A few weeks ago, I got to pretend like I was 90.
Temple Jeremiah – the suburban synagogue where I serve as the Membership and Communications Director – hosted a lovely “90+ Luncheon,” a special event for our congregants age 90 and older.
More than two dozen men and women in their 90s gathered with their guests for an afternoon of quiche, fruit, cookies, and coffee. Our rabbi thanked them for their years of service and dedication to our temple, and our cantor entertained them with her top 10 songs from the 1930s and 1940s. The luncheon attendees swayed and sang along to the music, remembering the songs from their adolescence.
As the luncheon’s designated photographer, I was excited to attend this event and get serenaded by songs written more than a half century before I was born (two of which I had actually heard of!). But while I looked through my lens, photographing what would soon become a memory for all of us, I pictured myself sitting on the other side of the camera, age 90, in 64 years.
In the year 2076, when I enter my ninth decade, I sure hope that Cantor Amy is still around to sing songs from my glory days.
What would we sing? Here’s the event I’m picturing:
We walk through a beaded curtain and enter a room decorated with Disney movie posters. As we sit in our inflatable chairs with bean bag pillows, we nibble on Twizzlers and Fruit by the Foot. Lunch is a frozen Kid Cuisine, with Dippin’ Dots for dessert (the “ice cream of the future” had to be resurrected after being out of business for 40 years). We pull out our old iPhones (they still work if you blow on them) to look at old photos we took of ourselves with extended arms. (Not surprisingly, young people of the future have evolved to have extra-long left arms to facilitate these “selfie” photos.)
And then we lean back, a bit uncomfortably and loudly in our inflatable chairs, and listen to the show. Well, really just “watch” the show. We’ve all lost our hearing after listening to too much iPod music.
The set list:
“Wannabe” – Spice Girls
“Baby” – Justin Bieber
“Baby One More Time” – Britney Spears
TV Medley: Themes from “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Full House,” and “Sesame Street”
“Since U Been Gone” – Kelly Clarkson (we elders in the room slowly rise to our feet for this crowd-pleaser)
“We Are Young” – FUN (we chuckle at the irony)
“MMMBop” – Hanson
“I Want it That Way” – Backstreet Boys (this song has become the anthem of the older generation to complain about how we would like things to be)
“Tik Tok” – Ke$ha (it turns out that with inflation, she had to change her name to Ke$$$ha
“I Gotta Feeling” – Black Eyed Peas (64 years into the future, the “mazel tov” section of this song is still being played at bar mitzvahs)
At the end of the afternoon, we get a surprise visit from Celine Deon (amazingly still alive) with a performance of “My Heart Will Go On,” where we all get to pretend to be Rose at the end of Titanic.
It will be a wonderful afternoon.
So I hope you will all join me for this celebration, 64 years from now, that is sure to have all of our wheelchairs spinning and our canes tapping to the tunes of rock stars before they became drug addicts or politicians.
Living in Chicago can feel like a real burden at times. I find that I am always working to defend us to my friends and family from around the country. We have the Cubs (let’s not go there), hot dogs without ketchup and a pretty serious winter. I have a hard time when it comes to defending the state of baseball in this city and I try to keep my mouth shut when it comes to the ketchup on hot dogs debate. Surprisingly, winter is the only one of these situations that I am confident has a solution. There is nothing about winter in Chicago that cannot be solved by summer in Chicago.
Summer in Chicago is magic. Cabin fever gives way to summer hysteria and suddenly we’re all outside. It’s funny how quickly you forget the pain of all that snow and ice. When the gorgeous weather finally visits us, we’re all so excited that we forget everything about wet frozen feet and heavy winter coats. Those winter nightmares are further erased the moment you find yourself at an outdoor festival.
Chances are that you will find yourself watching a movie in Millennium Park or enjoying a concert at Ravinia. Both of these activities and dozens like them mean that you’ll also be piecing together a potluck with friends.
Fear not! I am here to rescue you from being forced to purchase another plastic box of potato salad from the Jewel on the corner. Not that there’s anything wrong with that potato salad, it’s perfectly delicious—I just think it might be time to step up your picnic game. Show off! Become the picnic maven you’ve always wanted to be.
I’ve got three super easy to make suggestions for your next trip to the beach, Ravinia concert or whatever picnic situation you might find yourself in this summer. You’ll look like a genius and you won’t have to break a sweat.
1. Lemon Icebox Pie
This is a really delicious summer pie that you’ll need to plan ahead for. It needs a night in the fridge.
1 (8oz) tub of Cool Whip
1 (14oz) can of Sweetened Condensed Milk
½ cup of Lemon Juice
Mix everything together until smooth and then pour into a store bought graham cracker pie crust. Refrigerate over-night.
2. Fruit Dip
This fruit dip is pretty spectacular. I love it with fresh strawberries, but it would taste great with an empty spoon.
1 (8oz) package of cream cheese softened
1 (15 oz) jar marshmallow cream
Blend cream cheese and marshmallow cream with a hand mixer until combined.
3. Poor Man’s Sangria
Everybody needs a little summer drink. You’re going to read this and make a face, but I promise you it’s yummy.
1 bottle of wine (any variety will do)
1 (2L) bottle of Coke
Mix these two together and enjoy. You can really play with the flavors here. You could do a white wine with an orange soda. Maybe a Cherry Coke with a Cabernet? It’s a matter of personal taste. This is a game of mix and match. Enjoy!
“She’s darker than you.” the girl said to me. She was twisting her blond hair and chewing on it while her blue eyes darted between me and my daughter. Fray was attempting cartwheels with great enthusiasm and seemed not to hear. “And what’s with her hair?” the girl blurted out loudly. “Do you wash it? Why is it so crazy?” I regarded Fray’s afro as a few other parents gave me sympathetic looks and rolled their eyes at the kid’s perceived impudence. Only hours before, the afro had been a collection of neat little braids. The current hairdo was the result of my tediously unbraiding, washing, conditioning and combing my daughter’s hair amid dramatic protests and screams of agony (despite the plug of a sizable lollipop and Doc McStuffins on TV).
Braids are unquestionably easier as a style, but they also turn on you. After about 3 weeks, your kid ends up looking like what one might imagine medusa looks like after a night of bingeing tequila. So, the time had come to undo. But I know saying a temporary goodbye to the braids is a risk – the risk of the unkempt afro. It is a well-known affliction that is commonly faced by the white mother of a brown child. If you don’t get it right, someone’s going to tell you about yourself and plus the afro involves constant maintenance. Half a second of leaning back in a chair basically dents it. And my daughter hates when I fuss over her hair. “Poofing” we call it. And “re-poofing.” And “re-poofing the re-poof.” It’s all equally unwelcomed.
So when my daughter’s afro – pulled back neatly with a neon orange headband – was called into question, I wasn’t surprised. However, I was confident that today, today it looked pretty damn good. “Her hair’s not crazy. It’s an afro.” I said. The girl regarded my daughter’s hair again, squinting critically. Then she walked up and stuffed her hands deep into the fluff of Fray’s hair. “Feels weird…”
Shocked, I looked at Fray. She seemed a little big-eyed and slightly confused by the impromptu scalp massage, but she didn’t move away or appear uncomfortable. But I felt uncomfortable. “Fray? Is that OK? Do you mind her touching your hair? If you do, you can say, ‘please don’t do that…’” The girl pulled her hands away quickly. Fray resumed cartwheeling (they were round-offs honestly) and shortly after, my boys tumbled out of their gymnastics lesson demanding snack money for the vending machines.
At dinner I shared what had happened earlier in the day. “That’s racist!” my husband declared. The boys agreed. “Racist? How is a girl touching Fray’s hair racist?” I asked. “She said Fray was darker than you!” my middle son yelled. I thought for a minute. “But she is…”
“There are just some things you don’t say.” My husband huffed.
“But why not? Are we pretending she’s not darker than us? How is it different than people pointing out how fair and blond Phoenix is in comparison to all of us? That’s a difference. Are people not allowed to say that?”
“Well, what about pointing out that someone is fat? Is that OK? It’s a fact right, but we don’t say it.”
I thought for a minute. “Are we saying being darker-skinned is akin to being fat? Is it a pejorative? A bad thing?”
Forks scraped the dinner plates. No one said anything. Finally they all admitted that no, no it wasn’t. No of course not! “Annice,” my husband began, “You were the one who brought it up to us. Why was it remarkable if on some level it didn’t upset you?” It had become clear by the end of dinner that the actions and words of this little girl had unnerved us. Touché husband, touché.
When I was in my mid-20s, I was hanging out with a group of teenagers around a BBQ. I honestly don’t remember how the conversation looped the way it did, but somehow it came out that I was Jewish. Two of the boys, who happened to be brothers, looked at me. “Jewish? You’re Jewish? Where are your horns?” I laughed while poking tentatively at meaty stuff on the grill. But when I looked up, two very inquisitive faces were awaiting my answer. “Uh… Jews don’t have horns...”
They went on to tell me that I was the first Jewish person they had ever met. They were from a small, homogenous town where everyone was just like them. Was it a dumb question? Was it anti-Semitic? At the time I didn’t think about that. I was just so surprised that I simply answered. Over the years I have come to appreciate that long-ago conversation for a variety of reasons. Had I never “revealed” myself, had the kids internalized their unchallenged thoughts and beliefs, had I reacted defensively to them by storming off telling them to, “Cook your own G-d damn burgers because I’m a vegetarian anyway!” then they would have continued to believe in Jew-horns and likely been looking for my swishing tail as I stormed off with indignant rage and offense.
Now back to my daughter and the sassy hair-grabbing girl at gymnastics. In retrospect, I think I did the best I could in the moment. I educated the kid – introduced the term “afro” into her vocabulary at least – and made sure my daughter felt empowered to tell said child to back off if she wanted her to. I also think/hope Fray felt confident about how her hair looked – how she looked – despite being under the radar of the critical eyes of others. Because the reality is, being brown-skinned is novel where we live. And when people are different, people are curious about it.
How can we address curiosity without feeling exploited on behalf of ourselves, our children and our cultures? I think it’s true that we build bridges to understanding and appreciating differences by learning from others and from sharing our perspectives. Can we do that if questions about afros and accents and horns are off limits? I don’t think so. So, to that impish little girl, I say a thank you. You got me thinking.
Let’s take a moment to pay homage to the almighty To Do List. It is the quintessential organizational mechanism in the How-to-Get-#$%^-Done tool kit. I know people that live and die by the list. You know them too. They get a high from checking off the boxes; they add things to the list they just completed so they can have the thrill and satisfaction of crossing them off. These people are very organized, and God bless them because they are accomplishing a lot of important work.
Then there are the rest of us. You, me and Charlie in sales who have every good intention of getting it all done, but staring down that list brings us more hopelessness than happiness. The To Do List is overwhelming for our brain types. Where can we start? How will we ever finish? Oh wait, here’s an e-mail, I’ll just respond to that now and get to this list later. Oh no, now it’s 4:45pm and I still have a lot on my list. Better put some work into figuring out what needs to be done tomorrow—it’s a vicious cycle.
For us, the challenge of the To Do List is that we end up writing a long list of 15-20 tasks that need to get done that day. If we are lucky, we manage to at least start most of those tasks. At the end of the day, the result is that we have started (and rarely finished) 15-20 important tasks.
“Tell me about what you got done today,” our supervisor asks. “Well I started this, worked on this, and got very close to finishing this,” seems to be all we can say for ourselves. It’s an awesome way to show how we are not follow through material, a.k.a. ready for advancement.
To that end, I offer a simpler tool for the more easily distracted, slightly less organized among us. I use it myself and have recommended it to coaching clients as a way to jump start productivity. Most importantly, it ensures that on a daily basis, I get the most important things done. Here’s how it works:
Every day (either the night before or first thing in the morning) I write out my To Do List. This is my 15-20 items that I want to accomplish that day. After that, I put a star next to three and only three items. The starred items represent the three most important items to complete that day. They are not to dos, they are must dos. These three items bring the most serious consequences should they not be completed by the end of the day. If I do nothing else that day, I commit to doing those three items. Anything else on the list is considered a bonus.
That’s my productivity secret, and it works. I figure that the majority of professionals are writing a good long list of things to do for the day. Most of those individuals are putting in a good amount of effort to starting those items, but how many can really say they ever fully complete even a fraction of the list? With that in mind, I figure if I can complete three tasks each day that means I will complete 21 items by the end of the week. That’s 84 items each month. The point is, that three completed tasks a day adds up to a heck of a lot of deliverables by the end of the month.
“Tell me about what you got done today,” your supervisor asks. “Well I completed the Turner Report, managed to get those follow up e-mails out from the Fletcher meeting, and I made a point to Tweet about our new product launch next week.” Your supervisor makes a mental note that you have started to show some real progress and responds, “Keep up the good work, and I’m looking forward to hearing what you accomplish tomorrow.”
Photo credit: Foundation for Jewish Camp
July 1 will mark 15 years since I first began summer camp and, cheesily enough, started friendships that are 15 years old. It's one of those milestones like the anniversary of your bat mitzvah (which I obviously have no clue about), or the date that you and your boyfriend made it official (which I obviously just don't have). My immediate thought to the 15 year mark was, “I'm old enough to be friends with these people for 15 years and actually remember it?” Oy.
If you're an average Jew from the burbs like I am, chances are your parents said peace out during the summer and sent you away for two glorious months ("glorious months" applying both to the camper and the parents). Camp and summer became forever interchangeable synonyms; you can't have one without the other. Childhood summers were marked by a love of rainy day activities, string bracelets that reached to the elbows, a fierce color war, and refusing to get into the lake until at least mid-July when it had properly warmed up.
Now that we’re all grown up and the notion of a summer break or any break for that matter seems ages ago, how does summer measure up? Sure we can no longer say we kissed our summer crush behind the hockey rink, but can summer still be wet hot? Lazy Susans are replaced by summer Fridays, while getting inappropriately drunk at the local camp bar (as an of-age counselor only, of course) has turned into getting inappropriately drunk for large portions of the weekend and in some cases the week.
Maybe summer isn't the season it used to be, but now that everyone shares the same indoor, 9-5, computer screen fate, maybe it’s okay. I love camp probably more than then the average lifer, but that cheer has been chanted. It's time to move on to patio drinking and the age of the Ray-Bans and boat shoes.
Why not embrace the summer we have instead of wishing for the one we used to? Unless you're Peter Panning it, which I have seriously considered, loosen your tie, untuck your shirt, and bask in the possibilities of the second best season of the year. (Football season wins every time.)
It took a lot of convincing for me to write this. Of course that’s what happens when I try motivating myself to motivate myself. But in all honesty, for one reason or another, I’ve been finding myself much more motivated recently, mostly because I stopped looking for myself when I wasn’t motivated. Also, I get highly motivated to find myself when I’m around mirrors because, well, it’s way easier to find myself then, so there’s a lot going into this. Truth be told, I’ve been trying to better myself recently due in large part to a higher level of motivation. Not only a higher level of motivation, but also a stronger and longer sustained motivation than I can ever recall.
It’s actually been almost 20 minutes now. Oh, I’m not talking about the motivation thing. After that first paragraph, I took 20 minutes to get to this one. I was having trouble motivating myself to motivate myself to write an article about how good I’ve been getting with motivating myself to motivate myself. Moving on.
When I motivate myself, (you sick of that word yet?) I actually get a true sense of accomplishment. I wrote a blog previously about how I am a self-proclaimed productive procrastinator. I’m never one to waste any time when I can help it. Therefore, I’m trying to listen to more music, exercise more (see: at all), and generally increase my knowledge and experience of the world. This brings me back to my never-ending struggle with my favorite love/hate relationship.
Sleep. Sleep takes time away from me but I love taking the time to sleep. One of the toughest constant needs for motivation in my life is getting out of the bed in the morning. Not because I’m lazy, but more because I’m just so gosh darn comfy and snuggly first thing in the morning. Also, I’m lazy. But when I don’t get out of bed and more or less waste time, I often wish I hadn’t done that.
I don’t want to use the word regret because I regret every time I use the word regret, so I won’t use it here. Not being able to get out of bed is ironic for me considering, as I’ve said, I have quite the disdain for sleep, purely based on the fact that I find sleep to be a waste of time. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. The problem lies in the fact that when I’m sleepy, my motivation to do anything goes straight out the window, which is amazing because my bedroom has no windows.
It seems my motivation needs a lot of motivation to be motivated. Part of what I’ve actually done to better myself is joining a gym and getting a personal trainer. Just doing that took some motivation and it’s astounding how tough it was to motivate myself to hire someone to motivate me.
Part of my drive is my constant want to always be improving myself and make sure there’s room for me to grow—hence why my apartment has such tall ceilings. I want to always be able to motivate myself to be a better, more knowledgeable and well-rounded me. Notice I didn’t say more attractive me, as that’s impossible. I can’t be any more attractive than I already am. I mean, you’ve seen my bio pic. I look perfect. Needless to say, I take a lot of selfies. Even when I’m around people, I ask them to take selfies of me. Who better to take selfies than someone else?
But let’s end this whole shindig on a more philosophical note.
I have often heard that a great way to motivate myself is to live everyday like it’s my last. But my take on it is that I find it’s a lot more exciting to live everyday like it’s my first. That allows for new discoveries and adventures. Discoveries and adventures I can now expand upon at a later date. Treating it like it’s my last day could make me be spontaneous and care free, sure, but then I couldn’t invest myself. The idea of living everyday like it’s my first makes it so I look forward to new places and ideas that could potentially become new interests, hobbies and passions. It makes it so I become like a newborn baby and simply enjoy the wonder of the world around me. Also I put my mouth on a lot of stuff, just to see how it tastes. And besides, I really can’t live everyday like it’s my last. I’ve got a lot of things to do tomorrow. I’m booked. However, I will stand by the idea that whatever you can do today, do not put it off until tomorrow. You might not get a second chance. So when it comes down to it, I suppose the most appropriate phrase for me is this:
I live everyday like it’s Thursday…but I still put my mouth on everything.
You might be wondering what the most Jewish movie of the summer is this year. Is it the annual Woody Allen flick (Blue Jasmine)? Is it Grown Ups 2 (thanks again, Adam Sandler…)? No, it's Man of Steel.
If you don't know what's Jewish about Superman, first, shame on you, and second, I apologize for that, I didn't mean it (mostly). Please allow me to explain.
The piece that you should already be at least vaguely aware of is that Superman was created by two nice Jewish boys, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, sons of Jewish immigrants who met when they were in high school in Cleveland circa 1930. It is widely asserted that their upbringing and Jewish roots had influences on their creation of the Superman character.
Like his creators, Superman is very much an immigrant (coming from another planet and all), and unlike many of the heroes that followed him in the comic world, he is one of few who makes an effort to assimilate, donning the "disguise" of Clark Kent. In a way, he's almost desperate to fit in, and that was a significant element of American Jewish life at the time.
Many have pointed out that Superman's story of immigration—which involves his parents packing him into a tiny space vessel to save him from destruction and sending him to Earth—directly reflects the story of baby Moses in the basket, who as we all know, grew to become a prophet to the Jewish people and led them to the most crucial points of their destiny.
Speaking of prophets, Superman is the last son of Krypton and a member of the House of El. "El," of course, is Hebrew for "God," and Superman's Kryptonian name is Kal-El, which when written in Hebrew resembles the words for "voice of God." Many prophet and angel names end in "El," (Gabriel, Ezekiel, Uriel, etc.) and in many ways the Superman character is a prophet or angel to the people of Earth.
As it applies to the creation of the character, all this is theory, but we do know that Siegel has openly stated that the biblical character Samson was an influence on Superman. Samson boasted incredible strength and only one physical weakness: his hair was his Kryptonite.
But regardless of how directly influential Judaism was on Superman's creation, our tradition—especially the stories—definitely laid the foundation for the world's first great comic book hero.
On the other hand, there's the somewhat troubling connection of Superman being translated to Ubermensch, the term coined by Friedrich Nietzsche and adopted by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis: a perfect man who transcends society, religion and morality and is beyond moral codes. The character was obviously born at a time when there was enough awareness of the Nazi Party, so one has to consider Siegel and Shuster didn't do this coincidentally. Yet we know Superman to be a hero who holds himself to moral codes; in a sense, he chooses not to be the Ubermensch in doing so. The Yiddish word mensch, meaning someone of great character and integrity, therefore seems more fitting. The most logical explanation for this irony is that Superman actually received his name when he was depicted as a villain bent on world domination in a short story featured in a fanzine Siegel published in 1933. The character was likely meant to vilify Hitler if anything.
Of course, Man of Steel is just the latest in a long line of Superman iterations. The character has evolved well beyond the intentions of Siegel and Shuster, so whatever makes it Jewish at this point is nothing more than coincidence.
Well, kinda. It all goes back to Superman's all-important origin—baby Moses in the spaceship. This story is what informs the soul of the character, and there's no question that's where "Man of Steel" wishes to go when you consider Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy) oversaw the project and the formation of the story and brought along The Dark Knight writer David S. Goyer for the script.
This film draws out Superman's (Henry Cavill) origin substantially, showing not only scenes of Clark Kent living in Smallville, Kan., but also in Alaska, hiding from his powers. We know he will ultimately be called to the Fortress of Solitude by his birth father (Russell Crowe) and be faced with the choice to become Superman, fulfilling his destiny and serving as a lasting beacon of hope for humanity.
If that's even remotely close to the film's plot, then this "new" Superman is even more like Moses than Siegel and Shuster ever imagined him.
When Moses saw a taskmaster beating a slave, he killed the taskmaster, enraged by the injustice. Fearing for his life, he fled Egypt and lived as a shepherd in Midian for 40 years. Finally, he was called by the burning bush and heard the voice of God calling him into action and his destiny.
When Superman dons the red cape and the emblazoned "S" (which as the "Man of Steel" trailer tells us is a Kryptonian symbol for "hope"), he agrees to hold himself to a higher moral code and take on great responsibility, much as Moses chose to act as a prophet of God and assume a leadership role in leading the Israelites to their hope—the land of Israel.
So while plenty of issues of Superman comics have made it clear that the Man of Steel was a Methodist, he wasn't exactly born that way, so to speak. But even if you're of the camp that creators don't intentionally bury certain references and influences into their work, you have to marvel at the universality of the themes and ideas buried in the stories of our tradition thousands of years ago.
Man of Steel is in theaters this Friday, June 14.
(Addition sources: Aish, Wikipedia [citations verified])
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