Monday, September 30, 2013

Torah Tumble Part Two

     Last week's blog about the Torah Tumble prompted many of you to confess to similar sins.  It sounds like a lot of people have been harboring guilt.  Thank you all for sharing your religious boo boos--while I don't feel any better about dropping the Torah, at least I know I'm in good company.
     I heard two even worse stories than mine about the Torah falling:
     A friend of mine and her husband were given the honor of opening the ark on Rosh Hashanah.  As you can imagine, the synagogue was packed for the High Holidays, and the Rabbi and the Cantor were up on the bimah with them.  When my friends slid the doors to the ark open and the congregation rose, the Torah fell right out onto the floor.
     Another friend sent me an article from the Forward about a congregation in Asheville, North Carolina, where they opened the ark on Yom Kippur and TWO Torahs fell to the floor!  The silver crown was dented on one, and the wooden handle was broken on the second.
     And I heard about two faith based blunders that were not Torah-related.  One man was the chair of a luncheon for a rabbinical conference.  When the hotel waitstaff brought out the lunch and served it to rabbis of all denominations from around the country, the salad was covered with shrimp.
     And finally, the Sisterhood hospitality chair ordered cakes and cookies for the Oneg Shabbat at the Temple for the Friday night during Passover.  One of the congregants called her to find out where she had ordered such delicious baked goods, as she had never enjoyed such tasty kosher-for-Passover treats.  They discovered that all the baked goods served at the Temple during Passover were made with flour.
     Boy, do I feel better!
     In addition to your confessions, many of you also suggested remedies for me.  The folks in Asheville are considering community service and charitable donations.  A lot of you told me that the 40 day fast is the accepted norm, but is shared (one day at a time) by the entire congregation.  My girlfriend suggested that a reasonable alternative to 40 days of fasting for me would be 40 days of Jenny Craig. (I can see the ad copy now:  Drop the Torah and Drop 10 pounds!)
     I received many messages of forgiveness from my friends, my mother, and even my old Hebrew school teacher. One friend said, "You didn't throw the Torah; it's not like you spiked the football."  Well, yes, thank you, I appreciate the distinction.
     Maybe this has been a good thing.  I can't say that I've fasted or even cut out dessert, but I have been making a sincere effort to be more charitable and perform more mitzvot (good deeds.)  Maybe it's not a bad thing to drop the proverbial Torah every now and then, and make a renewed effort to step up our charitable games.
     But if some of you are about to call and ask me to pick you up from the airport at midnight, or help you pack and move, I'd love to but I'm busy that day.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Act of Falling

     I was hoping not to tell you this, but I think that my confession might give me some relief:
     I dropped the Torah.
     For Jews of my generation and background, this is very bad.  Very, very bad. We learned that when we dropped our yarmulke (skullcap) on the floor, we were supposed to kiss it.  Same goes for our prayer book.
     What's a Jew to do when she drops the Torah?
     The Torah fell when I was preparing for our Rosh Hashanah service at Friedman Place. I took the Torah out of the ark to practice and find my place.  Our Torah is old, and the roller is broken, and it wasn't rotating very easily.  I also had my book on the bimah (lectern) to help me find my place, and before I knew it, the fatter scroll quietly unrolled onto the floor.
     I was mortified.  I checked for damage.  Luckily, the parchment did not tear.  I carefully lifted the Torah back onto the bimah and kept telling it I was sorry.
     I didn't know what I was supposed to do.  I wanted to show the Torah my respect, so I started thinking of the Torah as a person.  What would I do if I dropped a person?
     It just so happens I've dropped a person.  In fact, I've dropped two. When I first brought Jesse home from the hospital after a month in intensive care, I put him in Robby's fancy Aprica stroller, which had been idle for a year or more, and took him for a stroll around Meadow Drive.  Halfway around the block, the stroller collapsed, the way strollers are supposed to collapse, except not when there are babies in them.
     Jesse fell to the ground and started screaming.  I could not miss the irony: he had survived heart surgery and a month in the hospital, but that was a cakewalk compared to a summer stroll down our suburban street with me.
     The Robby thing was more of a face plant.  Don't ask.
     Of course when I dropped the boys, they cried and were plenty mad. I checked them for damage, did a lot of apologizing, and kissed them--just like I did with the Torah.
     I know that I am not the first person to ever drop a Torah.  Every Saturday morning at synagogues all over the world, 13-year-olds take the Torah out of the ark, and they are not trained professionals.  I'm sure that sometimes the Torah takes a tumble.
     Please don't think I am minimizing this offense.  I have been feeling very, very guilty about it, and it's been the subject of a lot of High Holiday silent prayer. I googled "dropping the Torah" and learned the wide range of remedies.  I wanted to find a punishment that fit the crime.  The most severe is a 40 day fast.
     That seems pretty severe.
     The least severe is checking to see if anyone else saw, and then whistling as if nothing happened.
     I think that ship has sailed.
    As I sat in Temple on Yom Kippur, recounting my shortcomings, I asked God to inscribe me in The Book of Life for the coming year.  In this season of confession and atonement, where does the sin of dropping the Torah rank?
     I guess I'll find out.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Holiday Visitor

     It's been a quiet week in Solomonland, and I did not have anything to tell you.  I thought I might have to skip a week of blogging.  But then, without warning, a stranger walked into my life and brought the excitement I'd been missing!
     I've got a skunk.
     A big, fat, bold skunk.  He trots out from under my backyard deck and scurries across my yard at dusk.  He appears to know his way around.
     This is not my first skunk rodeo.
     I call ABC Humane Wildlife to come set up a trap, as recommended by the Village of Wilmette.  ABC promises not to kill the trapped animals.  Instead, they take them to the enchanted forest where Snow White lives, and together they will sing songs and  frolic in the woods.
     Actually, I do not expect to catch this skunk or any others in the trap.  My hope is that the skunks will see the trap and move next door to live in my neighbor's yard.
     The first day of trap watching is uneventful.  I suspect the skunks are checking out the trap and laughing at me.
     On the second day, my suspicion is confirmed.  The bait is eaten, but no animal is in the trap.  My husband and I watch the video on the ABC web site to learn how to re-bait the trap.  Skunks like sweet food, so I smear some Sara Lee Honey Turkey with some raspberry jam.  My husband looks at my offering and tells me this is one of  my top three dinners.  (Read here to find out more about smart aleck husband.)
     The third day I wake up to a note from my husband telling me that there is an animal in the trap.  I go outside and see that the trap has sprung, but because the trap is covered in in brown cardboard I cannot see who is in there.  I move the trap with my foot, but it doesn't feel heavy, and I suspect that the skunks came, dined on the turkey and jam, and walked off.  I pick up the trap and see something with gray matted fur that doesn't move and I drop it like a hot potato and scream.  I call ABC and describe my trauma, and learn that I've probably caught a possum who was, alas, playing possum.
     Chris from ABC comes to my house and takes the possum for counseling and rehabilitation.  I ask him what he uses to bait the trap, and he says that he usually uses liverwurst and grape jelly, but today he's going to use a little something special to see if he can attract the skunk.  I wonder why he didn't use it the first time, and am reminded that I pay $65 every time he comes to the house.
     I don't know what Chris' "something special" could be, but tonight the skunks are in for a special High Holiday meal.  It's Rosh Hashanah, and there are leftovers. I imagine that in the enchanted forest tomorrow, they'll all be talking about my brisket.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Friend Me!

     Like a lot of you, every morning I wake up and check Facebook to find out all the fabulous things other people are doing without me.  I only have 239 friends and most of them don't post anything, but this morning there were some pictures of the first day of school, a few family vacations, and notification of a birthday.  This is a big improvement over the usual political messages and cat pictures.
     The main reason I check Facebook is to scroll for news of my children.  I see my son's name under the heading Find Mutual Friends. It says, "Jesse Solomon recently added 83 friends.  Do you know any of them?"
     Why um, no, I don't, as a matter of fact. And 83? Seriously?
     There are a couple issues here.
     First, for the record, I used to know all of Jesse's friends.  I knew their parents.  I knew where they lived, if their mother worked outside the home, and if they had any food allergies.  Hell, I knew if they had a gun in the house.
     I realize that was a long time ago, and since Jesse went away to college, I know a lot less.  Over the summer when he was in Europe, sometimes I did not know what country he was in, let alone who he was with. This is what happens when your kids grow up.
     He just went back to school, and I felt a little bad about his send off.  When he left for college his freshman year, both my husband and I flew down to move him into his dorm.  We met his roommate, and unpacked his belongings, and made his bed.  Sophomore year, I went without my husband to buy my son a bed and dresser, and stock the fridge in his new apartment.  This year we kissed him goodbye at the Departure door at O'Hare.
     But come on, the kid had 83 new friends waiting for him at the other end.  I'm not feeling quite so bad.
    I cannot imagine the circumstances under which I could make 83 new friends.  Of course my son and I have a different definition of friendship, and a Facebook friend is not necessarily a real life friend.  But still, I get the feeling that the other 54-year-olds in my neighborhood are not looking to make new pals.  I don't even know how to meet 83 potential friends---maybe I could stand outside of Chico's and hand out bars of dark chocolate.
     Most people my age can barely keep up with the friends they have.  Unless (and this would be really depressing) you are all out there making friends with each other, but don't want to be friends with me. After all, I'm a fundraiser and a writer.  Most of you either give money to my charities or cross to the other side of the street when you see me.  Maybe you are worried I'm going to ask for money and then write about you.  But I would never do that.
     Well, maybe I would.  But I would never use your real name.  Call me.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This is Love

     Every day I feel the big and small indignities of aging.  Off the top of my head, there's my bad memory, my graying hair and my new wrinkles.  And I haven't even gone below my neck--my neck!  But on Saturday night, I forgot all about my decline to enjoy one thing that gets better as I get older: weddings.
     My cousin's daughter is getting married to a young man we all adore. My aunt, uncle and cousins are the stars of the day---people I love deeply.  The bride is named after my beloved grandfather, who died several years before she was born.  To her wedding, I wear the diamond ring he gave to my grandmother. It is important to me that a piece of her sparkle is in attendance.
     When I got married, I thought weddings were about young people falling in love, and their future.  But now that I'm well into middle age, I've changed my point of view.  Now I experience a wedding through the eyes of a parent.
      I know what it is to raise a child.  It is not for sissies.
     There are the ear infections, and chicken pox, and orthodontist appointments, and dozens of flus and trips to the ER.  There are bad teachers, and failed tests, and long division and tutors and ACTs and college visits.  There are lessons, and overnight camps and sitting on the bench and being cut from the team.  There are drivers license tests, and homecoming dances, and recitals, and travel tournaments, and phone calls after curfew.
     And did I mention college tuition?
     Doing the hard work of raising children can bring you to your knees.  Seeing them walk down the aisle on their wedding day is a moment of grace.
     There is an old Yiddish proverb, When the heart is full, the eyes overflow.
     The groom smashes the glass, and our family has officially grown by one more.
     Now it is my job to eat every passed hors d'oeuvre and make a mental note of each relative's outfit for conversations that will take place over the next days and weeks and months and years.  Because when anyone asks, "Did you try the potato latkes with lox?" I definitely want to say, "YES!"
     Soon the band is playing Motown which attracts all ages to the dance floor.  The grandparents get out there and shake what God gave them, which has become easier since everything shakes.  After a few songs the grandparents need water.  It's time for us fiftysomethings to show off our moves, until our backs and knees and feet start to ache, and the music passes us by and our children take over the dance floor and are jumping up and down to songs we don't know.
     When it is time for the father daughter dance, my cousin and his radiant girl begin in the traditional way.  But after a minute, the music changes, and suddenly they are doing the choreographed moves to Michael Jackson's Thriller.  I recall my cousin as being kind of a reserved dancer, but he has clearly practiced A LOT, and he is nailing it.  There is only one person who could convince him to do this, and she is right by his side.
    While everyone is laughing and clapping and cheering, my eyes overflow. This, I think to myself, this is love.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Not So Great Unwashed

     Every once in awhile, my washing machine makes a very sad noise, and it is always trouble.  It usually happens at midnight when I am washing a child's uniform for an 8:00 game the next morning, or packing for a long awaited vacation.  This time, right on schedule, I hear my washer groan as I prepare to send my son back to college.
     I know some families spend a lot of time shopping for new appliances (if you believe what you see on television, and why wouldn't you?) but that is not how we do it.  Usually, when we need a new appliance, I get in my car and drive to Abt, and one of their excellent salesmen is sliding my American Express in ten minutes or less.  I mean, what is so complicated?  I need a washing machine.  It needs to clean my clothes.  I don't really care what it looks like.
     But when I bought my current machine, I made a mistake.  It's not a GE or Whirlpool, or something any old repairman can fix.  It's a Fisher and Paycal.  A wise salesman, noting the size of my children,  told me it was excellent for heavy loads.  When I hesitated, he lowered the price. And in retrospect, I'm sure he won a cash bonus and his photo was up in the break room for getting that misfit off the floor.
     Of course during the sixty seconds I considered my purchase, it didn't occur to me to ask about repairs.
     It turns out that when my washing machine breaks, I call Fisher and Paycal to repair it.  They are located in New Zealand.
     To my knowledge, the Kiwis are not known for their washing machines.
     Every time I call, a very polite New Zealander schedules my service.  They always pronounce my town "WilMATE." They never come quickly.  I imagine they have one service person serving a six state area, and he's driving to my house from Nebraska. Unless of course he's flying over from New Zealand.  He'll be here in five days.
    We are running out of clean clothes over here.  I don't care until I run out of clean sports bras.  I know some of you would think, "WOOHOO!  I have the perfect excuse not to exercise!" But on these cool summer mornings, I love to run.  I'm quite religious about it.  It's my only antidote to cake.
     So I'm heading to the laundromat in downtown Wilmette.  Of course I could take my laundry to any of my friends or neighbors--they would be happy to have me.  But where's the blog in that?  Stay tuned.

Monday, August 5, 2013

54, Here I Come!

     It's cake season at the Solomon house, my favorite time of year!  We'll be celebrating three family birthdays in a period of twenty days, beginning this Friday with mine.  (I've sensibly scheduled my Jenny Craig weigh-in for Thursday.)  If I play my cake correctly, I'll be eating some every day until Rosh Hashanah, which is sometimes called "the birthday of the world." That should extend my cake streak until almost Yom Kippur--the Day of Atonement.
     I love cake.  My favorite is chocolate, with white buttercream frosting.  It does not have to be from an expensive bakery, and it does not even need to be particularly fresh.  In fact, my favorite is the day old cake I eat for breakfast, when it has been in the refrigerator overnight and the frosting is coagulated the way I imagine it will soon be in my arteries.
     A few days before my birthday, my husband usually starts asking me peculiar questions. "Have you ever wanted to bake your own bread?" or "Wouldn't it be cool to have a wet suit?" I know he is trying to figure out what to get me.  In our early years together I thought that if he really loved me, he would know my heart's desires.  That is simply false.  They should tell you this at the wedding.
     A few years ago, we celebrated my birthday at a great restaurant with both our sons.  The boys each gave me a homemade card, which is, frankly, the only gift I ever want.  My husband produced a big box with a bow from Nordstrom.  I unwrapped the present and found a lovely print dress from a popular designer.  The only problem was that he had given me the very same dress a few months earlier for Mother's Day.  This made me laugh so hard and for so long that I consider it to be the very best gift he ever gave me.
     I don't really care that I am getting older.  I know some women who lie about their age, which I have done, but not on purpose-- I just can't always remember how old I am. 52?  53?  What difference does it make?  It's not like anyone ever asks me.  I was born in 1959--if you want to know how old I am, get a calculator.
     In celebration of my advanced age, I've decided to start adding the phrase, "God willing!" to the end of every sentence.  For example, "I won't have to cook on Friday because we're going out to dinner for my birthday, God willing!" "My husband is getting me a big, expensive gift this year, God willing!" I've noticed that a lot of older people do this, recognizing that life is uncertain. I shouldn't assume I'll always be in control of my destiny, especially if I keep eating so many cakes.
     I used to expect everyone to make a fuss over me for my birthday, but no one throws you a party when you turn 54. I am not that crazy about getting older, but what's the alternative?  My 92-year-old mother-in-law is the expert at aging, and she always says, "Keep counting!"  To which I say, "I will, God willing!"