, to have a loving family and fantastic kids and an incredibly supportive husband. The demons are still there. Almost two years ago, they began creeping back uninvited but nevertheless there. It was as if I was slowly just beginning to drop out of life. Again, I added a new medicine to my repertoire and it has helped me regain my balance. Just as my parents before me, I have passed on this disease to my children and have watched them deal with it as my mother watched me all those years ago. With fear and, at least in my case, some self loathing.  

Robin Williams lost his battle with depression and even though pundits are right, that we still have all the joy and comedy he gave us, we know inside he was in pain. We lost also, according to his friends, a very kind and gentle soul. I'm heartened by the outpouring of information about depression in reaction to his death. I hope it will make a difference. In the meantime, I and millions of others will continue to soldier on.

Nanu. Nanu.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Our Summer of Love & War

As many of you know, Alex and I spent the majority of our summer with no kids at home.  This hasn’t happened since 1996 before Avi was born.  That’s 18 years in case you’re counting.  Because, certainly, I’m not.
I’ll be honest, it’s been a rough year for my marriage.  I’m not going to share the gory details with everyone (I know, you’re shocked) but I am happy to say that we are, as a couple, in a stronger place than we have been in years.  The stress of having young children, earning a living and everyday life can certainly erode a relationship in small ways that are important.  So after months of hard work on “us”, we were looking forward to being able to concentrate on each other without distractions (not counting the dog).  In terms of this, the summer was great, we went away for a long weekend, watched movies, read books, laughed and basically remembered what it is like to be newlyweds and newly in love. 
The kids were never far from our minds, we miss(ed) them and still had to deal with things from 1000s of miles away.  Their summer has been successful, full of the usual milestones - independence, self confidence, new friends, etc.  Avi learned the value of hard work and how to play a hand of blackjack.  Penina continued to shine in her play and to spend a summer carefree and happy.  Yael, even with a rough start, went farther than we thought she could and I’m so proud of how she turned it all around.
The other part of our summer, was the titular “war”.  Unless you were living on a deserted island, you couldn’t help but notice that there was a mini war between Israel and Hamas.  It was officially called an “operation” but with all the life lost on both sides, it certainly felt like a war.  As I type this, we are in a fragile 3 day ceasefire which everyone hopes will hold and if the journalists are any indication, since they are leaving, it must be over. 
This was a situation I have never been in before.  Where I live in Israel we didn’t really have any rockets, our daily life didn’t change and we went about our business regularly. What was different was the dread.  The dread of waking up to see the casualty count, the young faces of dead soldiers, the hardship in Gaza, the  constant posts on Facebook and Twitter which in the end, drove me crazy.  I had to learn to turn off my phone at night, shut off the news, shut of the justifications: left right and center and use the quite space to think about what I thought about it all.  Everywhere I went, we talked about it.  Who was right, who was wrong, what the government did or didn’t do, thank God Avi isn’t in the army now, and on and on.  At the same time that I was happy my kids were in the US and not having to experience all of this with us, I wanted them here with me to be able to see them with my own eyes and hold them with my own arms.  Of course, my parents worried and asked maybe they should stay longer in the US. 
The answer was unequivocally “no”.  I didn’t have to speak to Alex about it or talk it over.  I understand the difficulties of life here and know why we are here and why we brought our family here.  It wasn’t just to eat falafel and hummus everyday. We are part and parcel of the State of Israel and we believe strongly in its future and helping to shape that future. 

I don’t believe in Hasbara – in explaining to the world why Israel has a right to exist.  I started writing and stopped writing several times during the summer about what was going on here.  At a certain point, I stopped sharing things on Facebook and Twitter.  It was quite honestly, too much.  Too painful and too frustrating.

Reality has a way of creeping in.  Since I stopped writing this yesterday afternoon, I fought with Alex and the ceasefire ended at 8 am with a renewal of rocket fire from Gaza.  This morning, Alex and I found a way to talk about our argument and so the summer of love continues.  Unfortunately, so does the war.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

I'm mad as hell

I'm pissed.  There are just alot of things out there that are really making me mad lately.  It could be that now that my kids are gone for the summer, I have an empty house and few responsibilities or it could be that some dumb stuff is circulating out there.

Let's start with something fairly innocuous.  Feel good commercials all over facebook.  Listen up, people.  Yes, they speak truths but they are manipulative and honestly, they are commercials.  They are selling products at the expense of our emotions and our hopes.  I saw the #likeaigirl video and was disappointed that at the end there was an ad for always.  I just saw the one where the woman with vertiligio removes her makeup only to lo and behold be followed by dermablend professional.  And that was on upworthy!  It's an infomercial essentially.  Its not a socially minded person trying to make a statement.  It's a product trying to make you feel good so when you go to the store, you will remember that feeling and buy their product.  Like walking into a house that is for sale with a chocolate chip cookie smell only to realize its coming from a candle.  And let's not forget that video, like statistics can be manipulated, just ask any reality show.

While we are speaking of being manipulative, let's talk abut the tragedy that has unfolded recently here in Israel.  Now, I'm going to say something some people aren't going to like and was about to write a justification for myself by saying that of course, it's tragic, of course I have a pit in my stomach, of course I can too easily imagine a picture of one of my own children.  But I'm not going to do that because the truth is unless you are seriously emotionally wounded, you can't help but react in all of those ways.

The truth has come out fairly clearly that the Israeli security establishment and most likely the government knew these boys were dead within the first few days. See here. But yet, they didn't tell the families this.  They allowed these families to travel the world and elicit sympathy for their own purposes.  These families and these boys deserve more.  These are children not political pawns, which by the way was the original aim of the kidnappers themselves until things went awry.  They kidnapped them in order to be able to demand the release of jailed Palestinian prisoners.

I sat and watched the funerals at work and/or listened while I was doing other things.  One word I heard over and over - achdut or togetherness and koach or strength.  I'm not so sure I believe in the achdut because these boys weren't even buried before the political games started and the disagreements which basically boil down to the antithesis of togetherness in Israel - the settlements.  Build more, build less.  Talk, don't talk. Destroy Hamas, don't destroy Hamas.  It's a whirlwind bound to make you sick and makes you forget honestly the most important thing here.  3 families lost a son each.  A child buried by his parents, his grandparents and his siblings.

Which is my next point.  I feel sorry for these families because I don't want them to be strong for me or for Israel.  I want those mothers to be able to weep without feeling they are betraying their nation. As I said in my facebook status this afternoon, most of us don't feel their pain, don't know what its like and their passing won't in any significant way change our lives.  We can't truly accompany them on this journey.  They've now joined the families before them who have buried a child because of the violence of hatred in this region.  The families everywhere; Israel, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, the list is senseless and endless.

Which leads me to the end of my Facebook status and that is what's next.  What's next is that Israeli citizens should say to their government  - enough. Do something brave.  Have the courage to make peace for my children and yours.  Start small even, make hitchhiking illegal - under 18 parents pay a hefty fine, over 18, the kids are on their own. If you are going to run a school or a yeshiva in disputed territory then you are responsible for these kids.  Are their lives not worth the price of a bus to bring them safely to a central pickup point?  Don't be blind and naive, lives are depending on you.

So we're left pissed off with a sense of helplessness and dismay. The unjustices of this world will not be righted by conglomerates or by government.  They will be righted by the anger of parents who just want their children to live and be happy.

Stay tuned for Part II - I'm still mad as hell

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Orthodox Feminism

A week or two ago, my husband and I attended the book launch of Dr. Elana Sztokman and Dr. Chaya Gorsetman's book "Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools".  I don't know Dr. Gorsetman but I do know Elana and I know that feminism in the Jewish world is a subject near and dear to her heart.  She is smart, articulate and amazing so Elana, I may have to ask your forgiveness for what I am about to say.

Back to the book launch.  During the program, Dr. Gorsetman after being asked a question by someone about other movements went on to tell a story about a Conservative Jewish educator who told her that the book was a must have for her library as well.  Ok, fine, I'm a Conservative Jew and I know that gender differences exist in every school, from Jewish Orthodox to Catholic to Public.  Still, it kind of bothered me.  But, wow did it bother my husband.  He told me after the program was over that he needed to tell Dr. Gorsetman something so I said ok, I mean what was he going to say?

This is what he told her (and I'm paraphrasing but this was the gist) "Why can't the Orthodox recognize that other women have come before them and fought the same fight?  Why is it that because it was done by Conservative or Reform Jewish women it is not legitimate according to the Orthdox?"  In other words, you're not reinventing the wheel, even though you think you are.

On the ride home, we discussed another comment from the evening where Dr. Gorsetman told a story about an Orthodox Jewish woman who was a big neurologist - head of her hospital department AND an Orthodox Jew who attended an Orthodox shul.  One day she walked into shul, in to the women's side of course and said "I can't do this anymore" and subsequently just quit going to shul.  "This" was the fact that at her hospital she wasn't a 2nd class citizen who needed to be hidden away in order not to tempt men.

The shame of that was, as the two of us saw it, was that she quit going to shul as if there were no other Jewish options out there that could provide her with an alternative.  But again, somehow those options are just not legitimate.

So, what finally got me on my soapbox this morning?  Well, it was the Facebook story people were sharing about "I'm Orthodox and I wear tzizit" written by a woman.  You know what I sort of want to say?  Big deal!  I know, I know, in the Orthodox movement it is a big deal but come on people, get your head out of the sand, lots of women wear a tallit and even (gasp!) put on tefillin.  And the world  hasn't ended...yet.

I am not going to argue here the finer points of halacha and I know that a departure point between my orthodox friends and myself is that I consider Conservative teshuvot to be valid.  I may not like them all, I may not follow them all, but just like in the Orthodox world, halacha has evolved in the Conservative movement on homosexuality, women, even cheese.

30 years ago, when I was a camper at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, there was only one girl who put on tefillin and everyone thought it was wierd.  What an ultra feminist she was.  In fact, at Ramah at that time, girls could read Torah, have an aliyah, etc. but could only lead davening up to Barchu and except for Kabbalat Shabbat and Shir HaShirim, no girls led the camp wide davening on Fridays ever.

Growing up in Louisville, we had a very progressive rabbi, Rabbi Simcha Kling z"l who allowed women to fully participate.  I didn't even realize women weren't allowed to be rabbis, I just took it for granted that of course they could, why not?  I learned that wasn't the case and it wasn't until 1983 that women were allowed entrance into Rabbinical school at JTS.   Somebody struggled for that right and for the right to be counted in a minyan which was only allowed in 1973.

My point here is (and I'm sure you're saying to yourself now, what is your point already) is JOIN US FELLOW FEMINISTS, THE FIGHT IS FAR FROM OVER.  We have greater strength together, you can learn from us and we can learn from you.  Your struggles may have already been fought by us in the past so maybe we can help you.  Maybe you can help us learn how to make subtle changes, one step at a time so as to safeguard the community.

There are lots of issues in all of our communities:  equal pay, the glass ceiling at Jewish organizations, LGBT issues, a woman's right to choose (not just abortion but maybe she doesn't want alot of kids), gender discrimination in our schools (right, Elana?), unfortunately it is a long list.

C'mon ladies, don't let this be like the Mommy Wars where essentially we're all fighting for the same thing.  To live our lives with meaning, respect and help make the world a better place.