Tuesday, 29 December 2015

An "Out of Her Skin" Optimist's Guide to Her Birthday

Optimism doesn't come easily to me. I prefer to think of myself as a "cynical realist" combined with a hint of wondrous faith when the unexplainable occurs. But I find myself leading a lonely existence in today's overindulgent age of "feel-good" mantras, positive affirmation statements, unsolicited mental health advice, and generally junk science studies on how optimism can lead to longer lifespans. What's a generally cranky curmudgeonly bitch supposed to do in a such a world?

But, it is my birthday and I have been feeling the love all day long, so I will step out of my aforementioned comfort zone and give you my optimistic view of the world for this one specific day. Hey. If you can't live it up on your birthday then when can you?

There are some really great things about birthdays, mostly of the free and discounted variety. I was absolutely feeling the love from the barista at Starbucks when she handed over my complimentary soy mocha frappuccino light. (I even sprung for the more highly caloric grande! What the hell.) And I knew that it must be my special day when the Blue Jays shop sent me a code offering 15% off my next purchase. I must be spending way too much cash on my boys of summer for them to offer up a birthday discount, but loyalty is loyalty and mine is being rewarded.

I have to love a day when even the most ardent of meat eaters will acquiesce to lunch at a vegan restaurant in order to make me happy. It is even more incredible that they actually enjoyed their meals. A birthday miracle on par with the virgin birth.

The best gifts are the most thoughtful; like the chef's knives that my mother purchased for me months ago without knowing that I had been secretly plotting to abscond with hers, or The Husband replacing my Roots purse that literally fell apart from overuse. (I am not a big purse lover, but I missed this one desperately.)

Did you know that Herbie the Love Bug was number 53, the same as my age this year? I had forgotten until The Husband reminded me and decided that it would be hysterical for him to call me his "Little Love Bug" for the year. (My kids might call this a "dad joke".) I think that I would rather he call me Herbie than suffer that indignity.

The interwebs have an incredible way of making one feel loved even if it takes only a minute to comment. Facebook is great for this. My feed has been jammed all days with virtual cards, messages, flowers, and photos. It is kind of amazing how taking just a moment out of one's day to express felicitations can alter the recipient's mood. Little things like this really matter, even to a cynical realist.

End of the year birthdays tend to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Who wants to brave a store for something as trivial as a birthday gift when the other December events have simply drained one of a year's quota of enthusiasm? We who were born at the end of a calendar year are used to feeling like a bit of an afterthought. But, today that simply wasn't the case. The sun was shining, the temperatures were grand, the people were smiling, and the caring and consideration was abundant from all. Days like today remind me of a favourite line from a favourite film.

Clarence: Remember, George: No man is a failure who has friends. (It's a Wonderful Life 1946)

Thanks for the birthday love. Tomorrow, I return to my cranky, cynical self. Well....maybe.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Bullshit Tradition of Chinese Food and a Movie on Christmas.

Members of the Tribe...this one is for you.

Can we stop pretending that Chinese food and a movie on Christmas is some kind of sacred tradition in which we all must participate? Can we not be honest with ourselves that there is no real correlation to Jews and Chinese food on Christmas other than the obvious fact that for a very long time, those were the only establishments open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? So why has this activity become something akin to latkes on Chanukah?

I have recently read article after article extolling the "history" and the "cultural significance" of this kitsch custom and frankly, I am baffled. Yes, it is true that many of us order lo mein on the 25th, (with or without the kosher-offending ingredients) but there is only one true reason for this supposed foray into a "newish tradition".


When I was a kid, my mother would work each and every Christmas. Being a floor nurse at a local hospital, she happily worked both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so that those who celebrated the holiday could spend it with their families. She would often trade off New Year's Eve and the deal worked well for all concerned. My dad, not being all that well-versed in the culinary arts, would take my brother and me out for Chinese food and a movie simply because in "blue-lawed" Toronto of the 70's that was the only place one could get a non-homecooked meal. Believe me, if he could have found a deli, a Thai place, (not yet available in my parochial hometown) or some other food type, he would have taken us there too. My dad has never been one for limiting his food choices.

But today that simply isn't the case. There are other non-Christian ethnicities that open their restaurant doors to customers on Christmas. And...braving a movie theatre in 2015 on the one day where the majority of North Americans have an off-day is sheer lunacy. Haven't any of you ever heard of Netflix? Have we Jews become so enraptured with this season that we feel the need to turn Christmas, which is in no way, shape, or form our holiday, into something that matters to us by virtue of some invented tradition?

There really isn't a need to "find something to do"on Christmas. How about family time with board games and books? How about a walk? How about some exercise? Or how about cooking a meal together? A movie? Sure. But don't pretend it is some kind of a tradition.

I do have wonderful memories of those Christmases with my dad and brother. They were special times brought on by the confluence of mom working and a holiday that didn't cater to us. But I refuse to pretend that there is some kind of time-honoured Jewish tradition that requires Chinese food and a movie on the 25th, kitsch as it may be because that would mean that I look at this holiday as one of my own and, honestly that is a wee bit insulting to my Christian friends.

And anyway...there is a major Jewish holiday being celebrated this year on the evening of the 25th. It's called Shabbat. Try that instead.

Monday, 7 December 2015


Tonight I lit Chanukah candles with a gentleman from my building who happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Since this is South Florida and it has been unbearably humid, he was suitably dressed for the climate in a short-sleeved golf shirt. As we chatted, it was difficult not to notice the numbers tattooed on his forearm. I have had many conversations with this man over the years and I have always marvelled at his strength and fortitude in keeping his horrific experiences alive in the hearts and minds of the next generations through his participation in education programs, speeches, and countless trips back to Auschwitz on March of the Living. But tonight, we were just a group of Jews lighting candles to recall our people's struggle against another tyrant living centuries before the one he survived.

And then I came upstairs and watched Donald Trump's latest foray into demagoguery. I watched as supporters at his rally shouted "Heil Donald Trump-THE ULTIMATE SAVIOUR"  and it sent shivers up and down my spine. Trump's completely fascist call to bar all Muslims from entry into the United States can no longer be dismissed as the ravings of fringe entertainer. Tonight he and his supporters entered a new realm of right-wing jingoism, Neo-Nazism, and totalitarianism that every thinking person in the United States and around the world should vociferously denounce. Usually I am loathe to evoke memories of or comparisons to Hitler, and I can't ever remember calling up Godwin's law before, but Trump and his  supporters are definitely skirting a dangerous line. When protestors are physically attacked at his rallies; when overt hatred of Muslims is spouted by his supporters; when white supremacist organizations are now a solid part of his base; we can no longer ignore the comparisons.

I have had several conversations recently with Jews who are ardent Trump supporters and I have to admit to being baffled. Now I am just disgusted. It is no longer acceptable for Jews (or anybody else) to support this dangerous fascist bigot knowing what we know and knowing the extreme consequences of actions like the ones he is proposing. Trump's call to isolate and bar Muslims is one step away from the Judenfrei policies of Hitler's Nazis.

Tonight, in response to Trump's announcement, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism issued the following statement:

While we take no position on Mr. Trump's candidacy for president, we condemn in the strongest terms his comments calling for barring the entry of Muslims into the United States. As Jews who too often suffered persecution because of our faith, we cannot abide religious bigotry.
Our nation, founded by those fleeing religious persecution, is rooted in principles of religious freedom. The absence of religious tests for entry or for office and the freedom of every individual to practice their religion are sources of national strength, not weakness.

It is time for Jews of all political stripes to speak up and finally suppress Trump and his dangerous rhetoric. Jewish Republicans need to find another candidate and they need to say this man is anathema to everything that Americans hold dear. At this season when we recognize light over darkness, religious freedom over persecution, and rededication over hate, Americans must commit themselves to vanquishing this dangerous hyperbole before innocent people suffer. It is a debt that this generation of Jewish Americans owes to people like the man in my building.